What is an academic essay?

This is the first of three lessons about Essays. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Introduce the course topic

– Define the concept of an academic essay

– Outline the features of an academic essay

Lesson 1

Although the definition of what an essay is can be broad and include both formal and informal styles of writing, in academia an essay is most commonly considered to be a relatively short piece of non-fiction writing explaining the writer’s perspective on a topic or argument. In academic writing, this perspective will almost always be based on research, which may be collected through either primary or secondary methods, or be a mixture of both. The style of essay (or ‘paper’, as it’s often called in American English) that’s necessary at the university-level is usually required to be quite formal in both language and presentation. In fact, such a formal style should usually be maintained in all tertiary-level exams and assignments.

A defining feature of an academic essay is that the writer will most likely make some sort of claim in that piece of work, perhaps to inform the reader of a concept or situation or to persuade them of a particular viewpoint or stance. Importantly, the writer will almost always use evidence, often called supporting details, to show the reader that what is being argued or claimed in both the main ideas and supporting ideas is indeed accurate, reliable, and backed up by academic sources. It’s important for new university students to begin by following a prescribed structure as this will allow those who are new to academic writing to practice developing their arguments in a cohesive, concise and logical way.

While an essay may not be limited to any particular word count, there are six different essay lengths that you’re most likely to encounter as a university student. Now that you’ve been introduced to the basic essay concepts, it’s important to next recognise these varying lengths so that you can better prepare yourself in the future.

1 of 3 Lessons Completed


Once you’ve completed all three lessons about essays, you might also wish to download our beginner, intermediate and advanced worksheets to test your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

Our essays guidance sheet (including all four lessons about this topic) can be accessed here at the click of a button.

Gain unlimited access to our essays beginner worksheet, with activities and answer keys designed to check a basic understanding of this topic’s lessons.

To check a confident understanding of this topic’s lessons, click on the button below to download our essays intermediate worksheet with activities and answer keys.

Our essays advanced worksheet with activities and answer keys has been created to check a sophisticated understanding of this topic’s lessons. 

To save yourself 5 Marks, click on the button below to gain unlimited access to all of our essays guidance and worksheets. The All-in-1 Pack includes every lesson on this topic, as well as our beginner, intermediate and advanced worksheets in one handy PDF.


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Click on the button below to gain unlimited access to our essays teacher’s PowerPoint, which should include everything you’d need to successfully introduce this topic.


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