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The University of Southampton
English for EngineersUnderstanding assessed tasks


In an essay, you will write about a topic in depth, presenting a clear argument which leads logically to your conclusions. You will need to provide evidence from academic sources to support your argument.

Most essays are written in response to a specific question set by a lecturer but you will sometimes have a choice of questions or an element of choice within the question.

Assessment criteria

It is always a good idea to look at the criteria that will be used to assess your essay. There is no one standard set of criteria but lecturers will usually be looking for evidence of the following:




The more detailed structure of an essay will depend on the question that is being answered. However, for all essays you should:

  • Provide background information to give the question a context and show why it is worth addressing.
  • Define relevant terms if necessary.
  • Make clear what your essay argues.
  • Outline the structure your essay will follow.
Main part/body
  • Respond to the question, dividing your writing into paragraphs which each have a different focus.
  • Organise your paragraphs in a way that develops your argument logically.
  • Remind the reader of the question you were addressing.
  • Summarise the main points of your essay.
  • Reach a conclusion based on these points.
  • Possibly: point out any limitations of your essay.
  • Possibly: suggest/recommend future developments relating to the topic.

Analysing the question

In this video, Professor John Preston explains how to approach an engineering essay.  He discusses an essay entitled, 'For local bus services, what are the appropriate levels of regulation and the appropriate forms of competition and ownership? Justify your answer with reference to theoretical and practical evidence both from Great Britain and elsewhere', and points out that there are 9 things you need to include in your analysis in order to fully answer the question.


Read a wide range of academic sources including books, journals and reports. Identify evidence you can use to support your ideas, but don’t ignore evidence that contradicts them; you may need to rethink your argument.


Once you have analysed the question and read widely, you should have a clear idea what your main argument will be. Now write an outline of your essay consisting of the topic sentence (main idea) of each paragraph and the evidence you will use to support this assertion.

An essay is a story, a story that needs to be substantiated with evidence from the academic literature, for example, books and journal papers.

Don't start writing until you have:

analysed the essay question

read widely about all aspects of it

planned your response.

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