What is it?

Writing a good piece of academic work begins with getting organised and planning its content carefully. This applies to whatever type of assignment you are working on, whether it is an essay, report, dissertation or presentation.

Whilst it is important to start writing as soon as possible, especially if you find getting the words down difficult, it is important to have some idea of the direction in which you are heading. To begin with, research is needed: use the resources – electronic and print – provided by the library and try to read as much as you can about the topic. Once you’ve got an overview of the subject and the likely areas you intend to cover, you can create a skeleton outline of your essay, in which each paragraph is summarised on one sentence. As you read more, you can then flesh out this outline with supporting evidence; having done this, you are ready to write.

Preparing your work carefully will not only give you practical experience of implementing the organisational skills required in the workplace; it will also contribute towards the development of problem-solving and analytical abilities, flexibility and adaptability, communicating effectively in written format, and creativity and innovation.


Decoding essay questions

Do you understand the difference between 'discuss', 'evaluate' and 'assess'? This short guide from the Victoria University of Wellington explains the most commonly used instructions in essay titles.

Structuring essays

A one-page template demonstrating a coherent essay structure. Adapted from Cottrell, S. (2013) The Study Skills Handbook (4th edn.).

Structuring science reports

A guide to the key elements of science report.


For some useful guidance on preparing an assignment, have a look at our factsheet.

If you are having trouble structuring your work, you might some of the following items helpful:

Cottrell, S. (2013) The Study Skills Handbook. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Creme, P. and Lea, M. (2003) Writing at University. Buckingham: Open UP

The following items might also be useful:

Learn Higher (2010) 'Report Writing - Resources for Students'​

Murray, N. and Hughes, G. (2008) Writing Up Your University Assignments and Research Projects. Maidenhead: Open UP