How to write a good undergraduate essay, part 2 – Writing up, by Dr Nuno Nodin

How to write a good undergraduate essay, part 2 – Writing up, by Dr Nuno Nodin

Writing an essay at university can be daunting, especially at the beginning of your undergraduate programme. This post is the second in a series of blogs about various aspects to consider when planning and writing up a successful undergraduate essay, and follows on from the previous post about getting started. The focus of the current post is on the writing process and includes recommendations about structuring the essay and referencing.

Follow a basic structure

This is something that most of us learn in the early years of our education and sometimes forget along the way. The classic structure of introduction-body-conclusion provides a very useful template when writing essays at university. While the body is the meatier and lengthier section of any essay, the introduction and conclusion are key, as they provide structure, guidance and summary to the reader.

The introduction should not be longer than one or two medium-sized paragraphs. While there are a number of different ways to start an academic paper, such as providing a brief background to the topic or to its historical or conceptual context, the introduction serves the important purpose of introducing the reader to the essay. In other words, this section should explain what the reader should expect from the essay. Therefore, the introduction should clearly frame the essay’s theme by including the key argument(or ‘thesis statement’) and a summary of the various points or pieces evidence that will be used to support it.

The introduction may also include short definitions of relevant terminology (e.g. technical terms or jargon). This is so that a layperson will be able to understand the essay without having to look up words in a dictionary or on the internet.

The body of the essay is where each point and appropriate supporting evidence to the key argument is presented. Typically one argument is introduced per paragraph. Remember to keep referring back to your outline to help structure the flow of the argument. Each topic or subtopic included in the outline should roughly translate into a paragraph.

Make sure to keep your paragraph length in check. As a rule of thumb, paragraphs should not be longer than half page, but some variation in length is ok.

Finally, the conclusion is where the thesis statement or key argument and supporting evidence are summarised and the main conclusions from the discussion are outlined. Any loose ends should be wrapped up. It may also include brief implications of the conclusions, e.g. for professional practice, policy, or future research. What it should not do is to include any information or evidence that was not covered in the body of the essay, which is a common mistake. The conclusion should be written as one single paragraph.

Reference accurately

Familiarise yourself with the referencing style that you are expected to use while writing in your field area. In Psychology this is typically the American Psychological Association’s style ( Formatting the references, both in text and on the reference list, can be a tedious and time consuming process, but it is also an essential one that needs to be followed rigorously. A very useful guide is Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab.

Referencing tells the reader where to find the sources of information that you used to write your essay and allows them (or you in the future) to track these sources down if needed. Referencing also carries some weight in the marking process, so you may find yourself losing some important points in your mark should you fail to reference appropriately. Luckily, several referencing tools will save you a lot of time compared to doing it by hand. For instance, you may find that referencing software (e.g., EndNote, RefMan) and some websites (e.g., WorldCat, Google Scholar) will become your new best friends when writing an essay. Therefore, it is recommended that you take some time to understand how these can be used to make your referencing life easier.

Another important aspect of any essay is the argument. This topic will be covered in the next and last instalment of this series of blogs on how to write a good undergraduate essay: Building your argument.

Happy writing!

By Dr Nuno Nodin


How to write a good undergraduate essay, part 1 – Getting started

How to write a good undergraduate essay, part 3 – Building your argument


Recommended essay-writing resources: