What Is The Purpose Of Your Essay?

You need to make sure that you fully understand the question. What is the essay about? What are you being asked to do?


You need to extract two types of information from the essay title:

  • Subject keywords
    Identify the keywords of the topic that is the subject of the essay - these will form the basis of the search terms used in your research. Make sure you define any key words if you are unsure of the meaning - use dictionaries or relevant text books. See the section on Finding Information for examples and help with searching.
  • Directive words
    You need to look for the directive or instructional words in your essay title that define the kind of reasoning you should be using e.g. why, how, analyse, compare, evaluate, argue etc. View a list of directive words and their meanings.


Once you have identified the keywords and directional words, ideas should start to form in your mind.  Go through the following process:

Generating Ideas

Brainstorm the ideas for your essay, i.e. as ideas begin to form, write them down immediately regardless of importance or order - pattern notes are particularly useful for this. Put the key issue in the centre and let related ideas or factors radiate from it. Let your ideas flow as rapidly and spontaneously as possible.

When you have collected all your ideas, re-write them in a more orderly, logical way. Evaluate them in terms of importance and rank them with most important first. Group any related ideas together so that you can form logical groups and sub-groups. This will form the basis of your information gathering and essay outline. 

It may be that you don’t know enough about your subject to get much beyond identifying keywords, in which case you will have to do some preliminary research based on the essay title keywords first and then generate the main points of the essay.

Gathering Evidence

You need to read and collect as much academic information and evidence as you can based on the points you have identified. Your evidence should consist of specific examples or the opinions of others which support and illustrate your own view. You need enough evidence to make a strong statement.

You may need to consult both primary Book-iconKeyword Definition original texts, such as a journal article giving an account of research carried out by the authors of the article. Another example would be an autobiography, photograph, film. and secondary Book-iconKeyword Definition opinions or commentary on other people’s work. Authors of books and journal articles often refer to previous related work, these accounts are secondary sources. These can include textbooks, journal articles and biographies. sources of information according to your assignment brief. Where possible you should consult the primary source.

You should use the widest variety of sources to form and support your own views, but make sure that you use reliable and appropriate sources such as academic books and journals rather than relying on websites. Remember to critically evaluate the material that you are consulting, do not simply collect the opinions of others and rearrange them. 

As you examine the literature on your essay topic you may identify further points that you hadn’t considered in your initial brainstorming activity, so you will have to factor these into your essay outline.


Make sure that you make a note of every book, article and website you have consulted as you carry out your research, so that you can create a bibliography or list of references when you come to write the essay. You may wish to create a Refworks account to manage your references. See the referencing section for further guidance.