How to write an academic essay

Are you wondering what will be expected of you when you get to university? If so, this is a must watch. In this short three-part lecture series, Dr Brendan Larvor explains how to write a successful undergraduate essay, giving you a window into what’s next.

About the lecturer

Dr Brendan Larvor studied philosophy and mathematics at Balliol College in Oxford. He had a brief career as a systems analyst, before resuming his studies in philosophy. He gained an MA from Queen's University Ontario before returning to Balliol to write a doctoral thesis on the philosophy of mathematics of Imre Lakatos. He taught at the universities of Liverpool and Oxford before joining the University of Hertfordshire in 1997, where he specialises in the history and philosophy of mathematics and science. He has been head of philosophy at Herts since 2005, and currently teaches a first-year module on reasoning and a final-year module on Nietzsche.

Reason and Persuasion – How to write an academic essay

Below you’ll find parts 1, 2 and 3 of lecture 2, from the Reason and Persuasion module.

Part 1

In this short lecture we focus on writing. We explore the power of introductory paragraphs. How can you make a good first impression? By analysing examples, we look at the common pitfalls and how you can avoid them. We discuss how best to use quotes and how to draw upon your experiences. Finally, we invite you to analyse introductory paragraphs from your previous assignments. Knowing what you know now, how would you approach them differently?

Part 2

In this short lecture, we consider how to structure an essay. We share the styles to be avoided: 'cut and paste', 'Newsnight report' and 'truck and trailer'. We invite you to consider how you can develop an original argument and use other views to advance your essay. Finally we invite you to analyse the structure you have used in your essays. Do you tend to rely on one of the structures we have explored today?

Part 3

In this short lecture, we explore professional essay writing. We invite you to research the genre of abstract-writing, a technique which, when mastered, can hugely benefit the introductory paragraph of your essays. We discuss how to control the scope of your argument, how to receive constructive criticism and the importance of encouragement. You can do this!