Academic Writing: Essays

Once within the academic milieu, no matter what the program of study, students will be asked to write an essay. In the hard sciences, where understanding of the lessons is often more hands on and displayed through experiments and experiment documentation, there is likely less demand for essays, but in the arts, humanities and social sciences, essays are a key component of most classes. All students are expected to be able to express themselves through academic writing such as essays and research papers.

Essays are rarely over 5000 words, and indeed, many are a 10th of that number. The purpose of an essay can be to show understanding of a concept, to share ones personal views and beliefs, to convince others of a specific belief, or to review or comment on a given topic. Essays typically focus on one main point and follow a consistent succession of parts, from the introduction of the main idea to commentary or defence of the idea, closing with a summary of the main ideas presented thought the work.

In writing essays, preparation is essential.

Not only is the subject and main idea vital, the objective and style of the essay should be decided upon before the writing begins; whether it is to be informative or descriptive, persuasive or a narrative. If these fundamentals are not fully formed before the writing begins, it will be much more challenging not only to write, but for the reader to understand.

An essay starts with a presentation of the main idea within the first paragraph (usually reiterating a concept introduced in the title). From there the idea is supported with research or anecdotal evidence, or, in the case of a narrative or descriptive essay, with a linear progression of the narrative.

The essay winds down with a summary of the main points presented through the body of the work, culminating in a closing statement that echoes the main idea presented in the first paragraph. A good essay will flow directly from the opening statement through to the conclusion in a straightforward manner, without moving into tangents unrelated to the topic or to the thread of the essay.