Academic writing/Writing an academic essay

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Writing an academic essay

It's important to know how to write clearly, but as important is understanding the expectations of an academic essay. Writing an essay is a way of synthesising knowledge, and showing your lecturer than you are able to locate reliable information, analyse it and then apply it to a situation which tests your understanding of a particular aspect of the discipline you are studying. There are a number of strategies you must take in addition to clear and well-structured writing to ensure that you will create a convincing and effective essay.

Understanding the assignment

There are important things you need to understand about the assignment.

  • When is it due?
  • How long is it supposed to be?
  • What is the exact topic of the essay?
  • What are the types of sources your lecturer expects you to use to answer the essay question?

You should ask yourself these questions when the essay is assigned rather than when it is time to start working on it. By taking an early look, you will have a better sense of the scope of the project, you can plan you time effectively, and you can see how lecture and tutorial material contributes to understanding the essay topic. If you can't answer any one of these questions with certainty, speak with your lecturer or tutor and seek clarification.

Getting started

In most cases, your first look at the essay topic may be daunting. You may know little about the subject and feel anxious, worrying "what is it I am supposed to say?!#!" But, maybe you are in a better position, and already have a good understanding of the topic. Your first goal is to make sure you have a general enough understanding of the topic to know what you need to read to be able to answer the question competently and well.

Developing an argument

When your lecturer assigns an essay, they are asking you to look at information, and take a position with respect to this information. What does this mean? It means that your lecturer wants you to believe in something, and convince the reader why they should too. The argument is the position you are taking in your essay. It is important to identify your argument, because it provides the structure to the rest of your essay.

Staking out your premises

An argument then must be supported by premises. Premises are the facts that your use to explain why you have adopted a particular argument. These are the points that you are making to convince your reader that your argument is valid and based on solid evidence. From a structural point of view, each premise becomes a subpart of your essay. Your conclusion will logically follow from your premises To be effective, premises must not only follow a logical pattern, they must be based on well researched information. This is where you will incorporate the beliefs and assertions of established academics, and knowledgeable researchers in the discipline, as well as any independent research you may have undertaken yourself.

Otago Polytechnic 2006

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Key points
Be careful not to rely too heavily on anecdotal information, but to seek a high level of evidence for your claims.

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Identify some examples of anecdotal information, then consider other ways that evidence could be provided to support the examples