How To Write an Essay for UK Universities – A Concise Guide for ESL Students

Essay writing is an integral part of a student’s life whilst at university and is a requirement for many of the courses in a degree programme. As an ESL student, your essay and chosen topic says a lot about your character and values, whether you are left-brain or right-brain dominant, the depth of your knowledge and your drive to learn more. It also shows your personality traits, leadership potential, style of writing and your mastery of the English language.

Learning how to write an essay that will make your professor sit back and notice you is an asset you should develop. Here are some easy-to-follow guidelines for writing that memorable essay.

Identify the Purpose of Your Essay

The first step in essay writing should be to identify and explain the purpose of your essay. This purpose can be any of the following: to persuade the reader to believe in your own convictions, to teach the reader the process of completing a certain task, or to add to the reader’s knowledge of the topic discussed in the essay.


Thorough and detailed research on the topic of your essay equips you with the knowledge required to expertly examine your subject matter as well as enabling you to write about it in a credible manner. There are two excellent sources to be utilised when looking for material during your research: the internet and the library.

Here are some tips and guidelines to follow when using the internet:

1)      Do not limit yourself to one search engine.  Google is unarguably the most popular but a search on or could yield different results to those you might expect from and

2)      Get your information from popular search engines and academic databases. Popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo! are tremendous sources of information but generate data that is common and universal. For more specialised and authoritative information, search the academic databases. Most colleges and universities subscribe to academic databases. Here are some that will provide you with valuable help:

3)      Check for site quality. Content, design and usability are gauges you can use to determine quality.

Sites which have poorly written content or that provide vague and generalised information about a topic are often sites of poor quality. Use keyword research tools to find out what words and phrases people use to search for something online and write your content accordingly. Avoid blogs as a source of information and pay attention to domain names. Examples such as .com, .org,.edu, .gov, and  .net are common domain names and content from other sites  may include biased views.

Choose sites with clean and simple pages instead of ones with flashing images and gaudy graphics.  The ease with which you can navigate through a site is also a testament to its quality.

4)      Using different words and phrases as well as rearranging their order can be useful when searching on the internet. This technique can produce different results and you may find information which was not available in previous searches.

Conduct your research by reading books in the library. Books are often written by authorities who have established credibility in the field, unlike the internet where sources are as likely to represent expert opinion as they are to be complete fabrications.  An essay that gathers all its sources from the internet may not be considered valid and a topic which is not documented in conventional literature may not pass university standards.

When researching, focus on the information directly related to your essay topic in order to save time and energy. It helps to make a personal focus statement to prevent you from straying. It is also useful to keep in mind that an abundance of sources may mean that your topic is too broad and too few sources may indicate that an inadequate amount of research has been carried out. Do not concentrate on only one or two authors; the information gathered may not be sufficient or may not cover all sides of an argument.

With regards to research, start with basic information and move on to more thorough and specialised sources. Using this approach allows you to learn the fundamentals of your topic in a logical manner and this in turn makes it easier to understand the progression of your information.

Read from vast sources of information and gather all knowledge about the topic. You can get a lot of diverse and even dissenting information which will add to the body of knowledge in your essay.

Important notice: Always note down the details of your sources as you come across them to avoid having to backtrack later. Write down the full bibliographic information including author name, title and date of publication, then the page number of the book or article, or the URLs if the sources are from the internet.

Conceptualise your Essay

An essay should not be a recreation of another author’s works or opinions. You will need to write your own opinions and perceptions of the theories you discuss and convictions of the topic to make the essay truly your own.  Critical thinking will lead to new and unique thoughts that you can back up with solid evidence culled from your research.

There are several techniques you can use to come up with your own views about the topic. Here are some of them:

  • Identify a problem.
  • Probe biases and their roots.
  • Raise valid questions.
  • Identify hypotheses.
  • Investigate evidences.
  • Look beyond what is apparent.

Make Your Thesis Statement

Now that you have your sources and have identified your idea, you can begin to write your essay. Before starting you must first shape a thesis statement based on your topic idea. This statement is the central point around which the rest of your essay will be written and is generally found in the introduction.  A good thesis statement must be interesting enough to grab the attention of the reader. To do this, its premise must be sustainable yet open to discussions for debate from the opposite side. It must also be targeted and focused, giving the reader an idea of the rationale of your topic of interest. A thesis statement is one complete and concise statement that makes a claim about a specific issue.

Make an Outline of Your Planned Essay

An outline is part of the pre-writing stage of an essay. It is a graphic map of the planned route of your essay. Having an outline helps you through the stages of your writing by focusing your thoughts on the particular topic as written in the outline. This method can cut in half the time it takes to write your essay when compared to an essay based on random thoughts.

Use bullet points to identify each point in the outline and describe what the paragraph will be about in one sentence. Keep your outline brief. One main point can have sub-points; each one should not exceed one line. An overview of your outline will make the structure of your essay clearer and will allow you to plan the most effective way of making your topic easily understandable to the reader.

Write the Essay- Introduction, Body, and Conclusion


The introduction takes on the crucial role of grabbing the reader’s attention as well as holding his or her interest long enough to draw them into the essay and keep their eyes glued to the page for the entirety of the paper. To do this, you can employ any of the following techniques:

  • An interesting quotation.
  • A fascinating fact or piece of trivia.
  • A challenging question.
  • A unique piece of information.

Avoid long and circuitous introductions that miss the point of the issue. Write down specifics and details and state your stand point on the issue to be discussed. The ending of the introduction usually contains the thesis statement, leading the reader to the main body.


The main body of your essay is made up of paragraphs. Each paragraph should talk about a single idea that is relevant to the essay. Start each paragraph with a topic sentence, and then cite evidence to support the topic. Use clear comprehensible words and write in a straightforward manner. All sentences in a paragraph should reinforce the focus of the issues discussed in that paragraph.

A common mistake of students is to shift to another topic within the same paragraph. This happens when the student is at a loss on how to expand the original idea. Instead of shifting to another idea, try these methods to meet the required length for your paragraph:

  • Give examples.
  • Provide another point of view.
  • Explain causes and effects.
  • Offer comparisons or contrasts.
  • Supply more evidence.


The essay’s conclusion has the purpose of ending the essay on a meaningful thought through a deeper comprehension of the topic. It is made up of less than ten sentences that summarise the whole essay. Avoid mentioning anything new in the conclusion and be concise and direct. Let the reader understand the message of your essay.

More tips and guidelines

  1. Always follow the correct guidelines for citations. The MLA Style Manual is the most widely used writing guide in the US, Canada and other countries. Learn about MLA guidelines to cite authors whose work or quotations you have used in your essay. This protects you from accusations of intellectual dishonesty and plagiarism. When using quotations, vary the authors and make sure they are all cited in your “Works Cited” section.
  2. Plagiarism, or the use of another author’s work which you claim as your own, is the mortal sin of writing. Learn about what constitutes plagiarism so that you can avoid, wittingly or unwittingly, legal transgressions and possible expulsion from your university. To have clarity in your essay, omit unnecessary words and be direct in your sentences.
  3. Always begin a paragraph with a topic sentence to keep you focused. When moving to the next paragraph, make a smooth transition from the present idea to the next. Find a relation between the two ideas. Put emphasis on sentences to make the important phrase stand out and subordinate the less important ones.
  4. There are guidelines to essay-writing that are the accepted standards. To make your essay credible, stick to these standards:
  • Avoid using “I” when emphasising a point. “I think…” or “In my opinion…” are personal preferences and make your essay sound frail and based on biases, not on evidence.
  • Avoid gender pronouns. The use of “he” is not acceptable according to MLA style. A solution to this is to use the plural form “they”. Plural pronouns do not restrict gender and are preferred over “he” or “she”.
  • Avoid the use of contractions, or combining two words into one; this will maintain the formality of your essay.
  • Do not allow your emotions and personal feelings to creep into your essay. Maintain objectivity and impartiality throughout your writing.

Essay writing is something every student will encounter and have to deal with during his or her time in academia. It need not be a scary and terrifying task. By learning the steps involved in essay writing and knowing the accepted practices, you can develop the skills and competency to write a brilliantly-crafted piece of work which represents your own ideas and concepts regarding a certain issue.