Some people are far too ambitious in writing their introductions. Writing a lengthy introduction limits the number of words available for the main body of the assignment. Keep the introduction short, preferably to one or two paragraphs and keep it, succinct, to the point. Some students find it best to write a provisional introduction, when starting to write an essay, and then to rewrite this when they have finished the first draft of their essay. To write a provisional introduction, ask yourself what the reader needs to know in order to follow your subsequent discussion. Other students write the introduction after they have written the main body of the essay – do whatever feels right for you and the piece of work you are writing. Essays are generally a blend of researched evidence (e.g. from additional reading) and comment. Some students’ essays amount to catalogues of factual material or summaries of other people’s thoughts, attitudes, philosophies or viewpoints.

At the opposite extreme, other students express only personal opinions with little or no researched evidence or examples taken from other writers to support their views. What is needed is a balance. The balance between other researchers’ and writers’ analysis of the subject and your own comment will vary with the subject and the nature of the question. Generally, it is important to back up the points you wish to make from your experience with the findings of other published researchers and writers. You will have likely been given a reading list or some core text books to read. Use these as your research base but try to expand on what is said and read around the subject as fully as you can. Always keep a note of your sources as you go along. You will be encouraged and expected to cite other authors or to quote or paraphrase from books that you have read.

The most important requirement is that the material you cite or use should illustrate, or provide evidence of, the point you are making. How much evidence you use depends on the type of essay you are writing. If you want a weight of evidence on some factual point, bring in two or three examples but no more. Quotations should not be used as a substitute for your own words. A quote should always have an explanation in your own words to show its significance to your argument. When you are citing another author’s text you should always indicate exactly where the evidence comes from with a reference, i.e. give the author’s name, date of publication and the page number in your work. A full reference should also be provided in the reference list at the end. See our page: Academic Referencing for more information. At the end of an essay you should include a short conclusion, the purpose of which is to sum up or draw a conclusion from your argument or comparison of viewpoints.

In other words, indicate what has been learned or accomplished. The conclusion is also a good place to mention questions that are left open or further issues which you recognise, but which do not come within the scope of your essay. Neither the conclusion, nor the introduction, should totally summarise your whole argument: if you try this, you are in danger of writing another assignment that simply repeats the whole case over again. You must include a reference list or bibliography at the end of your work. One common downfall is to not reference adequately and be accused of plagiarism. If you have directly quoted any other author’s text you should always indicate exactly where the evidence comes from in a reference. If you have read other documents in order to contrast your argument then these should also be referenced. See our page: Academic Referencing for a more comprehensive look at the importance of referencing and how to reference properly. When writing an essay it is good practice to consider your reader.

To guide the reader through your work you will need to inform them where you are starting from (in the introduction), where you are going (as the essay progresses), and where you have been (in the conclusion). It is helpful to keep the reader informed as to the development of the argument. You can do this by using simple statements or questions that serve to introduce, summarise or link the different aspects of your subject. How can these facts be interpreted? There are several views on this question. One important way of guiding the reader through your essay is by using paragraphs. Paragraphs show when you have come to the end of one main point and the beginning of the next. A paragraph is a group of sentences related to aspects of the same point. Within each individual paragraph an idea is introduced and developed through the subsequent sentences within that paragraph. Everyone finds it easier to read a text that is broken into short paragraphs.

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