Wednesday 2 August 2017

Essay Writing Checklist: What to Include in a College Essay

Essay Writing Checklist: What to Include in a College Essay

If you have to write an essay, and if you are struggling with where to start, the Academic Coaching team has developed a free Essay Writing Checklist. You can download the checklist and follow the guidelines in this outline to make sure that your essay meets all of the requirements and academic conventions.

Download the Checklist in PDF format here.

Read all of the guidelines below. Remember, if you need additional help with any of these components, there are detailed guides on the resources page of the Academic Coaching website.

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Give the reader some basic background information which they can use to understand your discussion/ argument. This should be one to three sentences. Your context could include: book’s title, author’s name and plot points (for literature analysis), introduce important dates, events and people that relate to your essay, or a discussion of the major themes and concepts in your field that your essay will touch on. For example, an essay on photosynthesis will have to explain what it is, basically, in the context section, and then later you can go into more detail.

Thesis Statement
Your thesis statement is the main point of your essay, or the main argument you will make. You should not simply repeat the essay topic or question, but answer it. For example, if your essay topic is to evaluate the merits of eating eggs for breakfast, your thesis statement needs to say whether eggs for breakfast would be good or bad according to your research, not simply say that you will evaluate it later.

Give the main steps that you will take to support your thesis statement throughout your essay. You could list the three most important aspects you will look at, or the three or four main elements that will form topics of your different paragraphs.

Body Paragraphs

Topic Sentence
Your topic sentence is the first sentence (or two sentences) of every body paragraph that introduces the main topic that you will discuss in that paragraph. Your topic sentence needs to be clear and show a direct link to your thesis statement, explaining how the paragraph will build on your argument or discussion in some way.

Evidence/ Support
The second section of your paragraphs needs to include evidence or support in the form of citations, research, data or experiments. Every paragraph which introduces a new topic should have some support. Each piece of support that you get from external sources needs to be referenced properly (APA, Harvard, MLA, Chicago or other referencing style).

You need to spend the bulk of your paragraph explaining the evidence or support in your own words, clearly showing how it links to the topic of the paragraph as well as to your overall thesis statement. You need to analyze, criticize, or explain the evidence you’ve provided so that any reader in your field could understand it. Your explanation section is where you use your own critical thinking skills to demonstrate the significance and veracity of your evidence, and where you show how the new ideas you’ve introduced take your argument or discussion forward.


Summary of Ideas
Briefly summarize the main ideas you’ve introduced in the body of your essay.

Show support for thesis Statement
Explain again how the evidence or support has linked to your thesis statement in one or two sentences. Reinforce the main idea of your argument.

Logic and Coherence

One Idea per Paragraph
Is there only one main idea in each paragraph? To test this, try to summarize each paragraph in one sentence. If you use a conjunction like the word “and” in your summary, you might have two ideas that require two paragraphs.

Paragraphs build towards conclusion
Do each of your paragraphs add to your argument? Do they flow from one to the next in a logical way? This means that each paragraph is placed in a position that moves from one step to the next, and doesn’t take steps backwards. The understanding or knowledge from one paragraph should be a building block towards the ideas you introduce in the next paragraph.

Good use of signposting
Signposting is the use of words that allow the reader to follow the logical progression of your argument. If one point leads into the next, you could use a signpost word like “therefore” or “thus”. If one point contradicts another or shows an opposing viewpoint, you could use a signpost like “however”. If you are giving a second point, you could signpost it with “secondly”.

No irrelevant ideas or paragraphs
Are all of the ideas and paragraphs that you include in your essay necessary to build towards your conclusion? Are any parts repeated? Are there paragraphs which could be left out? Are there ideas that don’t help you to build your discussion or argument?

Support for ideas/ contentions/ interpretations/ claims
Every idea or claim which you introduce needs to be supported by evidence. You shouldn’t use statements like “As we all know…”. Rather, give a citation or refer to research that makes the point you are trying to make. It might not be a self-evident fact like you imagine it is.

Evidence/ Support is Scientific and academic in nature
You should only use evidence that follows the rigor of science and academic knowledge. Personal convictions, religious ideals (outside of religious studies essays), or other forms of support which are not academically peer-reviewed, produced by experts in the field or empirically tested should not be used in academic essays.


Academic register
You need to write formally and academically throughout your essay. Your language has to be professional, like you are writing for a journal, newspaper or to an important person who deserves great respect. Avoid conversational language or informal conventions like contractions (“isn’t” in the place of “is not”). Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Argument/ discussion clarity
Is the “golden thread” of your argument or discussion clear throughout the essay? This means: is there a clear and focused main point that all of your other points link to?

Clarity of ideas
Do your ideas all make sense? Do you overexplain or underexplain some ideas? Will the reader easily be able to follow what you’re saying and not be confused or lost while reading your essay?

Academic Conventions

Do you provide a short (less than 20-word) title that clearly explains your main point and that would make sense to any reader?

Do you use proper referencing for each piece of external information that you didn’t come up with on your own? Do you have a good reference list/ bibliography which follows all of the conventions of your department/ school?

Do you format your essays neatly, professionally and legibly? The requirements are usually either 12-point Times New Roman font with 1.5-line or double line spacing, and 1-inch margins, so that your professor or tutor will have enough space for comments if applicable.