An essay is a very structured piece of writing with many conventions that distinguish it from other genres and styles, such as reports, creative writing pieces or reflective journal entries.
All essays should consist of three parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Together, the introduction and the conclusion act as a frame for the essay, while the real work is done in the body.
The introduction is usually the first paragraph (in essays longer than 2000 words, it may include the second paragraph also). It informs the reader about the topic of the essay, explains why the discussion in the essay is an important one to have, and provides a ‘map’ of the essay’s argument.
The body of the essay consists of all the paragraphs between the introduction and the conclusion. The body is where the argument of the essay is actually laid out.
The essay’s conclusion is usually the final paragraph (again, in longer essays, it may be two paragraphs). It draws together and summarises the essay’s argument.
While some lecturers may specify changes to the typical essay format, all essays are generally bound by the following set of guidelines or rules:
1. Essays do not include sub-headings, unless they are very long, e.g. 5000+ words.
2. Essays do not include dot-points; they are made up entirely of prose.
3. Essays are made up of paragraphs, which should be clearly distinguished by either:
indenting the first line of each paragraph (press Tab when you begin a new paragraph), or
leaving an extra blank line between each paragraph.
4. Essays should adhere to the word count, however, a variation of ±10% is usually acceptable. For example, a 2000 word essay could be anywhere from 1800-2200 words.
5. Essays should be printed in black ink on white A4 paper on one side of the paper only. Essays should also be stapled in the top left-hand corner only – and should not be placed in plastic sleeves.
6. Essays should use a plain legible font of reasonable size (e.g. Times New Roman or Arial in 12 point). Do not be tempted to use fancy fonts as they are very tiring for lecturers’ eyes.
7. Essays must have either 1.5 or double line spacing (your lecturer will usually specify). In MS Word, go to Format, then Paragraph, then Line Spacing, and select either ‘1.5’ or ‘Double’). This is for ease of reading and it also creates spaces for comments and corrections.
8. Essays should have a generous margin (at least 2.5 cm all round). This also creates room for comments.
9. Essay pages should be numbered consecutively (in MS Word, go to Insert, then Page Numbers).
10. Essays are argumentative, not pretty; don’t use pictures (e.g. MS Clip Art) on your cover page or in the body of the essay with the aim of enhancing the appearance or presentation. Pictures should only be used if they will be referred to as part of your argument.
11. Essays do not use formatting to emphasise words, like italics, bolding or underlining. Your choice of suitable words, phrases and evidence should be enough to provide a clear and convincing argument.
12. Essays must include either a ‘Reference List’ or a ‘Bibliography’.
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