Essay writing

Preparing to write an essay

Now that you are in college you will probably be asked to write essays and assignments that are more complex and significantly longer than any you have previously written. This means you are not likely to be able to produce a good quality college assignment in one sitting.

There is no right or wrong way to approach assignment writing. This guide has been written to try and provide some useful pointers to help keep you on track.

Before you get started

Here are some questions you need to think about before you start:

  • How much time are you going to need to write the assignment?

Think about other deadlines and commitments you have. If you have lots of other things to do then it might be useful to write a rough timetable, blocking out specific times to work on different tasks.

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5
Mon Research for art Final draft of art assignment Art Assignment Due
Tue Read art and make plan Begin writing art assignment Rest
Wed Write art assignment plan Finish art assignment
Thurs Art assignment
Fri Start maths assignment Finish maths assignment Maths Assignment Due
  • Do you already have enough information?

Where are you going to look if you need further information? How much time will you set aside for information gathering?

  • Do you understand the assignment question?

If not you need to assign yourself time to analyse the question, or to contact your lecturer to ask them for help.

Make a plan

It is very easy to get distracted when you’re writing up assignments. When you have finished your background reading, but before you begin writing, it is a good idea to write a plan. An assignment plan is a rough outline of the structure of your assignment and the arguments and information you will include.

How do I write an assignment plan?

A good place to start is to ‘brainstorm’ your ideas. This means getting all your ideas down quickly, without bothering too much about the order. You can put your ideas down either onto paper or on a computer.

Once you have done this you can select the points you are going to use in the assignment, and put them in order. By grouping similar ideas together in a logical structure, your assignment will have a more natural flow. Some people prefer to write their plan as a list. Others prefer visual methods such as mind maps. Choose whatever works best for you.

Keep your plan to hand whenever you are working on your assignment, so that you can refer back to it. The plan should really help to keep you on track.

You now have all the information you need, as well as a plan!  But are you confident enough about your language and grammar? Are they good enough to get you high marks in a college assignment? If not it is well worth putting aside some time to get your grammar skills up to scratch. To help with this there are plenty of resources available in the Learning Centre, or on the internet.Now are you ready to start?

Here are two to try:

Now you should definitely be ready to start!


This study guide is one of many available to help you with your study skills. Once you are ready to start writing your assignment then the ‘Structuring an essay’ will also be useful.

Proofreading an essay

Proofreading is an essential task in your work preparation process. It is the process of checking your work for errors before your work is finally submitted. It requires a high level of concentration and attention to detail and includes checking for accurate spelling, good grammar and a clear writing style.

Why do I need to proofread my work?

Work should always be proofread as a matter of course. A document full of spelling and grammatical errors indicates to the examiner or reader a sloppy approach and a lack of attention to detail on the part of the author. You need to be able to show that you have taken your work seriously. Well-written and presented work will give the examiner the proof that you understand what you have written and can clearly demonstrate this in writing.

How do I proofread a document?

The best policy is to proofread the text twice:

The first time that you proofread you need to focus on the following:

  1. It is better to use a dictionary when checking for spelling mistakes. When using a spell checker to word process a document it is essential to make sure that UK and not US spelling is used. Do not rely solely on spell checkers and grammar checkers as they do not always detect errors. If unsure, it is always better to use a good dictionary.
  2. Check punctuation and grammar.
  3. Check sentence structure.

The second time that you proofread you need to focus on the following:

  1. Re-check the spelling for any changes that need to be made from the first proof reading with special attention on any alterations for singular/plural nouns and verb endings.
  2. Re-check grammar.
  3. Re-check punctuation.
  4. Check the sense or coherence of each line and then each paragraph as a whole.

After proofreading the document yourself, print out a copy and ask a friend to read through your work. It is easier to spot errors on paper than on a screen. Ask them to mark any errors or changes in pencil. It is then up to you to revise the document making any further alterations as necessary before submission.

Structuring an essay

College essays are likely to be more complex and longer than any you have been set before.  To make a really good impression on your lecturer you’re going to have to pay particular attention to the structure of the essay and the language you use.

Brush up on grammar before you start

If you haven’t written an essay for a while it might be a good idea to spend some time refreshing your skills. Language and grammar are not covered in this guide, but there are books in the Learning Centre that will help you. Alternatively try one of these web resources:

Writing style

Each of your lecturers will prefer their essays to be written in a certain way. You may also find you need to change your writing style for different subjects, or types of essay. At the start of your time at college you will be given guidance on this. This study guide provides some general advice on writing an academic type essay.

Quick tips

  • Academic essays should be formal in nature, impersonal, but still easy to read. The material from your reading lists will act as a good style guide.
  • You do not need to describe basic concepts, unless you are asked to do so. You can safely assume that your lecturer will already understand them.
  • Steer clear of slang- an essay should be different from the way that you speak.
  • Try and use the technical language of the subject you are writing about- but don’t use words if you’re unsure of their meaning.
  • Use a thesaurus- showing that you have a wide vocabulary will help you to get higher marks.


Parts of an essay
Essay introduction

The introduction is the opening part of your essay. It gives a basic outline of your essay and some information of the kinds of arguments you want to make. You should aim for the introduction to be only one paragraph long, and no more than 10 per cent of your total word count. It is important to spend time writing a good introduction.

Main essay body

The main body of your essay is where you set about answering the assignment question and arguing your case. The main body will contain about 80 per cent of your total words.

To help make your assignment more readable you will need to make good use of paragraphs. A paragraph is a collection of sentences that cover the same idea. By referring to your essay plan you should be able to identify your paragraph topics, and the order that they will appear.  Generally paragraphs should be between three and eight sentences long. Your aim is to make the essay flow as much as possible with one paragraph leading into another.

If you use other people’s direct quotes or ideas in your work then you need to acknowledge this in the text, as well as referencing them in the bibliography. Further information on referencing is available on the Learning Centre’s iLearn page.

Essay conclusion

The conclusion is a brief summary of all the points you have made in the main body of the essay. If your essay title asks you to make a judgment about the topic then you can state your judgements in the conclusion. You should, however, avoid introducing any new ideas. The conclusion should be no more than 10 per cent of your total word count, and preferably no longer than one paragraph.

Re-reading and rewriting

At the end of the essay writing process it is a good idea to leave yourself time for proof reading. As well as checking for spelling and grammar ask yourself the following questions: Does the essay flow? Does it answer the question? Is it close to the required word count? Does every point you make contribute to answering the question?

Getting your essay back

Don’t be too upset if in your first few attempts you don’t get the mark you were hoping for. Look at the comments that your lecturers make, and use their advice to help you to do better next time. If you are unsure or unhappy about any of the comments, then talk to your lecturer about it.

Study Skills