Structure and Planning
The essay is a focused, academic discussion of a particular question, problem or issue. There are all sorts of reasons why essays are common forms of assessment: they allow you to explore a problem in depth, express yourself concisely and precisely, and debate other people’s published opinions on a topic. They’re also a good warm-up for traditional forms of academic publication, such as the journal article.
Many of you have been writing essays for years, and are probably good at it. That’s great, and everything you look at from here will build on and develop those skills. But it’s worth asking: are there different things expected of a university essay from those for school, college, or other contexts? The obvious answer is yes; and it takes time and effort to learn the range of writing skills needed to produce university essays effectively. There are all sorts of reasons why essays are common forms of assessment: they allow you to explore a problem in depth, express yourself concisely and precisely, and debate other people’s published opinions on a topic. They’re also a good warm-up for traditional forms of academic publication, such as the journal article.
Academic essays usually follow an established organisational structure that helps the writer to express their ideas in a clear way and the reader to follow the thread of their argument. Essay structure is guided by its content and argument so every essay question will pose unique structural challenges. Have a look at our Glossary of Essay Instruction Words, or watch the short video below to help you identify what is required. Having a clearer understanding of the most effective ways to structure your writing can help you to plan and organise the content of your essays and make sure you get your ideas across in the form of a coherent argument.
Essay writing is a process with many stages (see the flow chart for an example). Breaking the task down and creating a clear plan will allow you to focus attention more fully on the writing process itself when you put your plan into action either as part of an assignment or an exam.
Study Skills Hacks: Identifying the Tasks in a Question
Watch this short video for more information on how to identify the tasks in a question to ensure that you structure your essay in an appropriate way:
For more information on the stages of planning and approaches to structuring an essay, read more below:
1. Understand the Question
2. Brainstorm for Ideas
3. Make a Plan
The Hourglass Essay
If you're stuck on an overall structure for your essay, try this simple model for organising a typical academic essay.
Essay Structure Prezi
For more information and activities on essay structure, have a look at the following Prezi. You can follow the suggested order using the arrows to progress, or explore the Prezi freely by panning around the screen.
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