The basics
Study abroad : Once you arrive

How to Write a University-Level Paper

Writing at the university-level has differences and similarities. Make sure you are prepared with these tips...

student writing a paper



In previous schooling, you were probably taught the paper writing method that consisted of an intro, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. But in university, this method doesn’t cut it anymore. Just as your level of education has increased, so should the complexity of your writing.


What’s different? What’s similar?

The good thing about university essays is that you are given more freedom in how you lay out your paper.  You can split arguments into multiple paragraphs; you can have multiple introductory paragraphs; you don’t have to regurgitate your thesis in the conclusion and you can even counteract arguments within your paper.

But, there are key elements that you learned in previous schooling that you still need to apply in university, even though you have left the five paragraph structure behind.

In either essay you need:

·         thesis statement (what you are trying to prove)

·         mapping statement or statements (what and how you will argue)

·         topic sentences (sentences that introduce your topics)

·         introduction

·         conclusion

How you put it together depends on your writing style. But if you are lacking the items mentioned above, your essay will be missing the focus needed for you to argue your point effectively.

Another key element of writing university-level papers is using a style. The most common styles are APA and MLA followed by Chicago. While most of your previous schooling probably used MLA, most professors prefer APA. However, always ask your professor if they do not specify which style they prefer. This can determine your grade as the styles differ in layout and citing. Learn more about each style and what they entail here.


What to avoid

Academic essays should be written in a formal style.

Avoid using:

  • clichés ("the flaws in this argument stand out like a sore thumb")
  • contractions ("don't", "aren't", "it's")
  • phrases that sound like speech ("well, this bit is really fascinating")
  • subjective descriptions ("this beautiful sculpture")

Use the first person "I" only where appropriate (e.g. when writing up your own experience or professional case study). Where possible use the third person, for example "It can be argued" instead of "I think”. In general, try not to insert yourself and your opinions in a university level paper. Unless, of course, it is an opinion piece.

  • Use plain language - you don't have to search for a more "academic-sounding" word when a simple one will do. Professors are looking for clear and accurate expression of ideas, not jargon or confusing language. Shorter sentences are usually clearer than long complex ones, but make sure it is a whole sentence and not just a clause or phrase.


Integrating evidence and your own ideas

Your argument is your reasoned answer to the essay question, supported by evidence. The books, articles, and research material that you read for your essay provide this evidence to back up your points. The way in which you select and interpret the evidence, and explain why it answers the question, is where you demonstrate your own thinking.

For each point that you make in your essay, you need to support it with evidence. There are many different kinds of evidence, and the type you use will depend on what is suitable for your subject and what the essay question is asking you to do.

For example, you might back up a point using a theory (one kind of evidence) then show how this theory applies to a specific example in real life (another kind of evidence).

Typically it will turn out like this

  1. Introduce your point (your own words)
  2. Add teh evidence to support your point (quoted or paraphrased evidence that needs to be references)
  3. Explain how and why this evidence supports your point and what you think of it (your own internpretation and critical thinking)
  4. Explain how the point helps answer the question (your own argument)

As you get more experienced with essay writing you will want to adapt this to suit the structure and shape of your ideas. Also, plagiarism is taken very seriously at all universities so it is important that you learn how to properly cite your sources and when to cite them. Learn more about citing here .


Additional Help

At almost all universities a writing centre or student success centre is available specifically to help all kinds of students write at the university level . Typically a student tutor will read through your paper and check for errors while also reviewing your structure, and style usage. These centres help free of charge and it is important to utilize their knowledge and your universities resources.



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About Author

student writing a paper

Alyson Blech recently graduated with degrees in Public Relations and Media Studies, along with minors in Journalism and Art History from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. Alyson has lived in Iowa her entire life, but decided to cross the pond to gain internship experience in London, England. In her spare time she obsesses over dogs, pizza and zumba.