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New Students and Staff: Getting Started at Rhodes Library: How to write an essay: a step by step guide

Welcome to Rhodes University Library - a dynamic place to visit! This guide has been designed to assist you to become familiar with both print & electronic resources and on-site & virtual services at the Library

Step by step guide - How to write an essay



  1. Make sure that you understand the question set.  Look up any words/terms/ideas/concepts that you don’t understand.
  2. Look back at your lecture notes and read the relevant section – i.e. put the essay topic into course context.
  3. Find / search for information (books, journal articles, newspaper articles etc.) that will cover the essay topic.  Use references given to you by lecturer and any additional information.
  4. Analyse the question.

Do a keyword analysis of the question: 

  1. Instructional Keywords – What are you being asked to do? Each word means something different e.g. outline, discuss, explain, compare and contrast, evaluate etc. (See list of Instructional words on next page)
  2. Topic keywords – what is the topic e.g. global warming; supply and demand; cold war etc. Stick to the topic.
  3. Relevancy keywords – when, where or what e.g. a date or place (South Africa from 2010 - 2019).  Keep your essay relevant to the question set 
  1. Think of a line of argument / point of view that you wish to take IN ANSWERING THE QUESTION – structure or plan of your essay.
  2. Write an introduction homing in on the question – give a hint at the line / direction / point of view you will use in your essay.  Practice writing introductions.
  3. Write the body of your essay, paragraph by paragraph, giving your point of view, using the facts/information to back up the line/point of view you are taking. Each paragraph should make only one main point. Start the paragraph with a sentence to introduce the main point of the paragraph, explain that point further, then indicate how it links into your overall argument.
  4. Use full sentences and the essay should follow a logical progression.
  5. Your final paragraph, conclusion, should be a summary reflecting your own interpretation of the question set. Avoid introducing any new points in your conclusion that you have not mentioned in the main body of your essay. Don't cite in your conclusion. Write your conclusion with impact.


Key points to remember when writing an essay

•Don’t overdo exclamation marks!!!!!!!
•Don’t use slang e.g. groovy, dude, OMG, LOL, dat
•Don’t use one sentence paragraphs
•Don’t use too many adjectives – descriptive words
•Don’t use “it” all the time “It is argued that……”
•Avoid cliches – at the end of the day, barking up the wrong tree, opened up a can of worms
•Make sure that your spelling is fairly good - spell check
•Don’t repeat yourself in body of essay e.g. “As I said above……”
•Answer the question set
•Be focused and direct 
 Don't make the essay personal by using the words "I", "We", "Us"