Getting started

student thinking

You have an essay to write. What is the first thing you should do? How do you get started? The following extract from our Writing Essays study guide provides some initial pointers:

Why essays?

To produce a high quality essay you need to demonstrate your ability to:

  • understand the precise task set by the title;
  • identify appropriate material to read;
  • understand and evaluate that material;
  • select the most relevant material to refer to in your essay;
  • construct an effective argument; and
  • arrive at a well-supported conclusion.

Attending closely to the title

The most important starting point is to listen carefully to what the essay title is telling you. The guidance given to you by the title is freely available, and is your best clue as to what is required in the essay.

Brainstorming

To start you off, and to minimise the likelihood of writer’s block, a useful exercise is to do a ‘brainstorm’ of all your ideas in connection with the essay title. [… ] You can catch all of your ideas, in no particular order, on a sheet or two of A4. Once they are down there it will be easier for you to start to review them critically and to see where you need to focus your reading and note taking.

The full version of the Writing Essays study guide is available here, and you might also find it useful to take a look at the resources in the table below, which provide tips on getting organised and interpreting essay titles.

Organising your time study guide
Analysing essay titles video tutorial
Essay terms explained study guide
Questions to ask about interpreting essay titles mini guide