Essays

This resource looks at what an essay is and how it is structured.

What is an essay?

An essay is a coherent text that presents an argument in response to a question. An essay at university assesses how well you can convincingly articulate and develop an argument through deep engagement with the subject content.

When writing an essay you must consider what has already been written on the topic in well-regarded academic sources such as journal articles. A good essay answers the question clearly, is well structured and researched, and is error free. It is also written in formal and impersonal language, and follows the referencing conventions of the discipline you are studying.

Types of essays

At university, you may be asked to write different types of essays, depending on the discipline you are in. Types of essays include:

  • Descriptive essays
  • Explanatory essays
  • Discussion-based essays
  • Reflective essays
  • Critical reviews
  • Argumentative or persuasive essays

Structure of an essay

Irrespective of the type of essay, the following structure is almost always found.

Introduction

The introduction of an essay is where the topic of the essay is introduced and an overview of your argument is given. It includes a general statement about the topic followed by a thesis statement. A thesis statement is your answer to the essay question in one or two sentences - in other words, it is your main argument, point or idea. Your introduction should also include a brief summary of the arguments, points or ideas that back up your claim.
  

Introduction sample sentence

Throughout time people have learnt more than one language. However, in the 21st century there has been an unprecedented increase in global bilingual populations. Migration, the lure of travel or national policy can be some of the reasons for the growth in bilingualism or multilingualism. Whatever the reasons for the increase, bilingualism undoubtedly holds distinct benefits. This essay seeks to highlight the importance of bilingualism by outlining its key cognitive and social advantages. Furthermore, by considering pre-existing myths that surround bilingualism, this essay will argue that encouraging students to learn languages from an early stage is not only beneficial but crucial to cognitive and academic development.
  

Introduction elements

  1. Background statements/contextualises the topic
    Throughout time people have learnt more than one language. However, in the 21st century there has been an unprecedented increase in global bilingual populations. Migration, the lure of travel or national policy can be some of the reasons for the growth in bilingualism or multilingualism.
      
  2. Contribute to thesis statement
    Whatever the reasons for the increase, bilingualism undoubtedly holds distinct benefits. 
     
  3. Brief summary of the main topic/arguments/ points
    This essay seeks to highlight the importance of bilingualism by outlining its key cognitive and social advantages. Furthermore, by considering pre-existing myths that surround bilingualism, this essay will argue that encouraging students to learn languages from an early stage is not only beneficial but crucial to cognitive and academic development. 

Body

The body of your essay is where you clearly state and elaborate on the arguments, points or ideas that back up your claim.
The number of paragraphs in the body of your essay will depend on how many individual points you need to make to develop your argument and, of course, the required word count.

The general structure of a body paragraph is:

  • Topic sentence: States the main point of the paragraph in one sentence.
  • Supporting sentences: Supports the main point by providing justification/explanation of the point, evidence from your reading and a comment on the significance of the evidence.
  • Concluding sentence/s: Links to the main idea and the next paragraph.
      

Essay body sample sentence

Bilingualism can have a positive impact on both cognition and brain function. Despite differing evidence that secondary language learning can result in cognitive overload, overwhelming research consensus has shown that well-developed bilingualism enhances one's intellectual ability in certain areas. Experiments in psychology conducted by Bialystok (2011) show that bilinguals outperform monolinguals in certain cognitive tasks that involve sorting conflicting data. Bilingualism is also a contributing factor in delaying dementia (Alladi et al, 2013; Mortimer, 2013). An earlier study by Alber and Obler, 1978 (cited in Cummins 1994) goes even further in stating that bilingual learners mature earlier than mono-lingual learners in terms of linguistic abstractions, because their brains have developed the ability to engage with the syntax of two different languages. These are some of the cognitive benefits of learning more than one language. However, language acquisition with adults may prove more problematic as cognitive rigidity may interfere or hinder their ability to process increasingly complex grammatical structures (DeKeyser, 2015). Thus, although more problematic for older learners, encouraging the learning of two or more languages can offer long lasting intellectual benefits.
  

Essay body elements

  1. Background statements/contextualises the topic
    Bilingualism can have a positive impact on both cognition and brain function.

      
  2. Contribute to thesis statement
    Despite differing evidence that secondary language learning can result in cognitive overload, overwhelming research consensus has shown that well-developed bilingualism enhances one's intellectual ability in certain areas. 
      
  3. Brief summary of the main topic/arguments/points
    Experiments in psychology conducted by Bialystok (2011) show that bilinguals outperform monolinguals in certain cognitive tasks that involve sorting conflicting data. Bilingualism is also a contributing factor in delaying dementia (Alladi et al, 2013; Mortimer, 2013). An earlier study by Alber and Obler, 1978 (cited in Cummins 1994) goes even further in stating that bilingual learners mature earlier than mono-lingual learners in terms of linguistic abstractions, because their brains have developed the ability to engage with the syntax of two different languages.
      
  4. Contribute to thesis statement
    These are some of the cognitive benefits of learning more than one language. However, language acquisition with adults may prove more problematic as cognitive rigidity may interfere or hinder their ability to process increasingly complex grammatical structures (DeKeyser, 2015).

      
  5. Brief summary of the main topic/arguments/ points
    Thus, although more problematic for older learners, encouraging the learning of two or more languages can offer long lasting intellectual benefits
    .

Conclusion

The conclusion of an essay is where you restate your main argument and the arguments that back it up. You may also want to include a one final comment if appropriate.
  

Conclusion sample sentence

Bilingualism is crucial in contributing to the cognitive capabilities and social development in today’s youth. This can be attributed to two main reasons. Firstly, learning a second language can have positive effects on the cognitive development of the brain and maturity of young learners. Secondly, because a person's language is closely connected with their identity, the teaching of a community language is likely to help create social coherence. Thus, the positive gains of second language learning far outweigh any cost that encouraging bilingualism might entail.
  

Conclusion elements

  1. Restatement of initial argument
    Bilingualism is crucial in contributing to the cognitive capabilities and social development in today’s youth.
      
  2. Summary of the main points in the body paragraphs
    This can be attributed to two main reasons. Firstly, learning a second language can have positive effects on the cognitive development of the brain and maturity of young learners. Secondly, because a person's language is closely connected with their identity, the teaching of a community language is likely to help create social coherence.
      
  3. Final comment
    Thus, the positive gains of second language learning far outweigh any cost that encouraging bilingualism might entail.