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5 Tips On Writing An Academic Essay

Writing academic essays is inevitable in university or college. Whether you’re in an arts, science, or engineering program, you’ve (or will) likely come across the daunting task of writing an essay. The difficulties you face may be related to misinterpreting the essay question or not knowing how to start or unsure what research material you should be collecting. To help you get organized, here are 5 tips for writing a well-structured and effective essay. 

First, understand the question

Failure to correctly understand the essay question may be the most common reason behind a low grade. An essay question could be asking you to critically evaluate something, compare and contrast, analyze a particular circumstance, or evaluate the usefulness of a specific concept. 

To critically evaluate a particular theoretical approach, you would need to understand other common approaches, then use your findings to analyze and compare them – underlining the relative validities and limitations of each theory. 

As for evaluating the usefulness of something, make sure to find case studies where the theory has been used and study the outcome, in order to reveal strengths and weaknesses.

Have a plan

Normally professors give you a reasonable time frame to finish your essay. But with everything else going on at school, you underestimate the amount of work required to write a good essay and leave everything to the last minute. Start planning your essay the moment you receive the essay question and the rubric from the professor. Here’s a checklist that you can use to stay on track!

If you’re a visual learner, try to draw a mind map.

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Essay Check List

Look deeper

Being (overly) descriptive doesn’t mean that you’re leveraging critical reasoning. Make sure your arguments are clear and precise, that you’ve examined the limitations of the theories you are drawing on, and aware of alternate explanations that may offer additional depth. Overall, critical reasoning or thinking means that you’re engaging with the different theories in an academic manner, and doing this will make your essay stand out.

Good structure and stay focussed 

The framework or structure of your essay is nearly or just as important as your writing. Having a clear and logical structure will ensure that your essay stays focussed and doesn’t stray from the question being answered or topic being explored. On top of that, make sure that each paragraph and sentence add value to the arguments you are presenting. Then, having good transitions from one argument to the next will help to ensure that your essay is coherent. And here’s a tip: make sure to tell your reader – briefly – why you are transitioning from one argument to the next, instead of merely treating the essay as a list of arguments, presenting one after the other with little consideration of how they fit together. 

Quoting and paraphrasing 

It’s certain that you’ll need to draw on arguments presented by others or refer to researchers’ findings, so it’s important to have proper citations in your essay. When it comes to quoting and paraphrasing, the preferred or general practice is to use the latter wherever possible. Here’s an example from Scribbr of how to properly paraphrase a quote:

Quote: “The number of foreign and domestic tourists in the Netherlands rose above 42 million in 2017, an increase of 9% and the sharpest growth rate since 2006, the national statistics office CBS reported on Wednesday.” (DutchNews.nl, 2018)

Paraphrase: According to the national statistics office, the Netherlands experienced dramatic growth in tourist numbers in 2017. More than 42 million tourists travelled to or within the Netherlands that year, representing a 9% increase – the steepest in 12 years (DutchNews.nl, 2018). 


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