Structuring a HE essay [Lesson]

The Question – What is it asking?

  • Discuss or debate, exploring both sides
  • Chronological account (biography, history, how an event panned out)
  • Report of practical work or experiment
  • Review (event, book, class)

Check the learning outcomes of your brief or assignment instructions – that is what you’ll be graded on.

Who is the essay aimed at? How do you treat them? ALWAYS bear them in mind.

  • Actual reader (assessors, examiner, employer, tutor at interview)
  • “Fictitious” reader – who is this person and how should you talk to them?
  • Justify yourself
  • Transparency: references to avoid plagiarism or “cheating” – and to be an academic too

Ensure that the tone of voice is academic

  • Intelligent person who understands your topic
  • May not know all the details, so explain them
  • Expects that you do not know it if you don’t state it yourself
  • Is a busy person – so make their life easy
  • Likes clarity
  • First person: “I will explore this issue…”
  • Third person: “This issue will be explored…”

Before you begin…

  • Check the question one more time
  • Look back to previous tutor feedback
  • Reflect o what your strength are
  • Reflect and action your plan to help you wish your essay

How to research:

  • Start with easy texts and videos so that you understand
  • No Wikipedia buy can you start by looking here for an overview
  • Build up your bank of references in more detailed documents
  • Cheat! If appropriate find a good article or video that has a structure that you like and think is useful – use that as a basis of your own structure

Essay Structure

  • Front Page (Name, Module, Essay Question etc.)
  • Introduction
    • Think of it as a map so the reader knows where they are going – overview
    • Say what you are going to say in the essay
    • Write this last
  • Exposition (Explaining)
    • What information do you need your reader to know before they can understand the main points of your essay?
    • Set the scene
    • Review the literature
    • Aims & Objectives
    • No rhetorical questions
  • Paragraphs
    • One idea per paragraph
    • More and shorter paragraphs
  • Conclusion
    • Like politely leaving the podium after a speech – you don’t just walk off
    • Reiterate your ideas
    • Emphasise any conclusions your essay or report makes
    • No questions or ideas, just finalise
  • Bibliography
  • Images (within the text)
    • No fancy layouts – no wrapped text (unless this is in the brief)
    • Label as Figure 1
    • Maker, date, title of image, where images “lives”
    • Reference (Where you got it from) in the bibliography


  • In the text with quote marks and reference
  • “Quote Marks” (Not Italics)
  • Longer quotes as indented & smaller font point (10pt) paragraphs



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