An essay is an opportunity for you to explore a topic from different angles and then explain what you think and how you came to make your conclusions or hold your opinions.
Researching and writing an essay will often give you an opportunity to:
Address a question or topic that is open for debate
Research to gather evidence on different sides of an issue
Present and evaluate evidence for different ideas and opinions
Argue a point of view according to the evidence presented
How can I get started?
Step 1: Look at your assignment brief and the marking criteria
The assignment brief for an essay will give you a question or a choice of questions to answer. Each essay question has a topic, an essential task and may also have limitations set by your tutor. Make sure you understand what you are expected to do in this piece of work.
Step 2: Consider how you could narrow down your topic
Essay titles can be quite broad, so consider how you might narrow your topic in order to be able to say something interesting about it. Don't make any decisions until you have done preliminary research, but start to think about how you could focus on a specific context, group, period in time or set of factors in your answer.
Step 3: Do preliminary research and planning
Gain some background knowledge using your reading list. Select a few 'introduction' texts, which will introduce you to important vocabulary, themes and issues in your subject. Time spent understanding the background and context of the topic is well spent, even if you don't find direct answers to your questions at this stage.
Step 4: Refine your research
Establish questions you want answers to, find resources and read relevant extracts with these questions in mind. Use the library catalogue and the wider web to find interesting relevant sources.
Step 5: Plan what you want to include
Decide which sources you will use to establish and argue your position on the topic. To have a coherent argument you will not be able to draw on all the ideas you have researched. Choose a structure for your essay which will best get your message across.
Step 6: Draft and review
Address one point per paragraph. Do further research where you find gaps and edit your work to communicate clearly to your reader.
What should an essay look like?
Below is a paragraph from an essay on ocean plastics.
Move the slider at the bottom to see how ideas are structured in this paragraph. Look at example paragraphs from example work in your course to see if they follow a similar structure. You can also download a longer extract.