There are several types of writing at university: notes from lectures or texts, project work, blogging or journal writing. At LSE, you will very likely be asked to write an essay at some point. Here are few things to think about to get ready for writing an academic essay.

An essay is your written response to a question or topic (that is usually set by a course teacher). For the vast majority of questions you'll encounter, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. In a good essay, the writer takes a position and proposes an argument to justify the position. This is part of writing "critically", where you

  • explain your understanding or interpretation of an idea or issue,
  • take a clear position, with respect to a specific idea or issue,
  • support your position with sound evidence, referring to research, theories, and scholars' work in your field,
  • compare, contrast, and evaluate others’ views and indicate whether you agree with these views or challenge them, 
  • draw conclusions and recognise the implications of your conclusions. 

Two important things to think about as you write essays are the question itself and the structure of your response.

Question the question!

Analyse the language of your essay question/topic carefully in order to interpret it thoroughly and think about what you're being asked to do. 

  • Read every single word of the question carefully. Avoid taking questions and statements at their face value and jumping to conclusions about what a question might mean.
  • Note key technical terms or phrases in the question that could have different interpretations in the your field of study.
  • The instruction “discuss” is common at LSE. It means write about a topic in detail, taking into account different issues or ideas. It does not mean write everything you know about the subject.
  • Having a position does not mean that there is a clear cut “yes” or “no” answer. “It depends” is OK too!  Your essay could be about what it depends on, how you know, and why that is interesting

Mind your structure!

In your essays, try to present a clear, logical argument that flows in a coherent and convincing way.

  • First, let your reader know what you’re doing and what you have to say concisely (introduction). Then, say what you have to say, building each element carefully and in detail (body). Finally, re-iterate what you had to say and give some indication of why it is interesting or important (conclusion).
  • Remember that you are trying to make a point by building an argument.  A logical argument that conveys a clear point is quite different from a general description that simply repeats ideas you have encountered in your reading.  Beware of this difference! 

Want to learn more about writing at university? Check out LSE LIFE's Moodle page.  Moodle is an online platform where many of the resources from your courses can be found. If you don't have your LSE user account set up yet, select the Login as Guest option. 

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