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Universiteitsbibliotheek – LibGuides

Writer's Manual: Essay

Department of Languages, Literature and Communication


Essais van Montaigne

An essay is an informed, reasoned, opinion paper, in which a question or thesis is advanced and carefully answered or supported. Compared to a research paper, an essay offers more freedom to develop your own argument regarding a particular issue.

Purpose and content of an Essay

The purpose of an essay is to inform, persuade, inspire or incite into action a certain target audience. It is important to define the topic of your essay clearly and to apply relevant insights from theoretical approaches and research results to support your own thesis effectively. This means you need sufficient knowledge to bring your point across. You should use a clear and interesting formulation (language and structure), and take into account the prior knowledge and interests of your audience.

Structure of an Essay

Compared to other text types, such as a research paper or a scientific article, the structure of an essay is less fixed. Usually, the author advances a question or thesis and guides the reader through several possible answers before arguing which answer is best. To prepare for writing your essay, it is therefore important to list all the facts and form a (general) idea of what others think of the subject. By using different sources, you will learn to approach the topic from multiple perspectives. Based on a selection of supportive and counterarguments, you can narrow your own viewpoint. Important here is the structure of your argument. A frequently used structure is the following:


  • The introduction has the important function of capturing the reader’s attention. It should encourage further reading and shape the argument.
  • These two qualities of an introduction are enhanced by the title of the essay.
  • The introduction of the topic is followed by the question or thesis central to your argument, and a preview of the contents.


  • To convince the reader of your thesis or answer to the question you pose, evidence is provided in the form of arguments. These arguments must be plausible. Try to explain, step by step, what is meant, so that the reader gains insight into how you have reached your stand.
  • To strengthen your position, it is also important to provide counterarguments and refute them.


  • First and foremost, the conclusion contains the part of your text in which the main points are very briefly summarised, rephrased and tied together. The latter is extremely important: the cohesion between the different parts of your argumentation must be clear to the reader.
  • Based on this you confirm your thesis statement or answer your question.
  • Finally, you try to captivate the reader’s attention until the end with a Parthian dart: the main point of your argument, wrapped in a catchy phrase or fitting quote.

Style of an Essay

When writing an essay, you are less bound to academic style conventions. However, be careful not to use an excessively personal or informal style, or forced humour. Furthermore, it is important to realise that titles and section headings not only fulfil an informative, but also a stimulating function. Study sample texts and/or ask your professor.

Evaluation Criteria Essay (only available in Dutch)