Academic essays

Key words: essay, assignment, subject-specific writing

The majority of your assessment is done through writing. In most study areas, you will be asked to write essays for assignments and in exams. Essays may be as short as 500 words or as long as 2000-3000 words. So, it is important that you develop a good grasp of essay writing and all that it involves.

About essays and assignments

The academic essay is the most common type of writing expected of you in assignments and for exams. An assignment essay is developed across a number of weeks and includes research. Because you have TIME to develop your essay, your work must be properly referenced and of a very high standard. An essay written under exam conditions is set to test your knowledge and understanding. Exam essays generally do not require referencing and are more forgiving with grammatical inaccuracy.

Your essay writing experiences

Exercise 1: Who are you?

Click on the questions to see the answer.

I wrote countless assignments and exam essays for my HSC. Won't uni studies be more of the same?
More often than not, university writing is different from the style of writing and standards set in the HSC. You may need to be open to making some changes.

I am doing my second degree. Is anything new for me?
If you are moving into a discipline where the ‘discourse’ is different (e.g. Psychology to Law), you may need to learn a new writing style and referencing system.

I haven't written more than a grocery list for years! How will I cope?
Many ‘older’ students have had the benefit of a skills-saturated education (i.e. mastery of the basics in punctuation, spelling and grammar). Essay writing can be learned quite quickly, if you apply the ‘method’ in our workshops and USE the feedback you get from assignments.

The teachers always covered my essays in 'red' correction marks! Why?
You are expected to show reasonable mastery of writing conventions. If you lack training in these areas, do some systematic learning from our factsheets on Academic writing.

I am an international student. English is my second language. Will there be help for me?
You may find that writing tasks in Australian universities are quite different from the tasks you had to do in your own country. To improve your understanding of writing, do these online workshops on Writing topics.

Writing for different subjects

While the tutorials on Academic Writing and Referencing will give you the essentials of all essay writing, some subject areas will differ in:

  • the structure of the writing task (e.g. a report, a case study, a position paper, a literature review)
  • the referencing system (e.g. Law-AGLC, Psychology-APA, History-FOOTNOTING)

This will be clearly explained to you in your Study Guide. Take note of this and respond to your instructions. 

What the lecturers want (assessment)

NO QUESTION ABOUT IT! The lecturer wants you to answer the set question.

NO DOUBTS HERE! The lecturer wants your work to be in the correct essay form, logically and clearly written and mechanically correct.

WITHOUT QUESTION! The lecturer (and the university) expects you to acknowledge the source of the information you use and to hand in your own work.