Essay Guide

Our comprehensive guide to the stages of the essay development process. Back to Student Resources

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Essay writing

Writing essays successfully is not a special ability that only some people are born with and it is not an elite activity that only some people are allowed to do. It is a skill that can be learnt just like any other skill. Writing essays will help you learn and develop that skill – and help you keep it honed.

Being an undergraduate means being a writer. During the three or four years of your degree course you will be writing all the time: making notes in lectures and seminars, making notes from books and articles, and writing essays. You will probably do more writing than you have ever done before – and probably more than you will ever do again. The more you do, the better you will get. Writing essays will help you get better and stay fit.

Writing essays successfully is a process that takes place over time. What you do next week builds on what you did this week or last week. Like all writing, it involves developing self-awareness about what you are doing and why, about what works and what does not. Writing essays will help you develop self-awareness about your writing.

Writing essays at university is not only a skill: it is also a practice. In a literal sense, this means that you do it over and over again. A practice also means an accepted and acceptable mode of behaviour; and one accepted and acceptable mode of behaviour connects with other accepted and acceptable modes of behaviour. So writing essays at university means that you are participating in larger ideas about, for example, how to learn, how to express yourself, how to transmit and receive knowledge.

Theresa M. Lillis, an academic who specialises in the study of writing at university, found that a large part of student anxiety was “centred on academic writing as students attempted to write within the rules of the game without knowing what the rules were.” The Writing essays resource tries to make those rules transparent.