14. Step Nine: Writing the essay – getting it down on paper

Reflecting your personality

Your style of writing should reflect your personality but you must remember that this is a serious piece of work and not the place to tell jokes or engage in personal criticism of others. Aim to be lucid, interesting, and to keep moving towards your goal by using the best words available and putting them into the best order possible. Do not use sesquipedalian verba (see above) and avoid casual slang, cuz that just ain’t on, izzit? Avoid clichés like the plague (sorry, but I could not resist) and do not over-use parentheses (if you know what I mean). All sentences start with a capital letter and end with a full stop, unless they are questions, in which case a question mark is needed, isn’t it? Do not over-use exclamation marks and never, ever, double them!! All sentences must contain a finite verb but if you are uncertain about these points of grammar do not worry too much. If you spend too long thinking how to boldly split an infinitive you are missing the point of this course. Yes, grammar, punctuation, and spelling are important and if you get them badly wrong you may fail to get across your point but your prime focus must be to record and explain the facts as clearly as you can. If using a computer, make use of its spell-checker; if not use your dictionary. Remember, when you read your own work, if you do not understand it no one else will.

If you do not have access to a word processor (computerised or other) then do your best. It is a worthwhile investment to get the best pen you can afford and to use lined paper with a margin. If your handwriting tends to sprawl, writing on every other line can help and if you are heavy-handed only writing on one side of the paper can make a difference.

Numbering paragraphs

Consider whether you can help your readers by numbering or lettering paragraphs or items within the sections. Any numbering or lettering scheme must be maintained consistently and must be set out on the page so that it is clearly subordinate to the section numbering. In the traditional way of setting out essays, major headings use a capital letter and the sub-headings are numbered. If you are writing your essay using a computer word processing application then you may well find that it has an inbuilt system of outlining.

If we need further headings we start to use lower case letters, thus:











And so on. Note how each sub-level is indented. Do not worry if you do not get the hang of this straight away. We promise that no one has ever failed an assignment by getting their sub-headings in a muddle!

Another system is to number all paragraphs consecutively from Introduction to Conclusion. This numbering of paragraphs is independent of any divisions within the essay such as Sections, Chapters or Parts. It has the merit, especially in a long paper, that cross references from one part of the essay to another can be given with ease and accuracy merely by giving the numbers of the relevant paragraphs rather than the more cumbersome A. 1. a. i system. It is your essay so you need to decide which form of numbering best suites you.


Decide which of the illustrations (maps, pictures, etc.) you have identified during research should be used in the final version of your essay. Every illustration should be referred to at least once in the text and not be there merely to set the scene. Every illustration needs a caption and its source must be documented, either as a footnote or on a separate list in your Bibliography. If you have more than two or three illustrations it is useful to number them for reference. Illustrations may either:

  • Have general significance for one or more sections of the essay and receive several textual references or
  • Illustrate a single point and be referred to in only one small portion of text.

General illustrations should be placed in the text just before the first reference to it. Specific illustrations should be placed as close to the single reference or immediately after it. As ever, you are trying to help your readers to understand what you are saying. A picture may be worth a thousand words but if it is in the wrong place or not clearly labelled it will only add to the confusion.

Introducing your essay

Your essay needs an Introduction although it is quite in order to leave the actual writing of it until you have nearly finished so it accurately reflects what you have written. The Introduction is the place for a broad, general view of your paper. Avoid details that properly belong in the main body of the essay. In the Introduction you are setting out what your essay is going to demonstrate and how you are going to achieve this. Almost certainly part of your Introduction will expand upon your Thesis Statement. Having read the Introduction your readers should know exactly where you are taking them and what they will have discovered by the end of the journey. Do not try to be too clever in your Introduction. It may be good practice to start a sermon with a memorable anecdote or amusing story but your essay should be interesting enough not to need this spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

Concluding your essay

Your Conclusion should draw together all the threads of your essay, explain how you have answered the question set by the essay title, and look for any additional matters that go beyond the scope of your paper. The Conclusion is not the place to raise questions that you cannot answer but it may be appropriate to point readers towards other areas of research that can be built upon your foundations. Again, do not try to be too clever here. State what your essay has discovered and when you have run out of things to say, stop.

Some final matters

Now add your list of references (“Bibliography” if you prefer). Remember to include all sources of information (books, magazines, websites, whatever) and to set them out appropriately. All sources of direct quotes must be included along with any other sources that you found helpful.

If your essay has more than two or three points you need to draw up a table of contents. Do not forget to include your Introduction and Conclusion and to check that the Table of Contents matches the actual contents.

A title page can make your work look neater. This must include the title, your name, your student number, the Module details, and the date of completion. You may find there is room to include your Table of Contents on the title page or you may have found a general illustration that would be appropriate. There are no marks to be gained from an attractive title page but it does set the scene, so to speak, so at least make it look neat and tidy if nothing else.

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