08.09.2010

Writing an essay

What is an essay?

An essay is a piece of writing that discusses a particular topic, based on more than one scientific article or other piece of academic writing. The subject, references, scope, phrasing of a question, stylistic conventions, and schedule are each discussed together with the examiner. All of the electives in history and some of the book examinations in ethnology can be completed by writing an essay. Specific guidelines must be complied with if they are provided (e.g. methodology essay in advanced studies in Finnish history).

The problematizational, comparative, evaluative, and outspoken nature of an essay distinguishes it from a summary. What distinguishes an academic essay from a literary one is that, in an academic essay, argumentation and observations are reasoned, and concepts based on literature are documented and presented in the text as well as in a reference list. A problem-oriented approach is a characteristic feature of an essay. An essay shows that the writer(s) have understood their source material and are capable of linking the gathered information with their former knowledge and observations on the subject. The writer’s style can be personal, but the text must be based on scientific argumentation.

The purpose of writing essays is to enhance students’ writing and thinking skills as well as to improve their expertise in their field. Essay writing is a form of self-study, offering the opportunity to gather new information and to deepen the understanding of the central themes within the students’ disciplines.

How to structure an essay?

An essay is less restricted than a scientific article both in style and structure. However, the text should proceed in a systematic manner, placing emphasis on different entities. An essay is outlined in sections that are headed. The following division is the most common way to structure an essay:

  1. Introduction, which introduces the subject or the problem, briefly puts the subject in context, demonstrates the viewpoint, and defines the boundaries of the discussion
  2. Discussion, the structure of which depends on the chosen viewpoint (e.g. comparative structure, thesis statement and argumentation, moving from broad scale phenomena to narrow, or from theory to practice)
  3. Conclusion, in which the writer(s) can draw together the central concepts of the text, further develop their thoughts, deliberate on the (practical) implications of the results, etc. A conclusion also gives the writer(s) the opportunity to reflect on what they learned during the writing process.

 

Length, form, and the stylistic requirements

Essays are graded on the basis of their contents, not their length. The required number of pages depends on the task and viewpoint, as well as on the scope of and approach to the required literature. The style and layout also affect the length (font size, line spacing, margins). Unless otherwise agreed with the examiner, a 5 ECTS credit essay is approximately 15 A4 pages in length.

The instructions given in the bachelor’s seminar or colloquium and in the master’s seminar should be followed regarding style and formatting. Sources should also be documented in accordance with the conventions of seminar papers.

Name, contact information (email address and telephone number), the name of the course, and the amount of credits agreed upon with the examiner must be clearly stated in every essay, along with the date and examiner’s name.

Grading of essays

Essays are graded on a scale of 1 to 5. The following factors are taken into account in grading: achieving the described goals; conceptualizing the framework and context; understanding and consistent usage of the concepts; analyzing, internalizing, and summarizing the theoretical ideas; conceptualizing the connections and detecting the conflicts; developing ideas further, etc. Thus, credits are not awarded only on the basis of summarizing the source literature agreed upon with the examiner.