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Writing postgraduate essays

Postgraduate essays are longer and require more depth of analysis than undergraduate essays. The following resource provides some suggestions for writing better essays. You can also bring your essays to an SLC tutor for guidance at any stage of the writing process.

Tips for writing better essays

The process of academic writing involves defining your topic, researching, planning, drafting and revising (for more detail, download the Essay Writing Process). Each stage of the process is crucial and when writing postgraduate essays you may need to revisit each step more than once, so allow yourself plenty of time. You will turn out a better product if you do a small amount every day over two or three weeks, rather than trying to cram the whole process into a couple of days.

Spend some time thinking about and focusing on your topic before you begin researching. If you have been given an essay question, carefully analyse the key instructions, the topic and its parameters, and the different parts of the question you have to answer. If you have simply been asked to write on a topic, formulate a question for yourself as this will help to focus your essay. Break the essay topic down into smaller sub-questions or 'chunks' that need to be addressed in order to develop your answer.

Make good use of research materials. You need to show you can find materials pertinent to the topic, and that you have read and understood them. Use sub-questions to direct your reading and organise your note-taking. Information gathered from research forms the 'flesh' of your essay: it substantiates explanations, backs up claims, and ties your essay to current knowledge and data. All ideas and information from other writers should be clearly explained and referenced.

Planning before you write is vital. Begin by brainstorming or mind-mapping your ideas, then work out a logical order for the points you want to present. If the essay is long, create an outline of subheadings and plan each section in detail. Always keep the question, and therefore the answer required, in mind. Write well-structured paragraphs. Each paragraph should develop one main point, which is expressed clearly and simply and backed up with explanations, elaboration, evidence and/or examples.

Work on achieving a sense of flow in the essay. Provide transitional bridges to move the reader from sentence to sentence or paragraph to paragraph. Your train of thought and your connections between ideas should be made obvious to the reader.

Never submit a first draft! Print out the essay (double-spaced) and allow plenty of time for revision and reflection.

When editing your work check first for structural considerations:

  • Are all ideas and connections between them clearly explained?
  • Have you missed any important points?
  • Does the essay have a logical order?
  • Does the introduction provide the reader with a clear 'map' of the essay?
  • Does the conclusion reflect and consolidate your main points?
  • Are all information and ideas from other writers accurately referenced?
  • Have you answered all parts of the question?

Second, consider the finer details:

  • Check sentence structure (try reading it out loud if you're unsure).
  • Proof read for grammatical and spelling errors.
  • Eliminate wordiness and repetition.

When the essay is returned, reflect on any feedback comments from your marker and review your essay. Think about what worked and what you need to improve.