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First page of an essayWhat is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.
Samuel Johnson

For many students, essay-writing is one of the most challenging learning skills. This is probably because the writing of an essay is essentially a super-skill, built up from many contributing sub-skills, including reading and note-taking, creativity and elements of problem-solving, as well as computing and all the language skills of structuring a piece of text, presenting an argument, writing lucid statements, etc. And since essays typically need to be completed within tight deadlines, organisational and time management skills are also crucial. Finally, it helps tremendously, of course, if you are highly motivated!

What are the essential properties of any essay? Starting with the most significant they are as follows:

  • The essay must provide an answer to the precise question posed. Thus it is possible for an essay to be brilliantly written, but to be totally irrelevant and so of little value.
  • The essay should have an appropriate logical structure, transporting the reader from the original question posed right through to the conclusion, with all the arguments and ideas clearly linked.
  • The substance of the essay should demonstrate that the writer has a sound grasp of all the major concepts presented and a substantial understanding of the knowledge area.
  • The essay should be coherently written, with good grammar, spelling and punctuation, and it should be an interesting read. There should also be an adherence to appropriate presentational conventions, e.g. for page layout and bibliographic references.


Detailed guidance on essay-writing can be found in most study skills books, and there are some relevant web sites listed below. In general, essay-writing is like a craft. In other words, you learn how to do it well by doing it and gradually honing your methods. It can also be useful to look at other students' essays and to evaluate your own efforts in the light of this. In practical terms, essay-writing is considerably easier when you have collected together plenty of 'good material'. And so many people find mind-mapping helpful in these earlier creative, preparatory stages. If you are wishing to embark on a more substantial piece of writing, such as a book, see Thesis for further guidance.

Further Information

For further information about essays and essay-writing see:

Guide to Writing a Basic Essay by Kathy Livingston - Writing Tools Websites
Writing Papers (Virginia Tech)
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Page last modified: 30 July 2012
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