Structuring an essay

A comprehensive editing checklist

For those of you currently working on dissertations or theses, here's an editing checklist that you can use to in your final stages, before you send off your work to be proofread or printed.

Although it's comprehensive in nature, it's not tailor-made for you. In other words, you need to be self-aware and read your own work for the types of errors you tend to make.  

Remember also that if you're going to employ a proofreader, you need to do this in plenty of time, working back from the submission deadline and leaving enough time for the proofreader to read and for you to make the necessary changes.

Make sure you vet the proofreader properly, ideally getting a recommendation from your Department. A reputable proofreader will NOT rewrite your work for you; instead, they may do any or all of the following: ask you to clarify parts they don't understand; draw your attention to any redundancy, repetition and wordiness; suggest alternative methods of organisation or alternative vocabulary to improve structure and coherence; point out errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, academic style or in use of academic conventions; and offer partial reformulations to improve sentence structure and coherence.  

Good proofreaders will use software like Track Changes in Word so that you can see clearly your original piece of work and the suggested changes.  When your work is returned to you, there will be a considerable amount of your own rewriting that you will have to do, so, again, make sure you plan for this and build it in to your own dissertation/thesis timeline.

With all that in mind, we hope you find the editing checklist below useful to you. Remember, if you need any help with your work, do get in touch. If you are a postgraduate student, we offer a principled proofreading service, designed to support you in developing your academic writing skills.  If you are an academic, aiming to publish a journal article, we are experienced article writers ourselves and can offer editing, proofreading and advice on approaching/responding to peer review comments. 

The Editing Checklist

Content

  • Is all information relevant to the essay title/question?
  • Has sufficient space (or words) been given to the most important points?
  • Is the main line of argument clear throughout the entire essay?

 

Structure and Organization

Overall Structure:

  • Is the structure of the essay appropriate for the title/question?
  • Does the essay address all parts of the title/question?

Introduction:

  • Does the introduction set the context and provide enough background information for the reader?
  • Does the introduction include a thesis statement (i.e. a statement that tells the reader the purpose of the essay and possibly your position)?
  • Does the introduction include a map of the paper (i.e. does it tell the reader what to expect in the rest of the paper, usually using language like: In this essay I will firstly/first of all describe/define/discuss/examine/analyse… and then …’ or ‘This essay will first of all… and then…)

Main Body:

  • Does each paragraph begin with a clear topic sentence, indicating the (one) main idea of the paragraph?
  • Are paragraphs well developed with enough support/evidence for the main idea? (note: paragraphs that are only 2 to 3 sentences in length are usually under-developed)
  • Are connections between ideas within the paragraph made explicit to the reader (i.e. are there cohesive devices like ‘also’, ‘for example’, ‘furthermore’, ‘whereas’, ‘first’, ‘finally’, etc?)

 

If support in the form of paraphrases and quotations is used:

  • Have they been chosen carefully and do they indeed support/illustrate the point you want to make?
  • Has the significance/implication of the paraphrase/quote to the main argument/thesis/topic been made explicit (usually using language like: ‘Thus it can be seen that…’ / ‘It is clear, therefore, that …’ )
  • Is it clear how each paragraph links to the one before and to the one that comes after and to the essay title/question?

 

Conclusion:

  • Does the conclusion summarise the key points made in the paper?
  • Does it leave the reader with some food for thought (e.g. a warning, a recommendation, an indication that further research/investigation needs to be done, etc.)?

 

Quotations, Paraphrases and References

Direct quotations:

  • Are they referenced accurately (with author’s last name, year of publication and page number for the Harvard Referencing system e.g. (Jones, 2010, p. 33))?  For other referencing systems, please check your Departmental handbook.
  • Are quotation marks used (‘….’)?
  • Are they introduced appropriately (e.g. As Jones (2010, p. 33) states/writes/observes/claims/points out, … or According to Jones (2010, p. 33), …)
  • Are they used sparingly (ie. only when the point being made is done so brilliantly or poignantly by the original author and only when you couldn’t have said it better yourself)?

Paraphrases:

  • Are they referenced accurately (with the author’s last name + year of publication)?
  • Are they appropriate (i.e. not too close to the original but still capture the meaning of the original)?
  • Are they introduced appropriately (e.g. In Jones’s (2010) opinion, … / Jones (2010) reports that … / As Jones (2010) points out… )?

End-of-text References:

  • Are all sources cited in the body of the text listed here in alphabetical order?
  • Are they accurate (according to your Department’s guidelines)?

 

Style, Clarity, Grammar and Punctuation

Style and clarity:

  • Is the essay appropriately academic in terms of style (i.e. no informal language, slang, colloquialisms or contracted forms (e.g. don’t/isn’t)?
  • Are statements tentative rather than dogmatic (e.g. It would seem that …/ It may/could be that…/perhaps/possibly…/One possibility might be … etc)?
  • Are the words used your own (apart from quotations) and are your own ideas/opinions made clear to the reader?  In other words, does your own voice come through?
  • Are sentences of reasonable length (not too long; not too short) and not overly complicated?
  • Is the text repetitive? (it shouldn’t be!)
  • Can the essay be read aloud easily? (it should be!)

Grammar and punctuation:

Are the following accurate?:

  • Articles (e.g. the UK, the financial crisis)
  • Subject-verb agreement (e.g. The financial crisis has (not have wide-ranging repercussions.)
  • Verb forms (e.g. the government has been trying to … (not the government has been try to …); This could damage … (not this could to damage …)
  • Verb tense (e.g. In 2010, the government announced new measures…(not In 2010, the government have announced…)
  • Prepositions (e.g. Big banks were interested in … (not: big banks were interested at …)
  • Parts of speech (e.g. This was a destructive measure (not: this was a destruction measure)
  • Sentence connectors (e.g. The big banks acted irresponsibly. However, it was the average family that suffered. (not: The big banks acted irresponsibly, however, it was the average family that suffered.)
  • Full stops separating sentences = a subject + main verb (e.g. The full impact of the crisis has yet to be determined. We will be feeling the effects for years to come. (not: The full impact of the crisis has yet to be determined, we will be feeling the effects for years to come.)

**Finally, check for spelling mistakes and typos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essay essentials: Part 1

In this 3-part blog, we focus on the essentials of essay writing in English.  In Part 1, we look at the essay structure, the introduction and paragraphing.  In Part 2, we look at quotations, citations, paraphrases, references and conclusions.  In Part 3, we look at language, including academic style and grammar.

This is a simple and fairly prescriptive overview, which we hope will help any student new to writing essays in English. We know that there is no magic formula for writing essays. But, we do believe that some elements are, to a certain extent, formulaic.  In other words, if you follow the advice below, you shouldn’t be breaking any UK academic norms or conventions. Once you’ve written several essays and understand the ‘rules of the game’, so to speak, then by all means feel free to bend them and exercise to the full your academic literacies. 

 

1.      Essay structure

Essays normally contain the following sections (unmarked by headings/sub-headings within the essay):

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion

 

2.      The introduction

Ways of introducing the essay structure:

In this essay I will firstly … and then …

This essay will first of all … and then …

In the first section of this essay I will …

 

Here is an example introduction from a student with the key features above colour-coded:

3. Paragraphing the main body

A paragraph should have

  • Unity (one main idea)
  • Coherence (ideas follow logically and are understandable to your reader)

Here is an example paragraph from a student with the key features above colour-coded:

 

Between paragraphs

Within the context of an essay, the topic sentences and concluding sentences will have to perform additional tasks:

  • show how paragraphs are related to each other (using transition signals, e.g. ‘In addition’ / ‘A further example of … is…’ / ‘Furthermore’ / ‘However’ / ‘On the other hand’ /’While this may be true…’
  • show how a new topic is related to the essay title.  This is often done through quoting key words from the essay title.  E.g. ‘In terms of the  benefits of studying abroad…’ / ‘With reference to developing real English …’
  • sum up how the content has contributed to your argument.  E.g. ‘Thus, it is clear that…’ / ‘Thus, it can be seen that…’ / ‘Therefore,…’ / ‘Clearly, then…’

 

If you have any questions about any of the above or if you'd like us to look at your work and give you feedback, then do get in touch with us.