Essay Writing

Planning an essay: the shape of it

Before you begin writing your essay you need an idea of its overall shape. Think of your essay as a (very abstract) person, with a head, body and feet.


This is the introduction to your essay. Here you need to indicate what it is you are going to write about. (In the Critical Essay refer to the question itself in your introduction.)

Without a head, your essay will not make a good first impression.


This is the biggest and most important part of your essay.

It needs to be divided into sections, one for each of the main paragraphs of your essay. Remember when you make a point or put forward an idea or argument you must back it up with examples / facts / quotes etc. The paragraphs need to be linked to each other effectively.

If you are comparing two texts or characters etc. or you are looking at arguments for and against, you might like to draw a line down the middle as shown on the diagram.

Without a body (with ideas clearly developed and linked together) your essay has no weight.


This is the conclusion to your essay, where you should round off your essay powerfully, and make a final statement. Without feet, your essay will not stand up.

Unless you are very good at thinking as you go along, it is a good idea to take time – even in an exam – to plan your essay. The plan need not be elaborate but you need to have an idea of the points you want to make and the evidence you will be putting forward to support your line of thought.

When writing about texts (in the Critical Essay paper) use the present tense as this helps your essay to sound analytical, rather than a simple description of the story e.g. In ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ Wilfred Owen denies that to die for your country is glorious and instead reveals the true horrors of war.

Use quotes carefully. Short quotes can be inserted naturally into a sentence in quotation marks. Introduce longer quotes (more than a line long) with a colon, begin on the line below, and indent. You do not need quotation marks for this method.


Writing a Discursive Essay

Discursive writing simply means argumentative writing. In this style of writing there are a few basic rules:

  1. Do not use ‘I think’, or ‘I feel’ etc.  Discursive writing is about arguing, not personal opinion.
  2. There are always two sides to an argument. Unless you are writing a persuasive essay you should try to treat both arguments fairly even if you hold particular views. The stronger argument will naturally win through.
  3. Titles should always take the form of a question. This helps immediately to promote argument e.g. Should abortion be available on demand? Should drugs in sport be legalised?
  4. Discursive writing is formal. All types of slang and colloquialism should be avoided. Do not use abbreviations such as ‘don’t’ and ‘can’t’ etc.
  5. In order that your essay be properly structured you will need to use good linking words and phrases to introduce and contradict arguments. Instead of ‘but’, and ‘so’ use: however, nonetheless, although, therefore, hence, whereas, despite, consequently, accordingly, yet, nevertheless, at the same time, similarly, on the other hand, etc.

Before you think about writing anything at all you should know exactly what you are trying to do. Decide on a topic, write a question that seems to address your topic, make a list of arguments (based on what you know already) and, finally, research your topic using sources from the library and / or the Internet. If you make two lists, either for and against or pros and cons you may find the information easier to organise.

When it comes to writing your conclusion, it is important not to revert to forcing your own opinion. Your own stance on the issue will be obvious if you have presented the arguments clearly and well. It is possible to show what you believe simply by representing an argument favourably e.g. “It seems clear that …” implies that this is the view that you hold to be true.



  • Use quotations to develop your line of thought.
  • Put inverted commas at the beginning and end of the quotation.
  • Write the quotation exactly as it appears in the original.
  • Do not use a quotation that repeats what you have just written.
  • Keep the quotation as short as possible.
  • One of the best ways to use a quotation is to embed it into the sentence.
  • Separate longer quotations from the body of your answer by missing a line and indenting the quotation.
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