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Academic Writing


Stage One

Research Question:

The “research question” is the topic of your assignment.  Most essay topics are phrased as a question.  The aim of your essay is to answer that question.  It is called a research question because it is the topic you research.  Understanding your research question is essential.  You can’t get good marks unless you address the question. 

Two Types: 

  • Research question set by others
  • Setting your own research questions

The aim in determining how much research effort will be required is to ensure you have selected an area where you can focus on understanding and using research material, not spending most of your time finding it.  Your essays are not marked for effort, but for what they contain.

You want your research efforts to be as productive as possible, so design research questions for which there is plenty of easy-to-find material.


There are two planning stages in every essay:

  1. Before commencing research you plan the topic and the research you will need to undertake.
  2. Once your research is complete, you plan the argument and which items of research you will use.

Essay structure

Number of Points to Make in Essay = (Essay Length – 500) ÷ 250.


2,000 word essay

30,000 word dissertation

(2,000 – 500) = 1,500 (30,000 – 500) = 29,500
1,500  ÷ 250 = 6 points 29,500  ÷ 250 = 118 points


**NB** It doesn’t matter if your final work departs from this structure.  Some points will require only 100 words, while other might need 500.  The aim is simply to provide enough structure to plan your argument.  

Stage Two

Essay Planning:

Before you commence writing, you must plan the structure of your work. For the purposes of planning, assume each point will require 250 words. 

  • Your points need to have a logical order to them. 
  • You need to use your sources at the right time.
  • Your work must follow a logical structure. 
  • You should be able to list the points you want to make, in order, before you start writing.

Why ?  This demonstrates you thought about your work before you started writing. Your work needs to form a coherent argument.


An argument is an evidence-based defence of a particular position on a specific topic. Arguments set out to prove “claims”.  A “claim” is a conclusion you have about the topic. An academic argument is what your reasoning has led you to believe about the topic.

The quality of your argument will be assessed in terms of the sources and evidence you cite, the points you make, the order you in which you make them, and the degree to which they support your conclusion.