Writing essays

Getting started with essay writing

Listen to these students' approaches to writing essays

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1. Analyse the question
The key to analysing the question is to:

  • identify the PROCESS -check out the process word used in the essay question, topic or title e.g. Discuss, Explain, Evaluate, Justify
  • identify the TOPIC - the main idea, concept or phenomenon you will write about e.g: Compare and contrast two equipment testing techniques ...Describe the development of HTML ...Discuss British Imperialism in South Asia
  • identify the LIMITS - if your question is:‘Discuss British Imperialism in the South Asia up to World War II.’, don't write about anything after World War II. That’s your limit.

Example question:
Evaluate James Smith’s essay writing strategies in the context of the British university system.’

Key questions:

  • What’s the process?
  • What’s the topic?
  • And what are the limits?


  • Your process is to evaluate.
  • The topic is essay writing strategies, specifically those put forward by ‘William Doig’.
  • Your limits are to evaluate the effectiveness of essay writing strategies within the ‘British university system’ only. It would be a waste of time to refer to school systems or education in any other country.

2. Check the marking criteria

Ask your lecturer or tutor for a set of marking criteria that shows how marks are awarded for your paper and what your tutor is looking for.The criteria may give you a way to kick-start your writing.

Ask your tutor for essay writing guidelines as well. Your school should have a description of their expected standard format for essays. For example, what font size should you use; do you need a cover page?


Practice analysing questions with past exam papers available from your Unit Resources on MyCourse.