Writing Skills

Essay writing basics & essentials

The first most basic thing you need to know is that a good essay takes time. So get started way in advance.
Know what you are writing about
  • Analyse what the question asks of you and answer the question appropriately (A list of common question key words is available).
  • Develop a thesis statement. A thesis statement is your answer to the question. It is your argument on the topic and narrows the topic down to areas of focus. A thesis statement is not a statement of fact, but a claim that you will
    endeavour to demonstrate or prove in your paper. It is much more specific than a topic or a title.
  • Always support your argument or thesis with evidence and information from academic sources.
Essential requirements
  • A wide range of reading across the topic. Empower yourself with a sufficient amount of knowledge on your topic
  • A clear structure. A good essay has clear structure and flow.
  • Understanding what critical writing encompasses. Lecturers want to see independent thought and good critical skills. Do not only regurgitate what you have read.
Possible steps in no particular order
  • Analyse the question. To assist you in this go to the answering assignment questions page.
  • Develop a thesis (your view on the topic).
  • Do research on your topic. Try to find different sources that may be relevant to your topic, e.g. books, online journals, etc.
  • Do the reading….AND remember to take notes as you read.
  • Plan your essay. This helps to order your thoughts.
  • Start writing. This should only be your first draft.
  • Edit your essay and make the necessary changes.
  • Do your in-text referencing (citations) and compile your final reference list.
  • Proof read your final draft and submit.


What’s the point of planning?

  • Life can be pretty unpredictable, your assignments don’t have to be!
  • Planning allows you to develop and structure your thoughts, producing a coherent well thought out assignment.
  • AND FINALLY… planning your assignment simply makes the writing process smoother and much faster (and we know how important your time is).

What do you need?

  1.  You need an introduction, body and conclusion.
  2. Take note of the technicalities of the assignment, such as the length, the type of assignment (essay, report, review, etc). This will help you to determine the type of information to search for and the depth that you need to cover.
  3. Before researching and reading, brainstorm the topic by looking at the keywords and outline what you already know about the topic. Spider diagrams are really useful for this, but use the method you are most comfortable with. This will guide both the researching and reading process, keeping you focused.
  4. Develop your own opinion about the topic and be sure to do research in this direction to support your view on the topic.
  5. Develop some sort of initial structure for your assignment. Use sub-headings and outline your assignment. This is crucial for organizing your ideas in a coherent way that will provide your assignment with a good structure.
Now that you have planned your assignment, most of the hard work is done. Time to gather the information.

Essay Questions

Most questions you answer will have words in the title that are intended to show you what kind of response is required. Obviously, it is important to work out the content of a question – these are your “content words”. You also need to look very closely at the words that indicate how you are supposed to deal with this content – they are your “direction words”.
When breaking your essay question down it is helpful to circle the content words and underline the direction words.
Content words
Content words are the words directly related to your topic. It will tell you what your areas of research and focus of information should be on.
Direction words
The list below is a summary of some of the most common “direction-words” – try to familiarise yourself with them.
Analyse find and describe the main ideas, show how
they are related and why they are important
Comment discuss briefly
Compare show both the similarities and differences,
emphasising similarities
Contrast describe differences
Criticise give your judgement or reasoned opinion of
something, giving its good and bad points.
Your opinion should be supported by facts
and/or arguments. (Remember to criticise
does not necessarily mean to attack)
Define give the precise meaning of something, with
no detail
Demonstrate show or prove an opinion or judgement
Describe write a detailed account in a logical sequence
Discuss describe, and give good and bad points
Distinguish show the main differences
Evaluate discuss advantages and disadvantages, with
your opinion
Explain give reasons for something
Identify list and describe
Illustrate give examples to make your meaning clear
Outline give a short summary, giving main points and
omitting minor details
Relate (a) tell the story, or (b) show the connections
between things, making clear how one causes
or is like another
Sketch same as “outline”
State list main points briefly without details
Summarise give a brief account of the main ideas – no
details or examples
Support back up a statement with facts, ideas and
 follow the progress or history of the subject
and give main points from beginning to end of
an event
Full question

Based on the reading material provided, identify the needs which Rogers says drives a person and explain how these needs shape the counselling process

Content words:
  1. Needs that drive a person according to Rogers
  2. How the needs shape the counselling process
Direction words:
  1. Identify
  2. Explain
 Using this breakdown you can already tell that this paper will be two-fold.
If you have planned well, read thoroughly and taken comprehensive notes then this process really wont be much of a process. Instead you will be surprised at how quick you would have written your paper.
Below you can find guidelines on how to structure your essay and important information to include in each section. You can also find information on how to structure paragraphs and what they should include.

Essay structure

Every part of your essay has a specific purpose:

     1. Introduction
  • In your introduction you can restate the argument (this includes your thesis statement), or define the title if it is difficult to understand.
  • It is often best to write the introduction when you have  finished writing your essay. In this way you can be sure that you have written about what you said you would write about.
  • A good introduction states the scope of the paper as well as definitions of any key words or terms used. The scope could be a brief overview of that which follows in the body of the paper. The reader should be clear on what to expect just from reading your introduction.
  • Keep the introduction short, concise and to the point.
     2. Body
  • Contains the facts and opinions of your essay and is the biggest part.
  • This is the part in which you answer the question.
  • In the body you develop your argument or give details about the subject, demonstrating your knowledge on the topic and your understanding of the readings.
  • Be sure to provide evidence from your research to support your argument or any claims that is made.
  • Arrange your information in a Topic Outline. Use main headings and Sub-headings to divide your information into the order you want them.
     3. Conclusion
  • Never contains any new information.
  • In it you round off your essay by restating the argument or perhaps giving any conclusions you might have reached.
  • It should include a summary of the important points or the findings of the thesis. If a hypotheses was pursued the conclusion should announce whether the evidence confirmed or discounted the hypotheses and its assumptions.
  • Comments about limitations and future directions  should be made in relation to what was discussed in the body, however be careful not to add any new information.

Paragraph structure

Paragraphs should be organised and demonstrate logical thoughts. Each paragraph should have a new idea or be related to the previous paragraph, and each sentence should serve a specific purpose that relates to your main argument and connects to the previous sentence. Paragraphs should generally include the following:
  • A topic sentence – This introduces the main idea of the paragraph.
  • Supporting sentences – This expands your main idea to clarify and explain your main idea.
  • Evidence – Use your readings! Every point you make should be supported by evidence from your readings.
  • Analysis – Never let the readings speak for you. You need to develop your own voice. This shows that you have critically reviewed the topic and information read.
  • Concluding sentence or transition. This sentence could either restate your main point, be a final analysis of the entire paragraph or it could be a transition to the next paragraph.

Academic language

Generally academic is more formal than casual. It should not sound as though you are having a conversation with someone.

1. Avoid using colloquial language
  • Instead of using “kids”, use “children:. Do not use the word “don’t”, use “do not’.
2. Write in the third person.
  • Avoid using “me” or “I”
  • You should only write in the first person when you are required to write a reflective paper.
3. Gender in language
Gender exclusive language is generally recognised as inappropriate for academic writing and should be avoided. Below are some guidelines on how to successfully do this.

4. Pronouns
“A Christian shows his faith in God by …” can be dealt with in
the following ways:
1. Using the plural: “Christians show their faith…”
2. Using the passive voice: “Faith in God is shown by…”
3. Eliminating the pronoun: “A Christian shows faith…”
  • Using the forms of “man” (men)
    chairman: chairperson
    clergyman/men: clergy, minister(s), pastor(s)
    layman/men: lay Christians, laity, laypeople
  • Male generic forms
    1. brothers in Christ: sisters and brothers in Christ
    2. brotherhood: community, partnership
    3. forefathers: ancestors, forebears
    4. mankind: humanity, all people
    4. sons of God: children of God, Christians
    5. man in the street: average people, people generally
5. Use transitions

Editing check list

Editing Checklist  en_todo
Have I followed the presentation guidelines set by Cornerstone or the lecturer?
Is my assignment neat and legible?
Do I have an extra copy saved?
Have I adhered to the word limit?
Do I have too little words?
Check: Have I fully answered the question?
            Do I need to read some more?
            Do I have enough evidence to support my arguments?
Do I have too many words?
Check: Am I clear and concise in my writing or long and winding?
            Do I have unnecessary repetition?
            Have I included only relevant information?
Have I answered the question?
Do I have a thesis? A main idea? A clear point of view?
Do I state my point of view in the introduction
Do I have a clear structure?
Does my introduction give the reader a clear idea of what to expect?
Do I have a clear introduction, body and definite conclusion?
Do the ideas flow in a logical way?
Are my ideas related to the topic (Does it answer the question)?
Are my paragraphs connected and coherent?
Does each paragraph have a topic sentence?
Does each sentence and paragraph flow smoothly from the one to the other? Have I used transitions?
Are all quotes connected to my topic and do they support my argument?
Is my writing appropriate?
Have used clear and appropriate academic language?
Is my use of tense correct?
Have I written with my audience in mind? Did I give enough information to ensure my reader understands?
Have I used non-discriminatory language?
Have I referenced correctly?
Have I used the required referencing style?
Have I been consistent in my referencing and included a list of references at the end of my assignment?
Have I proof read my assignment?
Have I carefully read through my assignment to fix any errors or make last minute changes?

Critical review

 The purpose of a critical review is to evaluate a given text. While your main analysis will be of the required text, it is necessary to engage with other texts as well. This will allow you to reasonably evaluate the main text, with all important information. While critical reviews are specific assignments you may receive, critical thinking is also a required skill that you will need to demonstrate in all your assignments.
Definition of critical
This essentially means that you question the text. It does not have to be a negative evaluation of the text. Instead, it should be viewing both the positive and negative points of the main text in relation to other related readings or knowledge. Being critical should demonstrate that you have taken other perspectives, theories or approaches into consideration. It should also demonstrate your own stance on the topic.
What is meant by evaluate or judge?
This refers to looking at the strengths and weakness of the text. You should look at the text in context not just the content. This includes the purpose of the text, its intended audience and the structure. Based on these aspects, you will form a judgement of the text.
What is an analysis?
This requires you to break the information into sections. You should segregate the different concepts and understand how they connect to each other. Essential to an analysis is viewing the evidence and deciding how convincing or unconvincing the evidence is. You also need to provide your own evidence on why you think the text is convincing or unconvincing.

What is reflective thinking?

The word is self explanatory, but in more academic language reflection is one of two things or both:
  • It is learning that takes place through the process of thinking.
  • It is also your personal response to experiences, situations and information.
Reflective thinking is therefore your own processing of information. It usually starts with you – you should examine your own thoughts before examining the thoughts of others. Reflective thinking involves examining your knowledge on the topic, previous experiences of the topic and why you think the way you do. Evaluating Your values and beliefs and how they influence your thinking becomes an essential part of this process.
What is reflective writing?
It is not just about the information you have learnt. Instead it is how you have learnt this information that is essential. Reflective writing is therefore about your experience of the learning process. It is your opinion, thoughts and feeling about the both the content you have learnt and how you have learnt it. Reflective writing is about looking at the good and bad points of the learning process. Thus reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses is important for this type of writing.
How to write reflectively:

You first need to check out your course outline and the specific requirements of your assignment. Different lecturers require different types of information.

What you need to include:

  • How you are able to relate to the topic.
  • What your thoughts were – what was interesting, what was difficult, what you agreed on or disagreed about and why.
  • What you view differently from your previous knowledge on the topic.
  • Your questions.
  • Different opinions to those that you learnt.
  • Any new ideas.
  • What steps you need to take in your thoughts and actions next.
  • Making a connection between what was learnt and your own experiences.
Writing style

While you should continue to have a good structure, the style of writing is somewhat different to other academic papers. Since reflective writing is more personal, your writing should be less evidence based and more personalized.

You may use different types of writing such as:

  • Descriptive – Outlining what was discussed. Include good and bad points.
  • Explanatory – Giving reasons for certain statements or explaining why.
  • Expressive – Refers to yourself (How you think, feel and believe).