Writing academic essays can be rather daunting; but it is important that students understand how to write an effective essay. Essays are written in a structure that opens with an introduction, builds up in the main body with supported explanations and ends with a conclusion. Students must stick to this structure and understand how to apply their knowledge effectively. So, below is a useful guide for students struggling to write an effective university level essay.


1. Plan – Introduction/Main body/Conclusion


When writing an essay, there are three main sections to complete; introduction, main body and conclusion. The introduction sets the scene for the reader. It introduces the general topic and enlightens the reader on what the essay will consist of. Next, is the main body. The main body answers the question; it includes main points and counter-arguments from the demonstration of a good understanding of multiple viewpoints. Finally, we have a conclusion. The conclusion essentially summarises the whole essay. It includes findings/ ideas from the main body that have been supported to answer the initial question. 

Therefore, when beginning an essay it is important for students to plan. Planning is essential for academic essay writing as it allows the student to organise their ideas for each section. When ideas are organised thoroughly, the structure is added to the entire essay. Additionally, academics reading your essay look for clear organisation and work that is easy to read and follow. 

Students should break down their essay into sections and set dates to complete specific parts. This method is ideal as students won’t feel overly worked. They can go back to sections of the essay and add to if necessary. 


2.Understand the essay question and what is being asked of you


An academic question can sometimes be complex for students to dissect due to the language used. Therefore, it is important to understand what is being asked of you, before tackling the question. Essentially, know your command words!

Command words are easy to point out; they are usually at the beginning of the question so don’t worry. Here are some examples to help you identify them:

“To an extent”, “Explain”, “Evaluate”, “Demonstrate”,“Analyse” and “Describe”. 

Each command word requires the student to approach the question differently. For instance, the word demonstrate requires the student to show a clear understanding of their knowledge for the topic with evidence. Some command words may require more detail depending on the question that is being asked of you so do check with lecturers for additional support.

Once there is a clear understanding of the question, the student can adopt a structure to write effectively. One popular structure for writing is the PEEL structure.

  1. Point (state your point with a topic sentence).
  2. Evidence (provide evidence/examples to support your initial point).
  3. Explanation (give an explanation of the evidence that you have provided – how it supports your point)
  4. Link – (link the point back to the question).

The PEEL structure is used and taught by many to help the structure of English writing flow effectively. When starting a new topic sentence or paragraph, students must write formally and use the PEEL structure. 

(Please note, not all essays or pieces of writing require the student to link back to the question, so write accordingly).


3. Know your referencing style


Every university has a particular referencing style that they practice; some courses in the same university can have different referencing styles. So it is important to know your courses referencing style and how to apply it. Listed below are examples of different referencing styles:

  1. Harvard 
  2. Chicago
  3. Oxford
  4. MLA
  5. APA

Additionally, students can use software such as Microsoft Word, citethisforme and even google scholar to reference their work.

(Please note: Students should reference as they go along rather than at the end to avoid sling important citations or links).


4. Read


Reading is a great way to gain more knowledge but don’t be scared to go beyond your reading list. Students can use sites such as Google Scholar or their university database to find extra information. 

Remember, lectures are looking for students who demonstrate the use of wider reading in their work and an in-depth understanding of the topic.


5. Proofread


Finally, proofread!

Regardless, if students type out essays on Microsoft Word, there are always mistakes left that the computer did not register. Therefore, students can use sites such as Grammarly or simply ask a friend to check their work to avoid spelling/ grammar errors. Additionally, it is advised that students run their work through a plagiarism site so they are within the allowed percentage. Universities usually allow below 15% of plagiarism however, this could differ in terms of university so do check with your institution. 


Overall, writing an academic essay can be rather challenging but by using these tips, you can improve the level of your essay writing. Please take into consideration that you don’t have to write an essay in the typical order. For instance, you can begin the main body before completing the introduction. Remember you can always add to this later.

Don’t forget to make a clear argument with examples, understand the questions and ensure you have produced a clear structure and before you know it, you would have written an outstanding academic essay. Best of luck with your studies and enjoy your essay writing.


-Jenise Chisholm