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Essay and Referencing Guidelines

By Charles Hopkins Published 11/28/2007 | Education
Essay Guidelines

1. First and foremost, although this may seem obvious, you should make sure that you answer the question that has been set.

2. Begin by underlining the most important keywords in the question and even put them into your own words just to be certain that you know what you are being asked to write about. This will focus your mind to the task in hand.

3. Stick to the subject and don't wander off into irrelevant areas, as this will lose you marks.

4. Be sure to use paragraphs and keep to one subject/argument per paragraph.

5. Move your essay along by using signposts at the beginning of your paragraphs, i.e. furthermore, so, therefore, further etc. etc. These signposts keep the momentum of what you are saying and keep everything connected.

6. It is usual to use double spacing throughout your essay and to indent the first line of each paragraph between 3-5 spaces, with the exception of the first paragraph, which is usually wholly aligned to the left.

7. Use quotes from resources sparingly, as these will almost certainly be included in your word count. However, the bibliography at the end of your essay is not usually included in the word count. (It would probably be best to check with your tutor/professor/teacher on this particular point.)

Your essay should consist of an introduction, the main body and a conclusion:

The Introduction

You will only need one paragraph or at the most 2 in this section. Use your introduction to outline what you are aiming to do in your essay - introduce your intentions and how you are going to go about answering the set question. Keep this section as brief as you can.

The Main Body

This is where all your arguments will take place including for and against.

Include any quotes from your research as evidence to back up your arguments. These will probably be from course textbooks as well as any resources that you have found while researching the subject of your essay.

Be sure to keep careful note of any resources that you find - it is easy to subconsciously use what you have read, and without referencing it you run the risk of being accused or plagiarism (trying to pass off material that isn't your own work).

The Conclusion

Keep this section for the conclusion to your arguments, making sure that you do not include any new material - leave that for the main body.

This section will bring your essay to a close where you can sum up your arguments and show that you have reached a conclusion.

Some people outline their conclusion before they start on their essay - they find that this gives them a focus as they work through their arguments. This may work for you, or you may find other ways that work best for you.

You could also write a plan by using bullet points as to what you are going to include in each section before attempting to write your essay. Again this is personal preference - try different ways of working until you find what is best for you. Everyone is different.

Once you have written your essay, leave it a few days before reading it over. Then print it out and read it through - you can even read it out loud if that suits. Then make any changes and go through the process again and again until you are absolutely satisfied with it.

Referencing Guidelines

It is essential that you reference material that is not your own work - readers can find and read your resources and, most importantly, you won't be accused of plagiarism.

The most commonly used referencing system in academic essays is the Harvard Referencing System. You place the author and the date of the resource in the main body of the essay and list a bibliography at the very end, which contains the full reference of each resource that you have used.

In the main body of the essay:

Integrate the author and the year of the resource in brackets - i.e. (Author, 2007). This can include the page numbers if known, i.e. (Author, 2007, p.123)

Example of use:

This is a typical example of a reference (Author, 2007, p.221) with the resource clearly shown integrated into your writing.

If you use direct quotes from a resource, they should be in quotation marks to show that they are not your words. If it is a longer passage, it should be intended forming a separate paragraph.

The Bibliography or Reference List

Every single reference to your resources in the essay must be referenced in full in your bibliography. These are listed alphabetically by the surname of the author and should be referenced as follows:


Author, (date) Title of Book, The place of publication, Name of Publisher.

For example:

Bloggs, J. (2007) His First Book, London: Bloggs Publishing.

The title of the book should be in Italics or underlined.


Author, (date) Title of Article, Title of Journal, part number, page numbers (beginning of article - end of article)

For example:

Bloggs, J. (2007) 'His first article', His First Journal, 2, 4 150-195.

The title of the journal should be in Italics or underlined.

Chapters in edited books:

In the main essay - the author of the chapter, date of the book.

In the bibliography:

The author of the chapter, (date of chapter) reference to the book.

For example:

Bloggs, J. (2007) Bloggs First Chapter. In A.N. Other (Ed) Bloggs First Book (pp.85-100). London: Bloggs Publishing.

The title of the book should be in Italics or underlined.

Use the page numbers of the chapter that you have used as a resource.

Electronic Resources

Web Pages

Preferably use the author, date and title - If you can't find the date of the web page you can mark it as 'date unknown'. You may not be able to find the author, in which case you can either use the organization or use 'author unknown'. You should also include the date that you accessed the website because web pages can be changed or even be removed entirely.

For example:

Author. A. (2007) Title of Website, http://webpageaddress.com/page.html, Date accessed 1/10/2007.

The title of the website should be in Italics or underlined. You can find the title by looking in the top left hand corner of the browser - this usually shows the website title.


Author, A. (2007) A Guide To A CD ROM, CD-ROM, London: CD Publishers.

The title of the CD-ROM should be in Italics or underlined.

It is important to check with your tutor/professor/teacher as to which form of referencing should be used in your essay - most academic essays make use of the Harvard Referencing System, but there are exceptions - some institutions have their own preferences.