An academic essay is a piece of writing in a formal style which answers the question or statement posed in the essay title. The essay will be based on your research and, possibly, your own experience. You’ll need to reflect on your findings and present your ideas in an analytical or critical style.

The essay marker will be looking for your ability to read around a topic, evaluate what you’ve read, and present a coherent argument. You’ll be expected to be make connections between the different ideas and practices relevant to the subject, and to add your own views and conclusions within the context of the question. For example, if the question relates to recruitment and asks you to evaluate current methods of recruitment practice and the methods used by your own organisation, it would be expected that you had read a number of articles, texts, journals and course materials, as well as considering discussions during your face-to-face course sessions, and be able to compare and contrast the views and practices you discover.

The key differences between an academic essay and a business report are:

  • An essay may be more free-flowing than a structured report, although it will still be broken into relevant sections to explore the topic and lead the reader through the ‘story’ you’re building.
  • As an academic piece of writing, you’ll be expected to ‘cite’ all the sources you’ve used to support your ideas and list them at the end as a reference list or bibliography.
  • An essay is usually written solely as an assignment as part of a course, not for a wider audience.

Planning your essay

Writing your essay

Presenting your essay

Useful contacts, references and books

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