Essay Writing Tips/Dissertation Writing Tips for University Students

Writing Essays for University is a skill, and writing the dreaded Dissertation can be challenging. Study Coach academic support provides Essay Writing tips and Dissertation Tips to help students. Here at Study Coach we believe that assignment writing is an important skill because academic success is dependant on achieving good essay grades.  Study Coach therefore offers essay writing tips to help University and College students.

International Students:

International students who are currently at a UK University, or International students who are contemplating applying to study for a Master degree or Bachelor degree here in the UK should also find the Essay Writing Tips to be of some value. International students should pay particular attention to raising discursive skills, since there is a tendency for most students to write descriptively.

If you are new to Study Coach then I will briefly introduce myself: my name is Morel Benard, I’m a qualified and experienced educator. I have studied at the following institutions here in the UK: Leicester University; Middlesex University; East London University; Greenwich University; Open University. I will say a few words via audio: 

Morel Benard at Study Coach


There is much to say about Essay Writing, for example: note taking, note making, debunking the essay title, gathering evidence, structuring and so much more, but I’m choosing to start by talking about raising discursive content, reducing descriptive writing and referencing. Students will need to raise a discussion and not simply to regurgitate the researchers’ words. Essays, including Reflective assignments should be a discursive piece of work. 


For example: if the essay is simply repeating what the evidence says about Leadership Styles, students are likely to receive feedback saying: ‘descriptive work’ and the mark could be low or fail. In order to offer a discursive reflective essay, students will need to think and raise issues, mentally pose questions and offer suggestions, give reasoning; show the markers and readers why you hold a certain view about leadership styles and application to professional practice. You therefore need to show your markers where you have taken your ideas from, meaning whose research are you relying on to support your arguments. If you identify a researcher who is a leading authority on the essay topic then you will need to cite the researcher and in doing so to present the evidence in a logical way, taking care not to misrepresent the researcher’s ideas. Do remember that your marker will be very knowledgeable about concepts and reflective frameworks.   


From my teaching experience I have noticed that some students will prefer to rely on their own definition of terms and set aside researchers’ ideas. Please do not rely on your own definition, you are not yet an authority. I note that this error usually occurs when students are writing on familiar topics such as culture, social care, communication skills, and reflective assignments.  

If you are studying sociology or a related topic and need to define culture then use an authority on the topic. For example, you could say the following: according to Haralambos and Holborn (1990: p3) ‘culture defines accepted ways of behaving for members of a particular society’. 

In citing Haralambos and Holborn in the body of the essay, you should therefore note that you need to refer to the authors surname (not first name), provide the date and say when the work was published, and since it is a quote you should give a page number. Furthermore, you will note that the year and page number are in brackets. You are therefore directing your marker to the source and furthermore telling the marker that the definition can be found on page 3. Once you have cited a definition you then need to discuss the definition, explain your understanding, for example you should be thinking what is mean’t by ‘a particular society’ and ‘accepted ways’.  


The reason for giving precise information about the reference is in order for others to locate the source for themselves and to see whether or not you have accurately defined the idea and in your analysis you have interpreted the idea correctly and not given a false representation of the work. If you wish to refer back to the same source and idea in the said essay, it is usually allowed just to refer to the authors (Haralambos and Holborn) without referring to the date and page again. However, if you wish to introduce a new idea given by the authors then you should provide the date and page. Please however note that Universities guidelines on referencing do differ and it is possible that your University might expect you to cite the date and page at all times. 


Please also note that when quoting you should use quotation marks. Do however try to limit your use of quotes in assignments, since the aim is for you to develop and express your understanding in your own words and to convey meaning. Massive use of quotes is not acceptable. You should develop skills in rephrasing text, demonstrating understanding and generating ideas, simply repeating the author’s words is not good.  


Please be aware that the University might stipulate that only current and contemporary references should be used. The University might stipulate a minimum of references to be used, for example a minimum of 25 references and sources need to be reliable, plus the instructions for references might say that journal articles should be peer reviewed and robust.

Do note that a reference list is excluded from the allowed word count and that a reference list is not a bibliography. Your overall mark will depend on your use of academic referencing conventions so please take note in order to prevent falling foul of plagiarism rules.  


Listing References takes place at the end of the assignment and I will repeat: the reference list is excluded from the word count. Having written the assignment you are expected to supply all the references that is cited in the body of the essay.  The aim is that readers can read and easily locate the books/articles/journals used, should they wish to. 

The reference list should give details of authors surname and initial(s) year and date of publication, the title of the book or article and the name of the publisher. This is basically the academic convention according to the Harvard system. The list of references should be an exhaustive list of all works referred to in the body of the essay. Please find examples below:


Haralambos, M; Holborn, M (1990) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, 3rd ed, London, Unwin Hyman Limited 

Pears, R. and Shields, G. (2016) Cite them Right: the essential reference guide, 10th edn, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

It has truly been a pleasure to have had you as my psychology teacher. I do not think I would have understood half of what we learnt otherwise. THANK YOU for being so supportive and encouraging and for making Wednesday mornings unexpectedly amusing at times.

© Studycoach     07944 849271     Privacy Policy