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Research and Study help

What is an essay?

Essays at TAFE need to respond to the question by developing an argument which is based on evidence and critical reasoning. They must have certain key elements including;

  • A clear introduction with a thesis statement (an answer to the question or a response to the task) and a well defined structure,
  • Logically structured body paragraphs which include supporting evidence from academic sources.
  • A clear conclusion which restates your topic and summarizes your essay and thesis.

Why do we write essays?

Essays are used to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of a topic. They are also useful tools to promote thinking and learning.

How to write an essay

Before you start, it is important to understand what type of essay you are required to write. The language of the question, especially the task words, will indicate the type of essay and suggest an appropriate structure to follow in your essay.  Refer to the Task words TAB for definitions of task words.

Often, assignments have more than one part. The most logical way to approach a multi-part assignment is to address each part of the task in the order that it is stated on the assignment task sheet.  The first sentence of each section of the assignment should be a direct response to each part of the task.

Types of essays and suggested structures

Analytical essay

This is perhaps the most common structure. Examples of this include questions which ask you to discuss, analyse, investigate, explore or review. In an analytical structure you are required to break the topic into its different components and discuss these in separate paragraphs or sections, demonstrating balance where possible.

  • Introduction
    • Background information on topic
    • Overall point of view of the topic (thesis)
    • Overview of components to be discussed (structure)
  • Body paragraphs
    • paragraph 1
      • Topic sentence outlining first component
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to support topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • paragraph 2
      • Topic sentence outlining second component
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to back topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • Following body paragraphs
      • These follow the same structure for as many components as you need to outline
  • Conclusion
    • Summary of the main points of the body
    • Restatement of the main point of view
    • Justification/evaluation (if required by task)

Argumentative essay

Examples of this type of essay include questions which ask you to take a position on a topic, such as a particular decision or policy, and present arguments which support your position. An effective way to argue a point can be to present the opposing view first then counter this view with stronger evidence.

  • Introduction
    • Background information on topic
    • Statement of your position on the topic (thesis)
    • Overview of arguments to be presented (structure)
  • Body paragraphs
    • paragraph 1
      • Topic sentence outlining first argument
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to support topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • paragraph 2
      • Topic sentence outlining second argument
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to back topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • Following body paragraphs
      • These follow the same structure for as many arguments as you wish to put forward in support of the topic.
  • Conclusion
    • Summary of the main points of the body
    • Restatement of the position

 Interpretive essay

Examples of this type of essay include assignments where you are given data such as a case study or scenario, a diagram, graphical information, or a picture and expected to interpret this information to demonstrate your application of knowledge when answering the task. Based on this data, you may be asked to do a range of things such as provide recommendations or solutions, develop a community development plan, or plan a marketing strategy.

  • Introduction
    • Brief background information on topic
    • Overview of issues to be addressed in the essay (structure)
    • State overall interpretation (thesis)
  • Body paragraphs
    • paragraph 1
      • Topic sentence outlining first issue identified from the data
      • Sentences giving further explanation and providing evidence from both the literature and the data, e.g. the case study to support the topic sentence (it is very important in this types of essays to make reference to the data you have been supplied to give your essay context).
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • paragraph 2
      • Topic sentence outlining second issue identified
      • As above
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • Following body paragraphs
      • These follow the same structure for as many issues as you wish to discuss from the data you have been supplied.
  • Conclusion
    • Statement of overall interpretation
    • Summary of the main issues from the data supplied
    • Make recommendations or suggest solutions to address the issues arising from the data supplied.

Comparative essay

Examples of this type of essay include compare, compare and contrast or differentiate questions. In this structure the similarities and/or differences between two or more items, for example, theories or models, are discussed paragraph by paragraph. Your assignment task may require you to make a recommendation about the suitability of the items you are comparing.

  • Introduction
    • Brief background information on topic
    • Outline of two (or more) things being compared or contrasted
    • Purpose for making the comparison / contrast
    • Overview of the specific points to be compared / contrasted
  • Body paragraphs
    • paragraph 1
      • Topic sentence outlining first similarity or difference
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to support topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • paragraph 2
      • Topic sentence outlining second similarity or different
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to back topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • Following body paragraphs
      • These follow the same structure for as many items or aspects as you need to compare/contrast
  • Conclusion
    • Restatement of the main purpose for the comparison / contrast
    • Summary of the main similarities and differences
    • Recommendation about suitability of compared items for purpose (if requirement of assessment task)
    • Overall conclusion

Problem and solution essay

These essay questions often require you to structure your answer in several parts. An example may be to ask you to investigate a problem and explore a range of solutions. You may also be asked to choose the best solution and justify your selection, allow space for this in your essay.

  • Introduction
    • Background information about the problem
    • Description of the problem and why it is serious
    • Overview of the solutions to be outlined
  • Body paragraphs
    • paragraph 1
      • Topic sentence outlining first solution
      • Explanation of the positive and negative aspects of the solution
      • Evidence to support explanations
      • Concluding sentence
    • paragraph 2
      • Topic sentence outlining second solution
      • Explanation of the positive and negative aspects of the solution
      • Evidence to support explanation
      • Concluding sentence
    • Following body paragraphs
      • These follow the same structure for as many solutions as you need to discuss
  • Conclusion
    • Summary of the problem and overview of the solutions
    • Evaluation of solutions and recommendation of best option

Cause and effect essay

Examples of this type of essay include questions which ask you to state or investigate the effects or outline the causes of the topic. This may be, for example, an historical event, the implementation of a policy, a medical condition or a natural disaster. These essays may be structured in one of two ways: either the causes(s) of a situation may be discussed first followed by the effect(s), or the effect(s) could come first with the discussion working back to outline the cause(s). Sometimes with cause and effect essays you are required to give an assessment of the overall effects e.g. on a community, a workplace, an individual. Space must be allocated for this assessment in your structure.

  • Introduction
    • Background information on situation under discussion
    • Description of the situation
    • Overview of the causes or effects to be outlined
  • Body paragraphs
    • paragraph 1
      • Topic sentence outlining first cause or effect
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to support the topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – linking to next paragraph
    • paragraph 2
      • Topic sentence outlining second cause or effect
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to back topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – linking to next paragraph
    • Following body paragraphs
      • These follow the same structure for as many causes or effects as you need to outline
  • Conclusion
    • Summary of the main points of the body
    • Conclusion, prediction or recommendation

 

Essay writing checklist

Have I

  • Understood the question correctly?
  • Answered all parts of the question or task?
  • Included a thesis statement (answer to a question or response to a task) and an appropriate argument?
  • Developed my argument by using logical points which are well reasoned?
  • Used information from texts or credible sources to support my argument?
  • Included relevant examples, where necessary, from the supplied case study or other data to demonstrate application?
  • Been analytical and demonstrated critical thinking in my essay?
  • Proofread my work to check that each paragraph links to the previous or the thesis?
  • Structured my essay in an introduction, body and conclusion
  • Checked my spelling, grammar and punctuation
picture denoting case study

What is a case study

A case study is a description of a real life problem or situation which requires you to analyse the main issues involved.  These issues need to be discussed and related to your research findings on the topic. Conclusions can then be drawn about why the situation occurred and how best to respond to it.

 

Why do we write case study responses?

A case study is a way to apply the knowledge gained from your reading to real life situations that you may encounter in your work.

Writing a case study response enables you to

  • analyse the issues in a real life situation
  • apply the knowledge gained from your academic reading and research
  • draw conclusions about how to respond as a professional to that situation

 

How to write a case study response

  • carefully read the case study
  • make a note of the main issues and problems involved
  • write down the main stakeholders (persons or groups of persons who have an interest in the case).                                               

 

A case study response includes the following elements:

Introduction

  • introduce the main purpose of the case study
  • briefly outline the overall problem to be solved

Description

  • write a brief description of the case outlining the main issues involved
  • assume your reader knows nothing of the assignment task
  • provide enough information to give a context for your discussion of the issues

Discussion

  • outline each issue and its implications for or relationship to different  stakeholders
  • how each issue links to findings from your research
  • give suggested solutions or ideas
  • evaluate the solutions or ideas for this particular case

Conclusion / Recommendations

  • sum up your conclusions
  • give recommendations to resolve the case
  • give reasons for your recommendations

 

Checklist for a case study response

Have I:

  • Carefully read the case and noted the main issues and stakeholders in the case?
  • Written a brief description of the case to give your readers a context for the main issues?
  • Discussed each issue with reference to your research?
  • Evaluated the solutions or ideas for each issue to find the ones most suitable?
  • Made final recommendations of how to resolve the case?
  • Used a well structured introduction, body and conclusion?
  • Cited and referenced all of the work by other people?
  • Used correct grammar, spelling and punctuation, clear presentation and appropriate reference style?

 

picture of person thinking

What is reflective writing?

Good reflective writing usually involves four key elements:

  1. reporting and responding to a critical issue or experience
  2. relating this issue or experience to your own knowledge in this field
  3. reasoning about causes and effects of this issue/experience according to relevant theories or literature and/or similarities or differences with other experiences you've had
  4. reconstructing your thinking to plan new ways to approach the issue or engage in similar experiences in the future

 

Why do we write reflectively?

Reflecting on an experience involves drawing on current understandings to think deeply and purposefully about what can be learned from the experience. The purpose of academic or professional reflection is to transform practice in some way, whether it is the practice of learning or the practice of the discipline or the profession.

This form of writing is a process where you can learn from your experiences and connect theory with practice in your professional field or discipline. It can help you become more aware of assumptions and preconceived ideas, and it can help you to plan future actions.

 

How to write reflectively

Reflective writing can take many forms, depending on the discipline being studied and the assignment structure. More formal reflective essays or reports have a clear structure with an introduction, body and conclusion. Less formal reflective writing, such as blogs, discussion entries or ongoing journals, may not be organised in such a distinct way. Reflective constructions in some discipline areas may also involve multimedia elements or performances.

All reflective writing, however, has certain key features you need to include that relate to the 4Rs of reflection:

  1. Report (describe) an issue or experience and explain why it is important to your professional practice. Give your initial response to the experience or issue.

Recount the experience or issue on which you have chosen to reflect. Explain what happened and in what context. Your initial response to the experience or issue can show where you stood before you started to analyse the situation.

  1. Relate the issue / experience to your own skills, professional experience or discipline knowledge.

Describe any similar or related experiences you've had and whether the conditions were the same or different. Make connections between this and your previous knowledge and experience of similar situations.

  1. Reason about (discuss) the issue / incident to show an understanding of how things work in this discipline or professional field.

You should highlight significant factors in the experience showing why they are important for a new understanding. Relate these back to your research on the incident/issue. Use qualitative and/or quantitative evidence where appropriate. Discuss different perspectives involved, e.g. ethical, social, legal, organisational, and professional.

  1. Reconstruct your understanding or future practice

Outline the changes in your understanding and/or behaviour as a result of the experience and your reflection upon it. Explain the implications for this in your future professional practice. What actions will you take and why?

 

Checklist for reflective writing

Have I:

  • Reported (described) the issue or experience upon which I am reflecting?
  • Explained the relevance of the issue or experience to my future professional practice?
  • Described my own response to the experience?
  • Reasoned about the significant factors in the situation (using academic literature/theory)?
  • Outlined how the issue or experience changed my understanding and/or behaviour?
  • Explained how this new understanding will help to reconstruct my future professional practice?
  • Followed the required structure for this assignment?
  • Checked that my assignment makes sense?
  • Checked that my spelling and punctuation are error free?

 

What is a report?

A report is a clearly structured document that presents information as clearly and succinctly as possible.  Reports should be easy to read and professional in presentation.

Reports are used to help make decisions or account for actions. Reports use research to make recommendations for action.  There are many different types of reports including business reports, research reports and case study reports.  The common feature of all reports is that they are structured into sections with headings.  Always check with your teacher for any other specific requirements and report conventions.

 

Differences between reports and essays:

 

Report

Essay

Function

  • Presents information
  • Used to help make decisions or account for actions
  • Presents an argument
  • Used to demonstrate knowledge, understanding and critical analysis

Structure

  • Specific sections using numbered headings and sub-headings
  • May use graphics (tables, graphs, illustrations)
  • May be followed by recommendations and/or appendices
  • Continuous flow of text using minimal sub-headings
  • Rarely uses graphics
  • Rarely has recommendations or appendices

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do we write reports?

 

Reports are a common form of workplace communication, from a simple work assessment report to the high flying technical write-up.  Report writing is an essential skill for professionals in many fields including business, science, education and information technology.  Mastering report writing will help prepare you for your professional life.

 

How to write a report

 

 

Title page

This page should include:

  • the report title, which states the report’s purpose
  • your name and the name of the person receiving the report (place in the bottom right-hand corner)
  • the submission date

Executive summary

An executive summary is a paragraph that provides the reader with a quick overview of the entire report, including its purpose, context, methods, major findings, conclusions and recommendations.  It is often easier to write the executive summary once the report has been completed.

This is placed on a separate page between the title page and the table of contents.  This may often be the only part of the report that is actually read.

Table of contents

The table of contents lists the main sections (headings) of the report, and the page on which each begins. If your report includes tables, diagrams or illustrations, these are listed separately on the page after the table of contents.

Introduction

The introduction should:

  • discuss the importance or significance of the research or problem to be reported
  • define the purpose of the report
  • outline the issues to be discussed (scope)
  • inform the reader of any limitations to the report, or any assumptions made

Discussion or body

This contains the main substance of the report, organised into sections with headings and subheadings rather than paragraphs. The body of a report can include the following:

  • A description of the issue or situation which is being reported on. This may include a literature review of the research on that issue.
  • The method of data collection, if applicable — this should include what you did and why, such as a survey or interview, and the size and selection criteria of the study sample
  • A discussion and analysis of the data collected — this should comment on the reliability and accuracy of the data and relate the findings to your report’s purpose and current literature.

Conclusion

This summarises the key findings from the discussion section and may be numbered here for clarity. Relate your conclusion to the objectives of the report and arrange your points logically so that major conclusions are presented first. Some reports may require a discussion of recommendations, rather than a conclusion.

Recommendations

These are subjective opinions about what action you think could be followed. They must be realistic, achievable and clearly relate to the conclusion of the report.

Reference list

This must contain all the material cited in the report. It must be accurate and consistent with a standard referencing style. Refer to the Referencing TAB on our course research guides or access this directly through our Bibliographies guide.

Appendices

These contain extra supporting information that is put at the end of the report so as not to distract the reader from the main issues. They contain detailed information, such as questionnaires, tables, graphs and diagrams. Appendices should be clearly set out and numbered in the order they are mentioned in the text.

 

Example report structure

(Note that this is a generic example of a research report only. Your table of contents may vary depending on the type and function of your report. Please check with your teacher which headings are appropriate for your purposes.)

Title Page

Executive summary

Table of contents

1. Introduction

1.1 Purpose of the report

1.2 Issues to be discussed and their significance

1.3 Research methods

1.4 Limitations and assumptions

2. Discussion

2.1 Literature review

2.1.1 Issue 1

2.1.2 Issue 2

2.1.3 Issue 3

2.2 Method

2.2.1 Procedures

2.2.2 Sample size

2.2.3 Selection criteria

2.3 Discussion and analysis of data

2.3.1 Issue 1

2.3.2 Issue 2

2.3.3 Issue 3

2.3.4 Reliability and accuracy of data

3. Conclusions

4. Recommendations

4.1 Recommendation 1

4.2 Recommendation 2

5. References

6. Appendices

 

Checklist for a report

Have I:

  • Read the assignment criteria clearly and clarified what needs to be in the report and what type of report it is to be?
  • Follow the structure, using the correct headings
    • Provided a title page?
    • Provided an executive summary?
    • Provided a table of contents?
    • Provided an introduction?
    • Provided the literature review?
    • Explained the method of how the data was gathered?
    • Discussed the results and findings?
    • Come to a conclusion?
    • Made some recommendations?
    • Provided references in the correct format?
    • Included any appendices?
  • Checked punctuation and spelling?

 

picture with word research

Understanding your assignment

Before you start writing your assignment, it is important you are clear about the assignment type and any specific requirements you need to complete.

How to analyse your assignment task

Step 1 Collect the information about the assignment

Collect all the information about your assignment. This requires careful reading of the task and any guidelines your teacher may have provided.  Highlight important words in the task.

Step 2 Work out the type of assignment

Identify the type of assignment you have been asked to write. Is it an essay, report, case study or class presentation?  Do you need to provide a bibliography?

Step 3 Identify the keywords in the assignment

Consider the language of your question. Assignment tasks contain keywords that you will use to research your assignment. The assignment task becomes easier to understand if you break the question down by looking for keywords.  If you are unsure of the meaning of a word or concept use a dictionary or encyclopedia to clarify meaning.  Encyclopedias will give you background information to aid understanding of a concept.

 

Consider this example of an essay task:

Australia's tourism industry is the third largest in the country in terms of contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Much of its success is due to Australia's unique geography. Analyse the geographical factors that both contribute to and hinder the success of tourism in Australia.

 

     Keywords     

Explanation

Example

Content words

Tell you what areas of the subject you will need to address in your assignment.

Australia's tourism industry

Directive words

Tell you what you have to do with the topic.

Analyse

Limiting words

Define the scope and focus of your assignment; they limit the subject matter so that you know what should and should not be included in your writing.

geographical factors that both contribute to and hinder the success of ...

Task Word Glossary

Account for  Explain why something has occurred.
Analyse  Take apart a concept or statement in order to consider its elements. Answers should be very methodical and logically organised.
Assess  This requires a judgment about an idea or subject. You may need to state whether the idea or subject being discussed is valuable or relevant after acknowledging points for and against it. Your judgment should be influenced by other authors’ views as well as your own opinion (similar to Evaluate).
Comment on State your opinion on a topic or idea. You may explain the topic or idea more fully. Your opinion must be supported by evidence from reliable sources.
Compare/compare and contrast  This requires a balanced answer that sets items side by side and shows their similarities and differences.
Contrast  This requires an answer that points out only the differences between two or more topics.
Critically  Often used in conjunction with other directive words, such as critically discuss, critically examine or critically analyse. It does not mean criticise. It requires a balanced answer that points out mistakes or weaknesses and indicates any favourable aspects of the subject of the question. The decision or overall judgment you make must be supported with evidence from reliable sources.
Define  This requires an answer that explains the precise meaning of a concept. A definition answer will include a discussion of a concept and may also state the limits of a concept.
Describe This requires you to identify and outline the attributes or characteristics of a subject. Differentiate See Contrast.
Discuss  Explain the item or concept, and then give details about it with supporting information, examples, points for and against, plus explanations for the facts put forward from various points of view. This can be one of the most difficult types of essay question.
Enumerate  This requires you to list or specify and describe items or ideas one by one. Evaluate See Assess.
Examine This requires you to investigate a topic thoroughly.
Explain Offer a detailed and exact rationale behind an idea or principle, or a set of reasons for a situation or attitude. The explanation should increase the reader’s understanding of a topic or idea.
Explore See Examine. Generate This often requires you to come up with new ideas or interpretations on a subject.
Hypothesise  A hypothesis is a theory regarding particular occurrences. You confirm hypotheses through testing. Suggest the reasons for and the processes by which something has occurred.
Illustrate/demonstrate This requires an answer that consists mainly of examples to demonstrate or prove the subject of the question. It is often accompanied with further instructions.
Interpret Very similar to Explain. Describe what your subject means. Examine the key components of a topic or idea and give an evaluation of it.
Investigate Research, study and carefully survey all areas of the subject.
Justify Give only the reasons for a position or argument. The proposition to be argued may be a negative one. It should convince the reader of your point of view.
Outline ​Summarise information about a subject. Only the main points and not the details should be included. Questions of this type often require short answers.
Prove/disprove Both of these require answers that demonstrate the logical arguments and evidence connected with a proposition. Prove requires the points ‘for’, and disprove requires the points ‘against’.
Relate (relationship) Make links or connections between two or more ideas, and show how these ideas are associated, as well as the nature of the relationship.
Review Analyse, criticise and comment on the main ideas of a topic. Your assignment needs to be structured in logical order. State This requires an answer that expresses the relevant points briefly and clearly without lengthy discussion or minor details.
Summarise See Outline.
Trace  Trace is frequently used in historical questions (but not only in History courses). It requires a statement and brief description—in logical order—of the stages in the development of a theory, a person’s life, a process, etc.

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