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Essays Types of assignment

Many assignments need to be written in the form of an essay. The structure of essay-style assignments varies but should generally include an introduction, a main body and a conclusion. You'll find detailed guidance under the Assessment tab of your module website for each assignment. The following is a general list of sections you should include:

  • title
  • introduction
  • main body
  • conclusion
  • references.

Each of these is discussed in more detail.


You should write the full question (title) at the top of your assignment. It'll contain keywords (known as content and process words). Understanding the question has more information on these.


An introduction provides your reader with an overview of what your essay will cover and what you want to say. It's generally a paragraph or two to define key terms and themes and indicate how you intend to address the question. It should:

  • set out the aims of the assignment and signpost how your argument will unfold
  • introduce the issue(s) and give any essential background information
  • include major debates that lie behind the question
  • define the keywords and terms used in the question/title
  • be between 5% and 10% of the total word count.

Some students prefer to write the introduction at an early stage, others wait until they've 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.

Main body

The main body of your essay should present your case. Each main point should have its own paragraph and be written in full sentences. You should use evidence to support the arguments you make in this section, referencing your sources appropriately.

You can set out the issues and supporting evidence whichever way you feel is appropriate for the essay. You may find more guidance on this on your module website but in general 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'll need to clearly describe the issues related to the essay title (for example the concepts and theoretical positions), you're 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'll be expected to:

  • clearly describe what your essay is trying to do and define any essential terms
  • present an argument that is balanced
  • base any conclusions you draw on evidence
  • present evidence using references to the original published work.


Your conclusion should be a short section to sum up how your essay has answered the question, reinforce your introduction, and include a reference to the wording of the title. Try to focus on the question but avoid repeating what you wrote in the introduction.

If your essay has presented evidence or data, ensure that the conclusions you draw are valid in 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:

  • summarise the key elements of your argument clearly and concisely
  • demonstrate how you've answered the question
  • perhaps suggest what needs to be considered in the future.

It should not:

  • include any new arguments, ideas or examples
  • be too long, for an assignment of fewer than 1,500 words a conclusion of 50-100 words is probably enough
  • repeat examples, phrases or sentences from the main body of your essay.


You should include a list of sources (including module materials) that are mentioned in the essay. Find out more in the OU library's referencing and plagiarism area.

Adding an appendix or appendices

Whether you can or can't add appendices to an essay depends on your module or assignment. You need to check with your tutor when and how an appendix can be added to an assignment.

Last updated 2 months ago