Basic Essay Writing Guide for University and College Students

by Waller Jamison

This basic essay writing guide will help you get off to a good start with your college assignments. If you have just started a college course, and especially if it's been a while since you last studied anything, you will probably be a little nervous about the type of work you will be expected to hand in.

This will vary according to the subjects you are studying and the level of qualification you are aiming for.

Check out any extra support provided by the college, especially if you have specific needs, such as difficulties because English is not your first language or because you are dyslexic. Help with language and literacy may be embedded in the course itself or may be provided in separate group or one to one sessions.

College Basic Essay Writing Guide

Most colleges provide essay writing help on their website and it is likely that you will be given at least a basic essay writing guide.

Make sure you read everything carefully, as colleges tend to have their own requirements in terms of how an essay is structured, what should be included and how the essay should be referenced.

Do they ask for an abstract and a rationale? Do they want you to use Harvard referencing or footnotes?

Once you have familiarized yourself with the general rules, you need to look at the individual essay. The first step is interpreting the title correctly, which involves understanding the terms used. Many students fall down because they write a purely descriptive essay when in fact they have been asked to evaluate a situation or compare and contrast two points of view.

If you are allowed to choose your own title, you should finalize this with the tutor who will be marking the essay.

Once you've got the title sorted out, you need to start planning the essay. The first two things you need to be clear about are the submission date and the word count.

Depending on the college, the course and how long you have been studying, missing a deadline can result in a verbal "slap on the wrist" or failing the course.

So it's important to make sure you know the penalties for late submission and the procedures for getting an extension, if you are ill or have an emergency which prevents you from getting your work in on time.

You'll also need to know the rules concerning word count - usually 10% above or below is acceptable if you are given a specific limit, but if you are given a range eg 4000-5000 words, you should stay within the range.

However, it's always advisable to check with your tutor, as regulations will vary from college to college.

Look this up in the college's own basic essay writing guide and if you can't find the information you need, ask your tutor for guidance.

Next, you should have a brainstorming session, during which you write down all the ideas that come to mind concerning the title. Once you've done that, decide which are relevant to the essay title and put them into a logical order. This will give you a rough outline of how the essay might look.

You'll also need to think about other information which is required - do you have to include an academic argument, references to work covered in lectures, theory or research carried out by other people, do you need to interview people in order to back up your argument?

Is there anything else which you need to include? Have a look at the assignment brief and assessment criteria if you have these.


Read the rest of this basic essay writing guide to discover how to plan your writing.