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Easy steps to writing an essay

The academic writing process essentially has 3 broad stages which can be summarised in the diagram below.

The following information on this page will unpack the essential requirements of each stage.

Following these 3 stages should ensure that you are working consistently and accurately towards your assignment.


Figure 1.  The stages of academic writing

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Analysing an assignment question - VIDEO

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Stage 1: Prepare to write

  • Analyse the task for key words – words that identify the topic or issue. Table 1 lists common key words used in assignment/examination questions.
  • Try rephrasing the assignment question to ensure that you fully understand it.
  • Try to break down the assignment question into a series of questions.
  • Use the assessment criteria as a checklist:
    • The marks allocated for each criterion give an indication of how much time should be spent (and therefore how much should be written) on each part of the question, and
    • ensures that no parts of the question are left unanswered.
  • Seek clarification if necessary – discuss the interpretation with your classmates, and ask your lecturer/tutor if unsure.
  • Knowing precisely what content is required will help you make an informed choice on the material you need to read about or research.

Common key words in interpreting a task:



account for

give reasons for, explain


break an issue down into its component parts, then examine each part and describe the relationships between them


make a case based on evidence. Develop a logical sequence of discussion, either presenting opposing views or supporting a particular attitude


consider the value and significance of an issue, event or other matter, weighing up the positive and negative features


show similarities and differences between characteristics or qualities


emphasise the differences between characteristics or qualities

critically evaluate

make a judgment weighing up positive and negative features to arrive at an evaluation of the significance or usefulness of something

critically analyse

examine each part of an issue or argument, weighing up positive or negative features and the relationships between features or parts


analyse and make a judgment, weighing up positive and negative features. Base your judgment on criteria and give examples of how the criteria apply


see criticise


tell about features, factors, qualities, aspects


set out the meaning (of a term, word); describe (sometimes explain)


see account for; also to weigh up and compare several views on an issue, develop a thesis, attitude or viewpoint


specify and list main features


consider various arguments to reach a judgment on significance or value


give reasons for, clarify cause and effect; reason and result


point out and list main features or factors


select and list main features or factors


explain what is meant and relate this to the topic


give examples; explain


give reasons for a course of action, thesis or attitude


describe the main points


demonstrate by logical argument

(give a) rationale for

give reasons, explain why


provide an overview; also to make a critical analysis


give a concise description


Stage 2: Research


Read broadly

Do this to get an overall picture of the topic in question, starting with your lecture notes, subject learning guide, introductory and general texts. Keep the assignment question in mind while you read. Refer to Academic reading for efficient and critical reading strategies.

Formulate a tentative position

Once you have an overall understanding of the topic, you are ready to formulate a tentative position (your perspective) on the assignment question, and are able to focus on more detailed texts and your 'possible line of argument'.

Focus your reading

Focussed reading helps to validate your adopted tentative position. Search for texts that detail the issues you have identified as part of the overall picture by referring to the reading list in your subject outline, the reference lists in the introductory/general texts and relevant journal articles, and the library catalogue and databases.

Commit to a position

Having done the research and focussed your reading, you should have a clear view of your position (your argument); this will help to keep your writing focused, logical and coherent.


Stage 3: Writing


1. Plan

First, organise your argument and evidence, and establish connections between your points. You may not need a detailed plan prior to writing a draft; some students may work well with just a list of headings and sub-headings to guide them. Whatever the format of your plan, it is essential to have one prior to writing as it provides an overview of what your assignment will cover, guides you along the way, and ensures that nothing is left uncovered.

2. Draft and redraft

Once you have a plan, start writing the first draft. You will probably find that you need to redraft your writing several times. In the process of drafting and redrafting, you may find that you need to do more research or reading in a particular area in order to strengthen an argument or evidence in your assignment.

3. Edit

After you have completed the final draft, leave it for at least a day before you do the final editing. Check for the following:

  • structural aspects (introduction-body-conclusion) – logic and coherence;
  • grammar aspects and punctuation; and
  • technical aspects – presentation, in-text referencing and reference list, and spelling.

It is also useful to have a fresh pair of eyes to read it over – ask a friend, or come and see HELPS.


For more help

For more help with academic writing, there are many useful resources on the HELPS website, as well as in the UTS Library. You can also come and talk to the HELPS Advisors who can assist you.

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Adapted from the following source:
Morley-Warner, T. 2009, Academic writing is… A guide to writing in a university context(opens an external site), Association for Academic Language and Learning, Sydney. UniLearning 2000, accessed 10 June 2000.


Academic Writing Process (PDF, 284.01kB, 3 pages)
HELPS Editing Checklist (PDF, 136.18kB, 2 pages)