How to Write an Essay: How to Approach Your First Undergraduate Essay

Writing your first undergraduate essay can be daunting. Here’s our step-by-step guide to completing your essay:

  • Read, understand and annotate the question or stimulus. If you do not understand the question, ask your lecturer or supervisor.
  • Read broadly about your essay’s subject area. Begin to develop your response to the question by engaging with current and relevant research.
  • Take notes as you read. Remember to keep detailed notes about your sources.
  • Create an essay plan and formulate your thesis. Determine your thesis (argument). Map out each paragraph’s topic, to ensure each paragraph builds on your thesis.
  • Allocate particular evidence, research and ideas to your plan for each paragraph. This will help you have a clear idea of the contents of each paragraph before you start writing.
  • Draft your essay introduction, body and conclusion.
  • Edit your work to refine the clarity of your ideas and the accuracy of your expression.
  • Complete the referencing. Ensure all sources are cited according your selected referencing style.
  • Consider acquiring the services of a professional academic editor. Academic editors provide targeted feedback about your writing, referencing and formatting.

This series is our quick guide to essay writing and it provides very practical advice. If you would like to read a more comprehensive guide that focuses more on the overall method of planning and organising your research before writing your essay, please visit our Undergraduate Resources page.

Essay Structure

The purpose of an essay is to respond to a question or stimulus. An essay presents a sustained academic argument. Effective essays are underpinned by a coherent thesis. The thesis comprises the writer’s argument and answer to the question. See our article, ‘… ‘ for more information about writing your thesis.

An essay consists of three main parts: an introduction, the body and a conclusion.

The introduction is the first paragraph of the essay and its purpose is to give a clear explanation to the reader about the contents of the essay.

The body is the main part of the essay. It contains the quotations, references, examples, ideas, and arguments you are putting forth in writing. It should be written in paragraphs. This is where you elaborate on your answer to the essay question. You might expect to have 3–4 body paragraphs in a 1000-word paper. Each paragraph contains one argument or idea that you propose in your response to the given question.

The conclusion is the final paragraph of the essay. The conclusion is necessary for drawing together your evidence and restating the main argument of the essay.

No paragraph is written in isolation. Each paragraph of an essay is written in light of the whole. It’s absolutely necessary that you have planned the contents of the essay body before you begin writing the introduction (and the essay itself). An essay is a means for presenting a planned, coherent and well-reasoned argument.


Before you begin writing, you should begin reading and research. Your university library is your research hub. Not only are there plenty of hard copy books and journals, but you will also have access to an extensive online catalogue.

Ask your librarian to show you how to search the catalogue effectively and begin collating relevant research materials.

And remember only to use academic sources! Please read our articles ‘What is an Academic Source’ and ‘What is Peer Review?’ for more information.

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