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Introduction to Essay Writing
This handout should help you become familiar with the process of writing different types of essays. Included in this handout is a brief introduction to the different types of essays, writing skills and some practice exercises that will enhance your essay writing.
Types of essays Steps in writing and essay Essay Task Words Vocabulary Use
What is an essay?

An essay is a piece of writing that discusses, describes or analyses a topic. There are many types of essays that you may come across in your studies at university. Refer below for a brief introduction on the different types of essays.

Types of essays

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1. Argumentative essay

In producing an essay of this type, the student is required to investigate and establish a position on the topic. The writing should have a well-defined thesis statement that is followed up with supporting evidence.

Structure of an argumentative essay

Shown below is only one possible way to organise an argumentative essay.

  • Your introduction should include a thesis statement
  • You may choose to include background information about the topic of your argument
  • You should present your position/stance
Main Body
  • Your paragraph should include; your own arguments + support and counterarguments + refutation
  • Every paragraph should have a topic sentence and evidence to support your argument or ideas
  • You may include closing sentences to link paragraphs
  • Restate your position/stance
  • You may give a brief review or summary of your reasoning
  • You can write a strong firm statement to rephrase your thesis. This restatement is important because it makes the whole essay/argument solid and complete. However, the wording must be different from those in the thesis statement in the introduction.
  • There should not be any new points or arguments in the conclusion because readers will expect you to elaborate on them.

Example topic questions:

- The position of women in society has changed markedly in the last twenty years. Many of the problems young people now experience, such as juvenile delinquency, arise from the fact that many married women now work and are not at home to care for their children. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?
- How important are parent-teacher conferences?
- Should university students be required to take courses that are unrelated to their major?

Tips: Questions to ask yourself after completing your argumentative essay
  • Does your essay communicate clearly to the reader?
  • Will this essay convince the reader of your stance?
  • Have you included topic sentences that relate to your thesis statement?
  • Does the essay have a strong argument and have you included enough relevant evidence to support your stance?
  • Will the reader understand and agree with your stance?
  • Have you correctly cited the sources you used?
  • Does your essay sound credible? Have you only used formal language?
2. Persuasive essay

A persuasive essay aims to persuade the reader to the writer’s point of view or opinion. You should state your definite point of view and provide evidence to support your ideas.

Structure of an persuasive essay

Shown below is only one possible way to organise a persuasive essay.

  • Introduce the argument of your essay
  • Needs to be well-constructed and concise
  • Include a thesis statement
  • You may include appropriate background information relevant to your argument
  • Include your opinion
Main Body
  • You should include two or more paragraphs
  • Each paragraph should include a topic sentence followed by relevant evidence to support the idea
  • The organisation of your information should be logical
  • Restate your position
  • Restate the main argument or idea of your essay
  • Your conclusion should function to make the reader build their own insight on the argument
  • You may choose to give a brief summary of the ideas that were mentioned

Example questions/topics:

- School children should get paid for getting good grades.
- Recycling should be mandatory for everyone.
- School tests are not effective.

Tips: Questions to ask yourself after completing your persuasive essay
  • Does your essay have a definite point of view?
  • Have you included strong evidence to back up your claim or ideas?
  • Will the reader easily make the connection between the claim or ideas with the evidence provided?
  • Do you think your audience will be persuaded by this essay?
  • Does your essay sound credible? Have you only used formal language?
  • Does your essay communicate fluently to the reader?
3. Narrative essay

A narrative essay should tell a story. It should have a beginning, middle and an end. Be sure to check the marking criteria for the kind of structure and contents that must be included in your writing. A narrative essay is usually graded on plot development, characterisation and descriptive details.

Example questions/topics:

- My fondest memory.
- Five things I cannot live without.
- If I could be somebody else for a day.

Structure of a narrative essay

There is no definite structure of a narrative essay. Some students may write their narrative essay similar to how a story is written.

  • A brief statement to introduce or outline the subject, idea or purpose of your narrative
Main Body
  • The paragraphs you write will essentially tell a story in a logical manner
  • The content should communicate well and engage the audience
  • Topic sentence to introduce the idea that will be discussed
  • Include detailed descriptions that support the idea being discussed
  • You should finish off your essay with a brief mention of the topic of the essay or you may choose to reflect on the topic of your narrative.

Tips: Questions to ask yourself after completing your narrative essay
  • Does your essay flow in a logical order?
  • Does your essay communicate fluently to the reader?
  • Have you used a lot of descriptive language to describe ideas or things in greater detail?
  • Will your essay intrigue the readers?
4. Expository essay

An expository essay should communicate ideas to the reader to share information or to convey messages or ideas. In writing an expository essay, a student is required to investigate an idea, evaluate evidence and set forth an argument concerning the idea. This type of essay usually requires you to explain ideas with facts rather than opinions.

Example topic questions:

- What do you think is the greatest invention ever and why do you think this?
- Write an essay about the differences between two different types of spiders. Give examples of how each type is adapted to its environment.
- Choose a TV show or movie that you have enjoyed. Write an essay telling the reader why you enjoyed it.

Structure of an expository essay
  • Opening remarks to catch reader’s interest
  • Thesis statement
  • Plan of development (optional)
Main Body (there is no limit on the number of paragraphs you can write)
  • Topic sentence (supporting point 1)
  • Specific evidence
  • Topic sentence (supporting point 2)
  • Specific evidence
  • Summary (optional)
  • General closing remarks

Tips: Questions to ask yourself after completing your expository essay
  • Do you have a well-defined and easily understandable thesis statement?
  • Does your essay answer the question? Does the paragraph content answer or relate to the thesis statement?
  • Does the topic sentence relate to or develop the thesis statement?
  • Have you provided a fair amount of solid evidence to support your arguments?
  • Have you used the correct format of citations and referencing?
  • Is your essay succinct? Will the reader be able to understand your points clearly?
5. Critical essay

A critical essay should analyse the strengths, weaknesses and methods of someone else’s work. The essay should present an objective analysis of the topic.

Example topic questions:

- Analyse the strengths and weakness of the movie, Gladiator.
- Critically analyse how Simmons presents the character, Tatiana, in her novel, A Bronze Horseman.
- Critically evaluate the influence of Human Factor on the potential airline accidents.

Structure of a critical essay
  • Include a thesis statement to establish the purpose of your essay
  • You may choose to include a brief introduction to the argument and the supporting evidence and/or give background information about the topic of discussion
Main Body (there is no limit on the number of paragraphs you can write)
  • The paragraphs of the main body should include a topic sentence followed by evidence to support your argument or ideas.
  • It should be organised in a logical manner
  • You should connect the ideas of from one paragraph to the next for better flow
  • The conclusion should sum up the ideas that were mentioned in your essay
  • The conclusion must not include any new information that has not been previously mentioned
  • You can show the significance of the information

Tips: Questions to ask yourself after completing your critical essay
  • Have you included a strong introduction outlining the ideas, themes and/or issues that you will discuss?
  • Is your essay logical and well structured?
  • Does it communicate well to the reader?
  • Have you provided an analysis or have you retold the topic of discussion?
  • Have you included solid evidence to back up your claims or ideas?
  • Have you used consistent and accurate referencing and in-text citations?
6. Descriptive essay

A descriptive essay should describe something to the intended audience. A descriptive essay usually uses the five senses (smell, taste, sight, touch, sound) as a basis of the descriptions.

Example topic questions:

- Write about one of the following topics:
  • Favourite holiday destination
  • Your ideal date
  • Environmental degradation caused by human activity
  • You favourite character in the lord of the rings novel
Structure of a descriptive essay

There are several organisational patterns you can follow to write a descriptive essay. You may choose to organise what you are planning to describe by time, location or other orders of importance.

Refer to the table below for a general guideline of what you should include in your descriptive essay.

  • The introduction should provide the background information of the topic of the essay
  • The introduction should be strong, concise and interesting to capture the readers interest
Main Body
  • The information should be structured in a logical manner
  • Remember to include a variety of details
  • You should include your thoughts and feelings in your description
  • You may include a brief summary or overview of what you have described in great detail
  • The conclusion should remind the readers of what you have discussed and why it is important

Language use in descriptive essays

As descriptive essays are written to describe someone, something or an event in great detail, it is important that you use a good amount of descriptive words so that the reader will be able to able to clearly ‘see the picture’.

You should avoid using vague words (such as good, nice, wonderful). Instead you should be specific and use sensory descriptive words. Refer to the list below for sensory descriptive words.

Sight Sound Taste Smell Touch
shiny high sour strong rough
colourful low sweet fresh smooth
bright loud bitter musty hot
dark quiet sweet dishy cold
round squeaky spicy smoky frosty
pointed growl tasteless stale elastic
glistening gurgling ripe stinky cuddly
distinct hiss juicy fragrant soft
murky hoarse delicious burning uneven
misty crunching sticky putrid sweat
unusual mutter creamy rich slimy
translucent whisper acidic rotten downy

Tips: Questions to ask yourself after completing your descriptive essay

  • Is your essay logical, well-structured and easy to follow?
  • Have you used a fair amount of descriptive words to describe your ideas or themes?
  • Have you provided enough details or description to allow the reader to be grossly absorbed into your account?
  • Will the reader be engaged by your essay? Is it interesting?
Steps in writing and essay
1. Determine what type of essay it is (argumentative, persuasive, narrative, expository etc.)
- You should have been given notice of what type of essay you are required to write.
- In knowing the type of essay you need to write, be sure to write in that particular essay structure.
2. Analyse and understand the essay question and the key terms
- Make sure you know what the question requires you to answer (what is the purpose of the essay).
- Identify the keys words and look up any unfamiliar terms from the essay question.
3. Research the topic
- Research information from lecture notes, readings, academic articles, books etc.
4. Construct your ideas and argument
- List the ideas and its supporting materials/evidence that you will use.
  Write down quotations or references from the research material that can be included in your essay
5. Write an essay plan/draft
- Write or list the ideas in the essay structure required. (The plan should include an introduction, main body and the conclusion).
  You may use a mind map to plan your ideas
  Make sure you do not repeat your ideas and evidence
6. Write the essay
- Write the essay in full sentence form.
- Make sure you have a thesis statement, a topic sentence for each paragraph, and a conclusion.
- The thesis statement must answer the question
- Make sure to write within the amount of words as required.
7. Read over and edit the draft
- Check the overall structure of your essay and be sure that it adheres to the essay type that you are writing.
- Make sure that each paragraph serves a purpose (each paragraph has a topic sentence and supporting evidence that relates to the thesis statement. You may also include a paragraph closing sentence to round off ideas or to link with the next paragraph).
- Delete sentences which are not particularly relevant.
- Make sure that the organisation of your sentences and paragraphs are logical.
- Change some vocabulary or sentence structures to make it more advanced or academic.
- Check the punctuation, spelling and coherence of the essay.
8. Check your references and citations once you have completed editing
- Check that you have included all the necessary citations and references written in the correct format.
- Make sure to read through the plagiarism guidelines and that none of your work constitutes as plagiarism.
- Make sure that your reference list follows only one referencing structure (APA, Chicago, Harvard, etc.)
9. Hand in your essay
- Make sure to print the pages of the essay as instructed by the assignment guidelines or course. (margins, single-sided/double-sided, font, size etc.)
- Make sure to attach a signed assignment/plagiarism form if required.
- If required, submit a soft copy onto the internet for plagiarism check (i.e. Turnitin)
Essay Task Words

Below is a list of task words that you may come across in the essay question.

Task Word Definition
assess : to evaluate or consider the value or importance of something
analyse : to examine something in great detail, typically to explain or interpret it something
argue : to support an idea or theory by giving reasons or citing evidence
classify : to arrange ideas or things in groups or categories according to specific characteristics
compare : to identify the characteristics or qualities that two or more things have in common
contrast : to identify the characteristics that two of more things have uncommon
comment : to give remark or criticise on a specific matter or idea
criticise : to judge a specific matter and indicate its faults
define : to state or describe the meaning or interpretation of something
describe : to give a detailed account or give the main aspects of the topic of  discussion
distinguish : to recognise or point out the difference of two or more ideas
discuss : to write about a topic in detail taking into account different issues or ideas
evaluate : to assess an idea or a matter based on your opinions or any factual evidence
examine : to present an in-depth analysis of the topic
explain : to make an idea or matter clear by describing it in greater detail with supporting relevant facts
highlight : to emphasise or make prominent a specific idea
illustrate : to make an idea clear or intelligible by showing examples or statistics
justify : to show or prove an idea with valid evidence
list : to write or list the ideas and it components with great detail
narrate : to give a written account of something with great detail
outline : indicate the main features of a topic or idea
prove : to demonstrate or prove an idea to be true or false with supporting evidence
relate : to explain or show connection between two or more things
review : to evaluate a specific matter with supporting evidence
show : to present or explain information based on a topic or idea
summarise : to give a brief statement or overview of a topic
Vocabulary Use

When writing essays it is important to use a wide range of vocabulary. One of the most commonly used words by students is the verb ‘to show’. Very often this word is seen at least three or four times in an essay. When writing essays it is important to not be too repetitive with your word choice. Refer to the list below for other words that may be used instead of ‘to show’

Other words for ‘to show’
convey express accentuate
indicate depict highlight
explore illustrate support
reflect represent reveal
suggest depict imply
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Transitional words and phrases Using quotations in essays Common Mistakes in Essay Writing
Transitional words and phrases

Transitional words and phrases are often used in writing to link and show the relationship between sentences or paragraph. The use of these words will strengthen the cohesion of your writing. The transitional words and phrases have a variety of usages.

Below is a list of transitional words and phrases categorised under their function that may be useful for your essay writing.

  Adding examples  
also furthermore moreover
further again again
firstly, secondly, … even more in addition
lastly, besides finally
last of all additionally next

  Introducing ideas  
such as, as, like,
for instance especially for example
to illustrate including specifically

  Showing comparison  
likewise in the same manner similarly
also in the same way equally
…parallels still moreover
too …same as… …akin to…

  Showing contrast  
on the other hand, otherwise however
in contrast to compare yet
as opposed to whereas instead
contrastingly …is not…rather on the contrary
there is a difference between despite though
conversely at the same time notwithstanding

Showing results or effects
as a result consequently for this reason
therefore thus hence
under those circumstances in effect accordingly

To conclude or summarise
in a word in summary lastly
after all on the whole ultimately
in conclusion to sum up definitely
altogether in brief as a final point
lastly overall in the end

To define time or sequence ideas
while since immediately
after further during
firstly, secondly, … eventually hence
once as soon as henceforth
in summary finally meanwhile

  To explain or emphasise  
in fact in other words even more
actually more importantly above all
for instance to demonstrate for this reason
namely in particular surely
to emphasise to repeat that is to say
that is as already stated such as
Using quotations in essays

While summarising or paraphrasing, you may use your own words to explain or report someone else’s ideas. In quoting, you use not only another author’s ideas or materials, but also the author’s exact words. Quote sources rather than paraphrase them when the original wording is particularly striking or interesting, or when you want the reader to know exactly what the writer has written.

Quoting a source is somewhat complicated because of all the rules that must be followed. When you use someone else’s exact words, you need to put quotation marks on either side of the quoted materials. The following is an example of how to punctuate a quotation.

Living in the vicinity of the dump site is intolerable. According to a National Geographic report, “The corrosive fumes turned convertible car tops into rags, reddened children’s faces with rash, and swelled their eyes shut. Citizens living near the incinerator and its polluted lagoons saw the value of their homes crash and believe that their health is threatened.” (Lambert, 2012)

Points to note:
  • Quotation marks are placed around the entire quote, not around individual sentences.
  • Quotation marks always appear immediately before and after the quoted words.
  • Make sure the quotation is logically and grammatical correct – sometimes when material is left out, the remaining words do not fit smoothly into your own text. In order to create a smooth fit, you will need to adjust your own words and/or eliminate words from the quote.
  • When only a few words of the original text are useful, you may quote those words only and paraphrase the rest of the sentence.
  • Occasionally it may be necessary to insert a word or two into the sentence to introduce your quotations. Refer to the following list for verbs and phrases commonly used to introduce quotations.
According to say insist reveal
demonstrate conclude recommend assert
advise observes comment explain
agree persuade propose state
declare critique refute deny
Common Mistakes in Essay Writing

Often students attempt to show a clear text structure, but limited use of vocabulary and inappropriate cohesive devices causes strain to the readers. In addition, grammatical errors also cause strain to readers. Refer to the list below for common errors. The sentences with errors are highlighted in red with the mistake underlined. The grammatically correct sentences are given in the following line.

Grammatical Errors:

  • Plural nouns/missing nouns:
      Between year 2000 and 2010 the level of English usage has increased by fifty-five percent.’
      ‘Between the years 2000 and 2010, the level of English usage has increase by fifty-five percent.’
  • Subject-verb agreement:
      ‘The studies that requires…’
      ‘The studies that require…’
  • Tense:
      ‘Now Hong Kong is having a newly developed education system…’
      ‘Now Hong Kong has a newly developed education system…’
  • Sentence form:
      ‘The main reason is that people need to be connected closer in the global world than ever before. Only the same language people speak can make them understand each other. For instance, when WTO makes decision to the new political statement, members only speak English rather than their own mother languages.’
      ‘The main reason is that people need be connected closer in the global world than ever before. Only when people speak the same language can they understand each other. For instance, when the WTO makes decisions on new policies the members speak in English rather than their mother languages.
  • Incorrect/missing articles:
      ‘Concerning the communication aspect, some may think that the increasing usage of major languages such as English and Putonghua would lead to an unity of language usage.
      ‘Concerning the communication aspect, some may think that the increasing usage of major languages such as English and Putonghua would lead to a unity of language usage.’
  • Incorrect use of vocabulary:
      ‘As for cultural value, it is argued that as major languages are increasing spoken in different countries, people would be able to know about the cultures more easily.’
      ‘As for cultural value, it is argued that as major languages as increasingly spoken in different countries; people would be able to know about the cultures more easily.’
      ‘It is true that this will cause less popularity or even the disappear of some languages to some extend. However, the usage of major languages does not mean the abandon of the local languages.’
      ‘It is true that this will cause a decrease in popularity of even the disappearance of some languages to some/a certain extent. However, the usage of major languages does not mean the abandonment of the local languages.’
  • Sentence fragments:
      ‘While the percentage of students studying increased to 55%’.
      On the other hand, the percentage of students studying increased to 55%.

Progression of ideas:

Confusing or illogical progression of ideas:
- Be sure that your essay is written with the correct essay structure and that it presents ideas in a sequenced and logical manner.
- Introductions should have a thesis statement.
- Main body paragraphs should have a topic sentence.
- Conclusion should help to round out or summarise the main points of the essay.
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Task 1 Task 2 Task 3 Rating Form
Task 1: Editing

Complete this passage by choosing the most suitable word given.

Qn. Discuss the consumer complaint behavior and intentions between Americans and Koreans.

(1) to the growth in globalization there have been more dealings between people from different cultures. (2) culture relates to the values and customs of people, (3) generates behavior differentiation. This results in differences in expectations during service encounters between hosts and guests or sales persons and customers. Hotels and service (4) face the challenges of cross-cultural service encounters and (5) to continuously assess their service performance, customers satisfaction and dissatisfaction and how to deal with or prevent customer complaints.

(6) complaints arise due to the businesses or services not meeting the expectations of customers. Consumers may act in a behavioral or non-behavioral way to express their (7) . Complaints can be sorted into three categories (8) voice responses, private responses and third party responses.

The research by Liu and McClure (9) the difference in consumer complaint behavior (CCB) between American’s and Korean’s. The focus of the research was the difference in CCB between individualists and collectivist countries. (10) , we need to look into Hofstede’s individualism versus collectivism dimensions of culture. Firstly, Korea is a collectivist country and The United States of America is an individualist country. The results (11) that when dissatisfied, customers in an individualist culture are more likely to engage in voice behavior than those in a collectivist culture. For example, (12) are more likely to discuss the problem or inform the business of the problem so that they will do better in the future. (13) , in a collectivist culture such as Korea, the customers are more likely to engage in private behavior. For example, rather than complaining directly to the firm, they would engage in private responses to friends or family. (14) is a feature of collectivist cultures in that due to strong in-group ties, it is important to help members avoid the bad experience. Therefore, it can be (15) that American’s will usually take the confrontational approach, (16) the other hand Korean’s will take the indirect response to lodge complaints.
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