How to write an essay for university (QUICKLY)

How to write an essay for university (QUICKLY)

How to write an essay for university

Knowing how to write an essay for university requires two things. First, you must prepare well by researching your topic so you know what you’re going to say and have enough reference material to back it up. Second, you need to know the technicalities of how to write a good essay.

If you’re struggling to write an essay in university, it’s because you are stuck on one (or both) of these things. This article focuses on the technical aspects of how to write a good essay. It assumes you’ve completed your research and essay outline before sitting down to write your first essay draft. 

If you want to learn more about research, outlining, and how to write an essay plan, read our ultimate essay planning guide.

This article will teach you how to write a good essay for university, regardless of which subject you study. That’s because it focuses on the fundamental structure and principles that are the hallmarks of all good academic essays.

How to write an essay for university

The typical university essay format has three sections: an introduction, a discussion, and a conclusion.

You start by briefly presenting your topic and central argument in your introduction, then build your argument point by point in your discussion to lead to a logical, convincing conclusion.

Each of these three sections has its own conventions. Once you understand these conventions, writing an essay becomes almost a paint-by-numbers exercise. Let’s look at each one in turn so you understand their purpose and how to structure them.

How to write an essay introduction

Keep your introduction brief, and avoid adding too much detail. All you need to do is briefly summarise the essay topic to set the scene and provide context for what follows in the discussion section. It should give someone the essence of the overall work without entirely giving the game away.

Think of your essay introduction like a movie trailer.

The length of your essay introduction should be somewhere between 5-10% of your total word count. It rarely needs more than two to three paragraphs, but it should have some specific characteristics.

How to start an assignment introduction

An essay introduction should include three things:

  1. A brief description of the topic being discussed
  2. A fact that highlights the significance of the essay topic
  3. A simple statement that introduces your main argument (sometimes called a thesis statement)

Keep your introduction simple—write a paragraph for each of the first two elements and a single sentence describing your main argument. Do this, and you can’t really go wrong.

Start your first paragraph with some brief background info about your topic to give your essay discussion some context. This only needs to be two or three sentences. (For example, look back at the first paragraph of this article. Though it’s not an academic essay, it still introduces the topic and defines the two most important factors in writing a good essay.)

In the next paragraph, build on this by explaining why your topic is of interest. You may want to drop a (referenced) statistic or two to validate the significance of the discussion that is about to follow. A good trick is to link it to a broader social issue, which will give your article more relevance in the reader’s mind and get their attention.

Once you’ve introduced your topic and highlighted its significance, it’s time to define your main argument with a simple statement (aka your thesis statement). This should be a single sentence that clarifies the stance you are taking in your essay. You don’t need to justify this stance in your introduction—you will do this in the discussion section through various talking points backed up with (referenced) evidence.

(Note: The last paragraph of this article’s introduction is essentially a (non-academic) thesis statement. It states that it will teach the reader the fundamental principles of good essay writing. Go back and read it. Note how simple and direct it is.)

If you need to define any technical or ambiguous terms that are central to your argument, do this before moving on to the main discussion section.

For essays over 3000 words, you may want to expand on your thesis statement by briefly mentioning the key themes that form the basis of your argument.

Not sure how to start your essay introduction? Try this . . .

You may find it easier to write your introduction after you’ve written the rest of your essay. If you decide to take this approach, start by writing your thesis statement to give you some initial focus, then move on to the main discussion section. Then go back and write your essay introduction once you’ve written your conclusion.

That might sound backward, but it can often help you build some early momentum and write your essay more quickly. 

To figure out what to say in your introduction, wait until you’ve finished your essay, then ask yourself these four questions:

  1. What is my essay about?
  2. Why is it important?
  3. What position am I taking?
  4. What key discussion points have I included?

The answers to these questions will give you the basis for a good essay introduction.

How to write an essay discussion

The discussion section is the main body of your essay. It’s where you build your main argument through a series of discussion points, and it should be about 80% of your word count. 

The best way to write your essay discussion is to start with an outline listing each point you want to make. Each item should build on its predecessor to create a strong argument with a logical flow. 

Ordering your discussion points this way gives your essay a solid structure. Writing your essay discussion then becomes a simple process of expanding on each item by clarifying it and adding supporting evidence from your research.

To do this, write a separate paragraph for each point you want to make. Start each paragraph with a single sentence stating the central idea of your discussion point. (This is often called a topic sentence.)

For example, if you were answering an essay question about the importance of social media for a brand’s marketing, you might want to make a point about how much time people spend on social media. In which case, you could write a topic sentence like:

“Consumers spend significant time and attention on social media platforms.” 

You then expand on your topic sentence and back it up with (referenced) research. For example, you could expand on the above example with referenced statistics showing how much time different demographics spend using social media. You could also compare this to how long they spend consuming other media channels.

Once you’ve justified your point with referenced evidence, wrap up the point with a closing sentence that links it back to the main essay question. (This is often called a conclusion statement.)

Staying with our example, you may write a concluding statement like:

“Clearly, the extent to which social media captures people’s attention gives it the potential to be a highly effective advertising channel.”

You then follow the same process for every point in your outline. (Other potential talking points for our example may include how cost-effective social media advertising is compared to other channels, how likely consumers are to make purchasing decisions based on social media advertising, or how it enables real-time data-driven decision-making.)

The key is to back up each statement you make with solid referenced evidence. Don’t go throwing any wild theories out there. 

Undergrad essays aren’t about original thoughts. They’re about showing you understand the topic and justifying your arguments.

A good ballpark length for each discussion point is 200-250 words. So, for a 1000-word essay, you need to make three to four points, depending on the length of your introduction and conclusion. You may find it helpful to think of each point as a mini-essay rather than trying to consider your entire essay in one go.

A common way to structure your essay discussion is to lead with your strongest point in the first paragraph, write a supporting point in your second paragraph, and then offer a counter-argument in your third paragraph. You can then weigh these different points to formulate a balanced viewpoint in your conclusion.

For a 3000-word essay, you will need to make 10-12 points. This gives you the scope to provide a more nuanced discussion with extra detail, deeper analysis and insights, and more (referenced) examples and evidence to support your claims.

Once you’ve built your argument point by point and included relevant supporting evidence, you can move on to writing your essay’s conclusion.

How to write an essay conclusion

Your conclusion shouldn’t include any new ideas that don’t feature elsewhere in your essay. Instead, it should state a clear position on the essay topic that is logically justified by the points you made in your main discussion. It should also address any limitations that must be legitimately considered.

Going back to our social media advertising example, you may end up with a concluding position such as:

“Social media is an important tool in a brand’s advertising arsenal. Its large user base and cost-effectiveness make it hard to ignore. However, to use it effectively, a brand must clearly understand its audience demographics and know which social media platforms are most relevant for its customer base. It must also understand the culture of these platforms and be able to create engaging content to ensure a good return on investment.”

This is only an excerpt or summary of the concluding position to give you a flavour of the tone a conclusion takes. An actual essay conclusion would be longer and more comprehensive.

Still, be wary of making your essay conclusion too long. As you’re not introducing any new information, it should be concise and focused. A good ballpark to aim for is 10-20% of the word count for shorter essays and 7-12% for longer ones.

What if my essay is too short?

If your essay is too short, it’s because of one of these reasons:

1. You haven’t provided enough talking points in your discussion. 

Solution: Revisit your research and add more talking points to build out your argument.

2. You haven’t provided enough detail for all your talking points. 

Solution: Read through your essay. Which sections are weak, unclear or lack depth? Add more detail until the point strongly supports your argument.

3. You haven’t provided enough references.

Solution: Each point you make should be backed up by referenced evidence—otherwise, it’s just conjecture. If a specific item is pivotal to your argument, provide multiple pieces of evidence to give it the weight it deserves. Revisit your research (or conduct more if necessary) to find more supporting evidence.

4. You haven’t provided deep enough analysis or insight.

Solution: Add further detail to any talking points you’ve oversimplified. Expand on your conclusion by adding further justification for your final position.

What if my essay is too long?

If your essay is too long, it’s because of one of these reasons:

1. You included too many discussion points.

Check your word count averages around 200-250 words per discussion point. If it does, and you’re still over your word count, you included too many discussion points. 

Solution: Remove the weakest ones that add the least weight to your argument.

2. You included too many references.

If your word count averages over 250 words per discussion point, you possibly included too much supporting evidence in places. 

Solution: Look for items with multiple references. Remove the weakest ones that add the least weight to your argument.

3. Your writing isn’t concise enough.

If you have the correct number of discussion points and references but are over your target word count, your writing is too loose. 

Solution: Fix this at the editing stage by finding shorter ways to make your point. To give you an idea of how to do this, compare the two versions of the sentence above:

Before editing (37 words):

If you have the right amount of discussion points for your intended essay length and have no more than two references for each point but are still over your target word count, your writing is too loose. 

After editing (23 words):

If you have the correct number of discussion points and references but are over your target word count, your writing is too loose. 

Through careful editing, we cut out fourteen words (1/3 of the original length) and made the sentence clearer and easier to read. 

This is a good example of how editing should generally be a process of removing information, not adding it. In our experience, it’s common to reduce first draft word counts by 25-30% in the first round of editing and improve readability in the process.

How many references for a 2000-word essay?

The short answer is six or seven, but this is really the wrong question to ask. Instead, think about how many talking points you need to make your argument within the given word count. 

The golden rule is that each point you make should be backed by referenced supporting evidence.

Work out how many talking points you need, then include a minimum of one reference for each item. (Pivotal discussion points should be backed up by multiple pieces of referenced evidence to reflect their importance.)

How to write an essay for university—closing thoughts

You can use the approach outlined here as a kind of template for any essay on any topic. It’s a universal framework that can be applied to any subject—you just need to plug in the specific details from your research to make it work.

Here’s a checklist of the key elements for writing a good university essay:

  1. Good preparation and research
  2. A strong outline and well-structured argument
  3. A brief introduction that contextualises and summarises your main argument
  4. Relevant discussion points backed up by referenced research
  5. Clear, concise writing
  6. A logical conclusion extrapolated from your discussion

Tick every item on that list, and you’ll probably submit a good essay.

Remember that the techniques described here will help you write your first essay draft. You will still need to refine your essay draft by editing and proofreading it before submitting it. Learn how to do this in our ultimate essay planning guide.