Academic essays should be written in a formal style. Avoid:
- clichés (“the flaws in this argument stand out like a sore thumb”)
- contractions (“don’t”, “aren’t”, “it’s”)
- phrases that sound like speech (“well, this bit is really fascinating”)
- subjective descriptions (“this beautiful sculpture”)
Use the first person “I” only where appropriate (e.g. when writing up your own experience or professional case study). Where possible use the third person, for example “It can be argued”instead of “I think”
Use plain language – you don’t have to search for a more “academic-sounding” word when a simple one will do. Markers are looking for clear and accurate expression of ideas, not jargon or confusing language. Shorter sentences are usually clearer than long complex ones, but make sure it is a whole sentence and not just a clause or phrase.
Integrating evidence and your own ideas
Your argument is your reasoned answer to the essay question, supported by evidence. The books, articles, and research material that you read for your essay provide this evidence to back up your points. The way in which you select and interpret the evidence, and explain why it answers the question, is where you demonstrate your own thinking.
For each point that you make in your essay, you need to support it with evidence. There are many different kinds of evidence, and the type you use will depend on what is suitable for your subject and what the essay question is asking you to do.
For example, you might back up a point using a theory (one kind of evidence) then show how this theory applies to a specific example in real life (another kind of evidence).
Critical analysis is a key skill for writing essays at university; it allows you to assess the various ideas and information that you read, and decide whether you want to use them to support your points.
It is not a mysterious skill that is only available to advanced students; it is something we do everyday when assessing the information around us and making reasoned decisions, for example whether to believe the claims made in TV adverts. Nor does it always mean disagreeing with something you also need to be able to explain why you agree with arguments.