Academic Skills


Focus your ideas

What is your answer to the question?

If you are stuck and lack ideas, try brainstorming the topic. Go to: University of Maryland University College website for a step by step guide on how to do this. The next step is to try to sum up your answer in a few sentences. Once you have this core answer, think about how you can illustrate and support it. Also consider other points of view and why you have decided against them.
Remember that Read&Write software is available on student computers. Watch this short video to see if you think it could help you organise your thoughts:

Make a plan

There are various approaches to planning an essay so experiment and decide what suits you best. Some people say they never plan when in fact they have a detailed plan in their heads. Most of us can benefit from writing something down but it can take different forms and might depend on what kind of learner you are. (If you want to know more about learning styles, visit: and try their questionnaire).

Develop an argument

For most academic essays, you will be required to argue your case. If you are not even sure why the word ‘argument’ is being used, try reading: - argument handout. Think about what point you are making in relation to the question. How can you give evidence that this is the case? How does this link to other points that you are making? How does this progress towards the conclusion? For some ideas on how to develop arguments try completing the short exercise at: - essay planning

Applying the knowledge you have to the question is crucial at this level. Remember that it would be very unusual for anyone to ask you to tell all you know about a topic so you need to decide which angle your answer will take. For example, ‘Thatcherism is a useful term. Discuss’ obviously asks you to give both sides of the argument (that’s what ‘discuss’ means’) but you also need to give some indication of which side you are going to come down on. If you have done the research and application but you are still not sure of your argument then go back to discussion. Talk to your fellow students, your tutor or your AST who might be able to put it in perspective for you. This is the time to clear your thoughts so that the actual writing becomes a more straightforward process of putting your thoughts on paper.

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