The Flinders University School of Humanities Style Guide

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What constitutes an academic essay?

An academic essay should make a convincing argument, and present interesting, thorough and accurate research. An essay is not a set of unrelated opinions, but an argument sustained with evidence drawn from research and observation. These goals should be contained within an elegant presentation. Write for the reader’s information and pleasure.

Many students, particularly at first year level, believe they are required to agree with their tutors’ or lecturers’ opinions, but this is not so; the School of Humanities expects you to articulate your opinions in a way that is well informed, clearly expressed and supported by evidence and argument.


The process of planning your essay begins with your choice of topic; your choice must involve a careful analysis of its requirements. As part of the process of making this choice, you might ask yourself questions such as “What do I think of the work addressed by this question?”; “What do I think of the essay assignment/question? Have I fully understood it?”; “What is my opinion of the wider issues involved?”.

Writing is a reflection of thinking, so you must think about the material at issue before you write anything. The reading and research you do should be used as evidence and support for your argument. It is not necessary to recount what other scholars have said about an issue before you have introduced the issue and your position on it. While some background may be necessary, or some positioning required, your reader should be able to discover your own position relatively quickly. The introductory paragraph of an essay should make your approach to the topic clear; never begin an essay with an all-purpose paragraph of background information such as biographical details about a writer or generalisations about an historical period. This will normally be irrelevant, and will detract from the argument you wish to make.

When planning your essay, write down a list of points relevant to your ideas. Organising your thoughts into an outline or a skeletal plan is a useful step. As well as the central points you wish to argue, this plan should include the steps that link your argument and the evidence and examples you intend to use to support your case. Such a plan should be limited to one sheet of paper. Scholars in the Humanities are constantly engaged in essay-writing, so you should develop efficient habits of composition. A carefully-thought-out plan, a first draft (corrected), and a final draft should be regarded as indispensable stages of writing.

Within the body of your essay, you should organise your material in such an order that each paragraph flows naturally and logically from its predecessor, with the topic always in mind. Avoid the use of subheadings: while subheadings might be appropriate in some research reports, in essays it is more impressive to forge connections between the various parts of your argument using the expressive power of your writing.

The final paragraph of your essay should not be a paraphrase of your introduction, but, like the introduction, it should be explicitly relevant to the topic. It should be clear and convincing.


Your essay should generally be roughly organised into three parts: introduction, body, and conclusion. While you are planning your essay, keep this structure in mind, and consider the following issues:

Introduction: What is the question asking of you?
How many aspects of the question do you need to consider?
Here you need to establish the groundwork for the body of your argument.

Argument: How many points do you want to make?
How do they relate to each other and, taken together, do they constitute a well-structured discussion?
Do you have evidence from the text(s) you are considering that supports your argument?
Do you have some well-selected critical sources to back up your argument where necessary?

Conclusion: What conclusions do you want the reader to draw from your discussion?
Here you need to bring the discussion back to the broad issues raised by the question, but you should avoid a simple repetition of your introductory statements.

While you are writing

Assess your own work as you go along:
• Does the sentence or paragraph that you have just written make the point that you intend it to make? What is its purpose?
• Does the sentence flow logically from the text that precedes it, and into that which follows? If its import is not consistent with your outline, you may wish to move it, rework it, or eliminate it entirely.
• Have you backed up all your statements, claims, and arguments with evidence?
• Does your completed essay match the plan with which you began?

You might also want to visit the next page in this site, What is an Argument?


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MHRA Referencing

Flinders University Library

Professor Graham Tulloch of the English Department has written a booklet entitled English Grammar: A Short Guide. This text covers fundamental aspects of English grammar, such as parts of a word, parts of a sentence, and parts of speech

Advice from the Student Learning Centre:

Organising an Essay

Writing Essays


















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