What does a good essay need?
An academic essay aims to persuade readers of an idea based on evidence.
- An academic essay should answer a question or task.
- It should have a thesis statement (answer to the question) and an argument.
- It should try to present or discuss something: develop a thesis via a set of closely related points by reasoning and evidence.
- An academic essay should include relevant examples, supporting evidence and information from academic texts or credible sources.
Basic steps in writing an essay
Although there are some basic steps to writing an assignment, essay writing is not a linear process. You might work through the different stages a number of times in the course of writing an essay. For example, you may go back to the reading and notetaking stage if you find another useful text, or perhaps to reread to locate specific information.
Possible steps (In no strict order)
See next:Getting Started
For all your referencing, writing and academic skills support
Want to improve your grades? Try NavigateMe
For students in most disciplines, essays are one of the most common types of assessment. No matter what the essay question or topic is, and no matter how long or short it has to be, there are some basic things that all essays have in common: their purpose, structure and tone or register. These are things you can learn, and once you master them, you'll feel much more confident to tackle any essay that comes your way!
|Purpose (opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll find an explanation of the purpose of an essay.|
|Structure (opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll learn how to structure your essay.|
|Tone(opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll find a helpful guide to getting the tone of your essay right.|
|Essay drafting tool (opens in a new window)||This handy interactive PDF will guide you through the stages of drafting your essay, section by section.|
In some disciplines you may be asked to write a report. You might need to write a report on information you have gathered on a particular topic, or on a practical industry experience you had, or on a research project you have done either on your own or as part of a group. You might also be asked to write it for a particular audience, e.g. a market report for a commercial client.
Reports are also very common in many professional areas, including business, management, accounting, engineering, information technology, education, health, and social sciences. So learning to write reports at university is a really important part of developing your skills for your future career.
In this section you'll find resources to help you understand the report genre in general terms. Help for more specific types of reports is available from your School and will be available here in the near future.
|Purpose (opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll find an explanation of the purpose of a report.|
|Structure(opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll learn how to structure your report.|
|Tone(opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll find a helpful guide to getting the tone of your report right.|
Case studies come up in most disciplines, but are particularly used for studying human behaviour (e.g. in Social Sciences & Psychology), human development (e.g. in Education), or professional situations (e.g. in Business; Nursing & Midwifery; Computing, Engineering & Mathematics).
Case studies get you to make the connections between the theory you're learning and a real world situation. In some cases, they allow you to see how a certain organisation puts theory into practice. Download our PDF resources below to help you get the purpose, structure, and tone of your case study right.
|Purpose(opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll find an explanation of the purpose of a case study.|
|Structure (opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll learn how to structure your case study.|
|Tone (opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll find a helpful guide to getting the tone of your case study right.|
- UNSW's page on Writing the Case Study (opens in a new window)
- Monash University's page Case study report (opens in a new window), which includes an example of a business-style problem-solving case study report with comments
- Monash University's handout (PDF) on How to write the case study (opens in a new window), which focuses on problem-solving case studies
It's important to state from the outset that there is no right or wrong way to reflect. Reflection is an internal process, and no one can tell you how to do it. We can, however, tell you a little about the purpose of reflection, and how to write reflectively in terms of both structure and tone.
If you're asked to submit a piece of reflective writing at university, make sure you meet all the requirements of the task. While there is no right or wrong way to reflect, there can be right or wrong ways to write about it!
|Purpose(opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll find an explanation of the purpose of reflective writing.|
|Structure (opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll learn how to structure your reflective writing.|
|Tone (opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll find a helpful guide to getting the tone of your reflective writing right.|
|Activities to aid reflection(opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll find tips and activities to guide your own reflection.|
Literature reviews & annotated bibliographies
|Literature review purpose(opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll find an explanation of the purpose of a literature review.|
|Literature review process (opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll learn find out how to research and write your literature review.|
|Annotated bibliography (opens in a new window)||In this PDF, you'll be guided through the process of writing an annotated bibliography and learn how it differs from a literature review.|
General writing help
Everyone has language skills. Maybe you can speak a language other than English. Maybe you're very good at arguing or debating. Maybe you're good at explaining things to others. Maybe you're good at being creative with language, such as rapping, or writing song lyrics, poems, or stories.
A lot of what we do with language every day is spoken. While speaking is important at university, most of your assignments will require writing, so developing your writing skills for the academic setting is essential. If you can get good at writing at university, you'll also be more attractive to future employers.
In the sections on Essays, Reports, Case studies, and Reflective writing, we've introduced the conventions for structuring and writing whole texts. In this section, you'll find PDF guides to help you with the smaller elements of texts: paragraphs, sentences, grammar, and vocabulary.
The University also offers free workshops on academic writing, referencing, and grammar. These are open to all students enrolled at Western Sydney University. You can find out more information on the Academic literacy and grammar workshops page (opens in a new window).
Try one of these apps to help you with your sentences and punctuation:
Clarity English (opens in a new window) offers interactive learning programs for reading, grammar and academic writing. You can find Clarity English under 'C' in the Library's eResources, and log in (opens in a new window) (instructions, PDF, 54 kb) using your Western ID.
Other sections of this website contain information on types of sources and thinking critically about sources (see Researching and reading).
Once you've done your research, found your sources, and made some notes, how do you use all this in your essay or assignment? The main reason to use sources is to give evidence to support your claims.
When you use information from a source, you have three options for incorporating that information into your own writing. You can:
- Quote the material directly, with attribution;
- Summarise the material, with attribution; or
- Paraphrase the material, with attribution.
Note that attribution is non-negotiable. Any time you refer to an idea that is not your own, you must give credit to the source. See Referencing and citation (opens in a new window) for more information.
The use of the above three options can vary by topic and discipline. Science and related disciplines will usually prefer that you summarise or paraphrase rather than quote directly, while direct quotations are more appropriate in some Humanities subjects like literary studies.
Note that, however you choose to incorporate information from sources, you need to integrate it with your own writing by explaining its connection with the topic you are writing about. You can't just drop a quotation or a paraphrase into a paragraph and expect your reader to work out the connection between it and the rest of your writing.
Stuck on the right words to use to integrate evidence? See 'Expressions to introduce quotations' in our resource on Vocabulary (opens in a new window) (PDF, 88 kB).
Read on for more information about referencing, quoting, summarising, and paraphrasing.
|Referencing and citation (opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll learn the difference between a reference and a citation.|
|Quoting (opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll learn how to use quotes effectively in academic writing.|
|Summarising (opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll learn how to summarise effectively in academic writing.|
|Paraphrasing (opens in a new window)||In this PDF you'll learn how to paraphrase effectively in academic writing.|