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Help to boost your grades

Writing for Essays & Assignments

Critical Analysis

One of the most important elements in essay writing is the ability to be analytical and critical (developing your own arguments) rather than just descriptive (reporting other people’s ideas).  You need to be able to show that you have read up on the topic to discover other people’s views, looked at the evidence supporting those views and made your own evidence-based conclusions; rather than just accepting and quoting someone else’s view.

Critical analysis is the key to maximum marks whereas descriptive writing, where you only present facts or other people’s views, will only gain minimal marks.

To be critical you need to:

  • Refuse to accept the views of others at face value
  • Evaluate the evidence available and make your own conclusions
  • Have the confidence to dispute accepted views if evidence shows otherwise
  • Avoid bias
  • Recognise any limitations in your own evidence and arguments
  • Be able to distinguish between relevant and non-relevant evidence.

Use of Quotations

Other authors’ viewpoints are useful to include as supporting evidence for your own opinions and conclusions. 
Quotations can be used in your work as long as they are properly referenced (see Harvard Guide for advice on how

 to put in quotations) and credit given to the original author. However, don’t be tempted to put in so many quotes that they outnumber your own personal contributions and opinions. 
Please be aware that failure to give credit to the original author of a quotation or idea, like direct copying of any material and claiming it as your own, is known as Plagiarism.  This will lead to the failure of your assignment


It is very important to stay focused on the question you have been given. Try to stick to information which only relates to the question and which supports your arguments. 
• Have you actually answered the question? 
• Have you included all the important points? 
• Have you developed your arguments? 
• Is everything that you have included really relevant

Supporting Information

If you have any evidence that you would like to include supporting your arguments, these can be included in appendices at the end of your essay: 
• Bibliography – a list of all the information sources that you have used (books, journals, websites)
• Surveys & questionnaires 
• Statistics 
• Reports 
• Photographs 

The final version
Go through your final version again or ask a friend or family member to read through it for you to carry out a final check for: 
• Statement of the question at the top of the first page of the essay 
• Spelling errors 
• Presentation – length and spacing of paragraphs. page numbers, headers & footers, etc. 
• Have you answered the question? 
• Have you included all the important points and are they clear? 
• Have you credited all your quotations and do they link to your bibliography? 
• Is everything that you have included really relevant? 

A front cover 
The front cover should state: 
• your name 
• your course 
• Title of the assignment / essay 
• Tutor 
• Date 

Contents page 
A contents page can be useful, especially where you may have lots of appendices. 

A Sample essay structure

• Arouse the reader’s interest 
• Set the scene 
• Explain how you interpret the question set 
• Define or explain key terms if necessary 
• Identify the issues that you are going to explore 
• Give a brief outline of how you will deal with each issue, and in which order 
Argument/Main Body 
Contains the points outlined in your introduction, divided into paragraphs: 
  • Paragraph 1 
Covers the first thing you said you’d address. 
The first sentence (the topic sentence) introduces the main idea of the paragraph. 
Other sentences develop the topic. 
Include relevant examples, details, evidence, quotations, references. 
  • Paragraph 2 and other paragraphs 
The first sentence links the paragraph to the previous paragraph then introduces the main idea of the paragraph. 
The Conclusion 
• Draw everything together 
• Summarise the main themes 
• State your general conclusions 
• Make it clear why those conclusions are important or significant 
• Do not introduce new material 
• In the last sentence, sum up your argument very briefly, linking it to the title 
• Set the issues in a broader perspective/wider context 
• Discuss what you’ve failed to do – answers not clear, space limited 
• Suggest further questions of your own 

Tips for planning your essay

A Good Essay Structure:
Is made easier by prior planning 
Makes it clear how you are going to address the question, where you are going and why 
Sets out your main ideas clearly 
Makes it clear how the main ideas relate to each other 
Takes the reader through your answer in a logical, progressive way 
Helps the reader to remember what you’ve said 
Organises groups of related information in paragraphs 
Uses connecting words and phrases to relate each point/idea to earlier and later points. 
Make an outline plan
Keep the question in sight
A list of the key points may help or try using a mind map to give you an overview of the essay and keep you on track.
Try ways of planning where you can physically arrange the points:
  • Different points on index cards
  • “Post-it notes” on a sheet of card
Refine your plan
Work out the order for introducing key points. 
Convert your outline plan into a linear plan – list the main topics/arguments as headings in order. 
Code (colour, letters, numbers) the headings. 
For each main topic/argument note the main information you’ll include and the examples/other supporting details.
Sort your research notes – use the code colour, number or letter to relate them to your plan 
If your research has drawn out key points that you had missed, include them. Delete anything that now seems irrelevant
  or unimportant. 
Start drafting!
Start with the “middle”.
Take each main topic/idea and write a paragraph about it. 
Don’t worry about style/spelling at this stage – let the ideas flow. 
Leave space for editing.
Each paragraph needs a “topic sentence” that makes it clear what that paragraph is about. 
The rest of the paragraph will include information and evidence related to that “topic”. 
Write the conclusion – it should sum up the content of the “middle” and relate back to the title. 
Write the introduction – it’s easier to say what your essay sets out to do once you’ve done it. 
If you’ve created your draft in word, print off a hard copy for editing purposes.