Types of assignment
Many assignments need to be written in the form of an essay. The structure of essay-style assignments is very open but generally includes an introduction, a main body and a conclusion. The following are the sections you should include in your assignments.
- Title: Write the full question (title) at the top of your assignment. It will contain keywords (known as content and process words). Understanding the question has more information on these.
- Introduction: A paragraph or two to define key terms and themes and indicate how you intend to address the question.
- Main body: A series of paragraphs written in full sentences that include specific arguments relating to your answer. It’s vital to include evidence and references to support your arguments.
- Conclusion: A short section to summarise main points and findings. Try to focus on the question but avoid repeating what you wrote in the introduction.
- References: A list of sources (including module materials) that are mentioned in the essay.
An introduction provides your reader with an overview of what your essay will cover and what you want to say. Essays introductions should:
Some students prefer to write the introduction at an early stage, others save it for when they have almost completed the assignment. If you write it early, don't allow it to constrain what you want to write. It's a good idea to check and revise the introduction after the first draft.
The body of your essay
The main body of your essay should present your case. Each main point should have its own paragraph. You should use evidence to support the arguments you make in this section, referencing your sources appropriately. Find out more on the OU library's referencing and plagiarism area.
You can deal with the issues in a way that seems appropriate to you. You can choose to:
- deal with all of the supporting and all of the challenging evidence separately
- take each issue in turn, describing and evaluating it before moving on to the next issue
- describe all the issues first before moving on to your evaluation of them.
How to order your arguments
Although you will need to clearly describe the issues related to the essay title (e.g. concepts and theoretical positions), you are expected to go further than mere description. An essay question might expect you to take one of the following approaches.
- Make an argument by examining competing positions. This type of essay requires you to make a balanced and well-argued case for the strength of one position over another.
- Present an unbiased discussion. You might do this by comparing and contrasting things (such as arguments put forward by individual scholars).
- Explain something in a discursive way. To explore all the elements involved in a particular concept or theory in an even-handed way.
In all cases, you will be expected to:
Your conclusion should sum up how your essay has answered the title. It should reinforce your introduction and include a reference to the wording of the title.
If your essay has presented evidence or data, ensure that the conclusions you draw are valid in the light of that evidence and data. Draw your conclusions cautiously: use phrases such as 'the evidence suggests that ...', or 'one interpretation is that ...' rather than 'this proves that ...'.
Your conclusion should:
It should not:
Adding an appendix or appendices
Whether you can or cannot add appendices to an essay depends on your module or assignment. Therefore you need to check with your tutor for when and how an appendix can be added to an assignment.