Essay Format University Level

Essay planning and structure

It is really important to plan your essay before you begin writing. Planning will save you time later. It is also essential that you have a starting point to plan from, even if it is in a very rough form.

The obvious place to start is at the assignment question itself. From the question you can develop your answer in the form of a thesis statement. From there you can decide what your essay's subtopics will be and what you want to say about them. After you have a basic idea of what you want to talk about, you can begin to write the essay.

However, when writing an essay, it can also be difficult to come up with a point of view early on. Therefore, instead of developing a thesis statement first, you may choose to read up on the assignment question and make notes on relevant concepts, theories, and studies. Once you have these notes and can develop a summary of the issues, it should be much easier to write a thesis statement.

For more information on analysing the assignment question and planning your essay, see planning assignments.

Essay structure

All essays share the same basic structure, although they may differ in content and style. The essence of an essay is an opinion, expressed as a thesis statement or proposition, and a logical sequence of arguments and information organised in support of the proposition.

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Last updated on 26 October, 2012

A university-level paper is usually evaluated in terms of several key characteristics. If it fulfills all of these characteristics, it will receive an “A”; if it falls short in one or more areas, the grade drops accordingly.

In general, a first-class paper will have the following characteristics:

1. It will have a clear thesis statement, or central argument. For example:

For a particular class of developing countries, the lack of a well-developed manufacturing sector makes trade essential for the exploitation of their primary resources. Zambia, for example, would have little use for its copper deposits in the absence of foreign demand. If the pattern of land ownership works against any outwardly oriented policy, what sort of development strategy should such a country adopt?


For reasons that will be made apparent below, the model focused on in this paper is essentially that of MBA. Primarily, the aim is to determine whether or not Canadian data support the life cycle hypothesis with the same conviction as the American data used in the aforementioned empirical tests.


This paper estimates economies of scale as well as various output, price and substitution elasticities for the Canadian brewing industry.

The thesis should be stated clearly in the introduction to your essay so that the reader knows where your argument is headed.

2. It will be well organized and well argued. Your material should be marshalled in support of your central argument or theme(s). An essay should not contradict itself or confuse the reader. Developing a clear outline of the paper before starting to write is helpful.

3. It will be solidly researched. Over-reliance on one or two sources is bad scholarship, and always dangerous: Not only does this practice court plagiarism, but also the sources themselves may be bad. Assertions that are not original should always be footnoted. And assertions that are original should be carefully backed up with solid evidence. The best sources for such evidence can usually be found in the library.

4. It will be well and clearly written. Careless or ungrammatical writing will weaken the best-researched and more original essays, and is easily avoided. If you know this is a problem for you, seek assistance at the Student Academic Success Centre (SASC).

Finally, the best papers show imagination and original thought. Think about your essay problem/question for yourself, and read your sources critically: Does what they are saying make sense? Do you have a different explanation for the problem you are addressing?

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