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Supervisor comment: 'good essays answer the question rather than being a memory dump' 

Supervisor feedback suggests that students often receive a lower grade than they expected because their essay failed to focus on the question in hand. You may have:

  • answered the question you wish you had been asked
  • assumed the reader has prior knowledge and neglected to outline basic concepts
  • relied heavily on lecture notes which approached the topic from a different perspective
  • adopted a common A-Level exam strategy of 'brain-dumping' on a particular topic to accumulate marks

Relevance to the question throughout the essay is essential at university.


Useful links and references: 

  • Creme, P. & Lea, M., 2007: Writing at University a guide for students. 2nd ed. OUP. Chapter 2: First thoughts on writing assignments & Chapter 4: Beginning with the title are especially relevant. Includes an example of an extremely detailed handwritten mindmap on page 62.
  • Barrass, R., 2007: Scientists must write. 2nd ed. London Routledge. See especially chapter 5, Think- Plan-Write-Revise. Generic focus with all types of writing covered but the principals of planning and organisation remain relevant. Find this in the UL 
  • Soles, D., 2005: The Academic Essay. How to plan, draft, write and revise. 2nd ed. Studymates. Well formatted, with every topic covered using a range of exemplars from a variety of disciplines. Use the 'one minute overviews' to find the sections which are most relevant to you.
  • Writing Essays in Higher Education. A guide for students by students. Writenow, Assessment Plus booklet. Available here. (accessed 13.08.2009.) Valuable all-encompassing advice on managing the transition to writing in higher education.
  • Stott, R., Snaith, A. & Rylance, R., 2001: Making your Case. A practical guide to essay writing. Pearson Education. See especially Chapter 6: Editing skills, or adventures in densely packed sentences. Includes activities if editing your waffle is an area you need to focus on. Find this in the UL