Essay Writing Rules

Rules Of Writing An Essay

Writing essays is one of the most effective way for developing the skills essential to the study of politics: the skills of rigorous argument, conceptual clarity, sensitive interpretation, and effective marshaling of evidence. The essay itself is the tip of the iceberg, the visible results of considerable preparation.

Pre - Writing

The planning stage is the most important when writing essays. If you take shortcuts at this stage, you will produce an essay that does not do justice to your ability. Planning an essay involves the following tasks:

  1. a) Researching and Finding Sources Of Information
  • Read enough material to enable you to understand the nature of the question and the major arguments that should be included in your answer.
  • Start with sources on the course-reading list.
  • Consult the bibliographies in these sources to find additional relevant sources.
  • If you need additional sources, use the library catalogue, searching under ‘key word’ and for authors whose work you have already found useful.
  1. b) Reading And Taking Notes

Select what to read – you do not have to read a whole book to extract the information you need. Use the table of contents and the index to help you focus on the sections most relevant to the essay title. This will provide you with a good overview of the main points made by the book and help you prepare for reading a wider range of sources.

Read actively - look out for the key ideas and arguments made by authors and the evidence they provide in support of them. Note the ways in which they contradict or support those of other authors you have read. Do not be afraid to be critical. To write a rounded essay, you must engage with points you disagree with as well as those that support your argument.

Take notes - Summarize the main arguments or ideas in your own words. Note the page number on which you find each piece of information, in order to reference it accurately in your essay. If you plan to cite a particular phrase, sentence, or section from a text in your essay, copy it out accurately and place it in quotation marks.

  1. c) Preparing An Outline
  • An outline should enable you to structure your main points in the best possible order for your argument. The plan should outline what you will cover in each section of your essay.
  • When working out your plan, keep re-reading the essay question, to make sure you have understood it and are heading in the right direction.
  • Concentrate primarily on identifying your key arguments.
  • Remember that your time and space are limited. You cannot cover every aspect of the subject so make sure to concentrate on the points you consider most important.
  • Once you have a plan, break down the total word limit, and assign a general word limit to each point. This will help you give equal attention to each section.


  • Your essay must be relevant to the question asked.
  • It should be well organized and under your control.
  • It should show accurate and adequate knowledge of the topic being discussed.
  • It should demonstrate that you understand the topic by expressing your views clearly.
  • It should have an overall argument involving analysis of the issues and a critical evaluation of different points of view.
  • It should be well presented: the right length, legible (preferably typed), carefully proofread, well referenced, and have a good bibliography.

Basic Writing Tips

  • Note that most essay titles are questions and that questions expect answers.
  • The person marking your essay is familiar with the core texts and theories in question – s/he is most interested in hearing your analytical response to these.
  • Use a relatively formal style of writing, e.g. avoid slang. Prioritize clarity and conciseness. Yet do try to cultivate a lively writing style. Using a thesaurus can make a valuable contribution.
  • Check words, spelling, or grammar that you are not sure about by using the language tools on the computer or a dictionary.
  • Correct punctuation is essential to convey your message clearly.
  • Using an apostrophe: apostrophes indicate the possessive case, i.e. belonging to

For singular nouns, use apostrophe’s, e.g. Rousseau’s account.

For plural nouns, use an apostrophe alone, e.g. voters’ concerns.

Remember that even when taking an exam, the key rules of essay writing still apply: plan your essay, structure it (introduction, body, conclusion), and answer the question.