What makes a good essay? Five top essay writing tips for University

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Essays are at the core of many University subjects and getting top marks can be hard.

It's generally considered that anything above 60% for a degree-level Essay should be considered a job well done, while anything above 70% is a great mark. Don't expect to get work back with 90%+ grades: It rarely happens.

So what goes into a good University essay? Obviously, each subject will have its own intricacies and even very professor will have their own views, but here are our top five general tips.

Start with a good structure

A good essay should have a good structure: A clear beginning, middle and end, just like any other piece of writing.

Begin with a strong introduction, which should establish the topic of your essay, give the reader a concise overview of what it will be about, and inform them of what can be expected in the main body.

The body should contain the vast majority of your content, starting with some background information before explaining and developing arguments and adding analysis of the essay subject.

Finally, the essay will end as strongly as it started with a conclusion that summarises and evaluates the body.

Add a touch of critical analysis

A first class essay will see critical analysis of the subject topic and development of the ideas involved, as opposed to simple regurgitation of what you may have researched. You'll want to show not only that you know about the subject but actually understand it, for example by discussing the implications or effects of any arguments.

Do some further reading

If you've been given a subject to research or a topic to write about, you should look at reading deeper and wider than what the question may ask. For instance, an essay comparing two of Shakespeare's plays may see you want to bring in ideas and themes from his other works or other authors of the era.

Of course you need to be careful to keep it concise and relevant: Don't go too far off topic and keep an eye on that word count!

Make sure you've got good references

A really good University essay is built on good references: Do plenty of reading and research to obtain a varied but reliable list of citations from a range of sources. Avoid at all costs citing websites such as Wikipedia, focusing instead on academic publications like peer-reviewed papers and journal articles.

Your references should be cited throughout your essay as evidence to back up any claims and arguments you made, not simply just tagged on at the end like an afterthought.


Whether it's just a casual letter or a full blown University essay: Proofread your writing! Not just once or twice but a number of times, especially if you decide to make any changes. Ask a friend or family member to read through it to see if they spot anything wrong you may have missed.

Make sure you check for not only the obvious - such as spelling, grammar and punctuation - but also that your essay conforms to your Uni's guidelines. This may include things like ensuring the references are in the right format and that you refer to yourself in the correct manner (e.g. first person singular or first person plural)

About the author: Thomas Brella

Thomas Brella is the founder of Student Hacks, starting the website in 2013 while studying at the University of Brighton to share tips and tricks on life as a cash-strapped student. He's now spent over 10 years scoping out the best ways to live on a budget

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