Writing a university essay – OurWarwick

Writing a university essay

Hi Everyone,

I have discussed this before but after writing far too many essays over the last few years, my advice has definitely changed based (at least slightly). This is an updated post to help you ace your essays 🙂

Firstly: Don’t panic. Referencing and writing university-style essays will be new for most of the people on your course. The first year is all about taking risks and seeing what works for you. 


This tends to be the first thing that worries people. WHAT IF I GET ACCUSED OF PLAGIARISM? Don’t worry! I promise you, if you haven’t intentionally plagiarised, you probably won’t get in trouble for it. Especially in your first year, as long as you have demonstrated an effort to reference, even if it is slightly wrong, you won’t get in trouble. Your tutor will probably refer you to a guide or tell you how to improve next time, but that’s all!

Referencing is as easy as ABCD. Literally.

  • Author.
  • Book name.
  • City name.
  • Date published.

Referencing the easier way:

If that is too scary, here is a slight cheat: citethisforme, or Microsoft Word’s citations manager. You input all the key information of what you are referencing, then the rest is magic! The site will produce the reference and bibliography for you, so all you need to do is copy-paste it into your text.

As a first/second year, I loved footnote referencing which citethisforme does really well. I think I have also mentioned in a previous post somewhere that I don’t see myself changing from it, ever. However, in Monash Harvard referencing was compulsory for most of my essays and now, I have really grown to love it. I recommend trying both out in your first year to see what you prefer (I wish I did this).

Footnote vs Harvard: (do check as sometimes tutors as for a certain style)

So, I have mentioned these terms which may or may not be familiar but what actually are they?

Footnote referencing is when the references are at the bottom of the text, in the footer. Here, you should include all of the ABCD information.

Alternatively, Harvard referencing is when the reference is in the text itself. You only include the author’s surname, date and page number, just like this: (Surname 2019: 5).

Whichever one you decide to use, you will have to include a bibliography.


This is a list of all of the references you have inserted in your essay, along with any other resources that have helped you, even if they are not directly referenced. It is ordered alphabetically (usually by surname) and includes all of the information you would put in a footnote style reference (except specific page numbers)

This is sometimes the first thing tutors read when marking essays to see what resources you have used – so make sure you have formatted it correctly!

Structuring an essay:

Unlike A-levels which usually ask you to be neutral, university essays tend to require to “pick a side” and mention the critiques throughout.

Introduction: Here, you should mention your key arguments and signpost what you are going to do. Writing “firstly…” “Secondly…” is completely acceptable.

Context/Literature review/Definitions: These are good paragraphs to insert after an introduction to enhance your essay. Not all of these will be relevant so it completely depends on your question. It may be best to ask your tutor how they like essays to be structured.

Main body: Sometimes it is better to stick to 2/3 arguments in a lot of detail, than 6/7 points very broadly. Don’t be afraid of writing just a few points!

Conclusion: Don’t introduce new points! This is for you to summarise your key points, not to introduce a new idea. It can be really easy to mention new things to avoid repetition but don’t. Sometimes mentioning ideas for future studies can be relevant here, but that’s as far as it should go. Otherwise, use the space to provide an overview of what you have argued and how.


Shanita 🙂 xo

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