An essay is a piece of structured writing which is used to analyse and evaluate an issue and develop an argument or opinion in a rational way.

When providing an essay brief to students, make sure it is clear and concise and that students know what is expected of them, for example, where marks are allocated and an indication of word limits. Make sure you offer relevant feedback so that students are able to reflect on their learning and understand how to further develop their skills.

Workload guide

Preparation time Low Student workload High Marking time High

Literacies and skills exhibited

  • Developing arguments, reflecting, evaluating and assessing
  • Working independently
  • Being self-directed, managing time
  • Written and non-verbal communication
  • Searching and managing information sources
  • Organising, reviewing and paraphrasing information
  • Researching, investigating and interpreting


  • Article for a newspaper or professional magazine.
  • Book review.
  • Paper to a committee.


Essays are the quickest assignments to set, but are time-consuming to mark - particularly for large cohorts. New academic staff will need extra time and help to understand the essay marking process and any local marking practice in the department: marking team meetings can help this process. A clear marking criteria helps staff to mark fairly and consistently, and students to aim at: use of online marking methods (eg. GradeMark) can help this process.


Feedback is normally a combination of in-text comments (picking out particular areas for development or praise) and final summary notes. In addition to written feedback, personalised feedback can be provided in tutorials or through short audio or video clips; for efficiency in larger cohorts, feedback can be provided to a whole group either within an existing class, or via a group audio/video clip.

Further reading

Manchester Metropolitan University Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching


Guide to time involved in preparation, marking, and student workload:  Low Low  Medium Medium  High High

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