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Writing Process

The writing process can generally be divided into four steps. No writing project will follow these steps perfectly, and you will occasionally find yourself going back to earlier steps or jumping ahead based on what information you need at what stage. Generally speaking though, it is strongly recommended to follow the process as much as you can.


Make sure to outline what areas of research you need to cover before you start reading. Make sure you are using reputable sources, not just articles off the internet. One way to do this is to use sites approved by your tutors or finding authors that you trust and looking at their bibliography to find more sources.


Keep the topic of your work in mind, make sure that all your points are relevant to the question. It is useful to structure your paragraphs as well as the whole essay; this means planning your argument for each paragraph and how you will link each paragraph together. 


The first draft of your work should just be focused on getting your argument and plan on paper, you can re-write it and edit it to the word count later. Make sure that your argument is clear in every paragraph and that your style is appropriate for the essay. 


Make sure to leave enough time for revision and editing so that you don’t hand your work in with easily rectified errors. Take the time to read your work looking for one error at a time. For example if you know that you sometimes miss out articles, read your work through checking only your articles. Then read it through again looking only for verb conjugation. Then again for structure and clarity. Try to read your work through multiple times, looking for only one thing each time. 

Citation and Style

Preferred citation and style varies across departments and even tutors, so always check with your department’s academic guide for what you specifically need to do.

Generally UCL uses either Harvard or Chicago citation styles and guides on how to do this are available online and linked below. Citations are used to give credit to an author, help other readers find the writing that influenced your work, show how much research you’ve done and back up your argument with other works.

As a general rule to avoid plagiarism, if you’re stating something that is common knowledge e.g. that climate change is a threat or that there is a growing trend that more and more animals are becoming endangered, this does not require citation. However if you are quoting someone’s work, stating their argument or using their data, you need to use a citation.

Click here for UCL style guides.

Click here for UCL citation guides.

Structuring your Writing


The introduction of an essay should generally be about 10% of your essay, so in a 10,000 word dissertation it should be about 1000 words, in a 2,500 word essay it should be about 250 words. Of course this is not an exact number, but this is the general number you should be aiming for.

The introduction should set the scene of the essay and introduce any necessary background details for the essay. This may be outlining the current situation surrounding your essay, or the historical background to your topic. Additionally you may need to define any terms given in your essay title or explain the parameters of discussion.


One way to help structure your essay is to use signposting. Signposting means using phrases and words to guide the reader through the content of your essay. Signposting helps make the point of your essay clear and obvious to the reader. This is done simply through using phrases that make it clear where the essay is going. Below is an example short example with signposting phrases highlighted in orange:

You can read more on signposting here.


Paragraphs help divide your essay into manageable chunks and are a fundamental part of your essay. You should aim to only include one point per paragraph, almost as if you are writing a mini essay each time. This is to make sure that each point is distinct and well-argued before moving on to the next one.

One effective way of structuring paragraphs is ‘PEEL’. Within paragraphs an effective way to structure them is using the PEEL method. PEEL stands for:

  • Introduce your point (your own words)
  • Add the evidence to support your point (quoted or paraphrased evidence that needs to be referenced)
  • Explain how and why this evidence supports your point and what you think of it (your own interpretation and critical thinking)
  • Link it back to your overall argument.

One paragraph in an essay about whether animals should be kept in zoos might look like this:

First of all, removing animals from their natural habitat is incredibly cruel. When kept captive, these beautiful creatures become bored and lonely, often leading to a condition called ‘zoochosis’. Animals suffering from zoochosis begin performing anxious, repetitive acts such as rocking back and forth, swaying, grooming themselves excessively and vomiting. Conditions such as this clearly demonstrate that wild animals belong in the wilderness and not in restrictive, prison-like enclosures. Animals must be freed from zoos now, so that this terrible suffering and mental torture ends for good.

(i) State your point
(ii) Support with evidence
(iii) Explain the evidence
(iv) Link to the topic


The conclusion should not introduce any new points or arguments, it should be a reiteration of the argument presented in your essay. Your conclusion may summarise the points made in your argument and may reiterate why they are relevant to the discussion.

If relevant, the conclusion may also link to wider problems or debates in the field, or how your essay contributes to these discussions. You may also include areas where more research is needed or what questions still need answering in your field of research.

Critical Analysis

Critical analysis is an essential part of the essay writing process. Critical analysis shows the reader (and more importantly your tutor) that you are actively engaged with what you are reading, and you are not just accepting arguments without thinking about the. In other words, you are carefully considering an idea and weighing up the evidence supporting it to see if it is convincing. Then you need to explain why you find the evidence convincing or unconvincing. Finally you must state why you agree or disagree with a good reason.

Often you will not totally disagree with an author’s argument or you may agree with some parts but not all. This means that you have to state which parts of an author’s arguments you agree with and which parts you do not agree with. Sometimes you may even agree with an overall argument but may not agree with an author’s methodology or how they presented their data.

Here are some things to keep in mind with critical analysis:

  • Consider the intended audience
  • Is the author making a well-reasoned argument backed up by facts?
  • Does the author cite sources? Can you verify the facts yourself? Does the information appear valid and well-researched? Is it backed up by evidence?
  • Do you detect any bias on the part of the author?
  • Does the work update other sources, add new information, or substantiate other material you have already acquired?
  • Is the material primary (raw material, first-hand accounts such as diaries, government documents, contemporary newspaper articles, scientific research reports) or secondary (scholarly journal articles, books, encyclopaedia articles)?
  • Is the work logically organised? Are the main points clearly presented? Is the work easy to read? Does it flow logically, or is it choppy?


Your argument should be clearly stated in one or two lines in the introduction and conclusion of your essay. The aim of your argument is to show that you can think critically about a topic and come to an original and independent conclusion which is backed up by research.

An argument doesn’t have to ‘come down on one side or the other’. In fact, most often, given the complexity of life, a good argument will offer a nuanced line that rejects any simplicity.

Editing and Proofreading

Firstly, what is the difference between editing and proofreading?

Editing: revising a text to ensure the message is clear and coherent for maximum impact. Editing focuses on tone, structure, voice, word quality and quantity.

Proofreading: revising a text to ensure grammar, spelling and formatting are all correct and consistent

The first few readings of your essay should be dedicated to clarity and coherence. Namely, does your essay make sense? Is the argument clear and understood? Are your transitions logical? The second reading should be dedicated to what you know you make errors on. This could be grammatical mistakes you know you make, or structural problems you make often. If possible you should allow time for re-writing and re-working your essay until you’re satisfied. Always make time for proofreading and editing, otherwise you risk making small mistakes which could affect your overall grade.

When editing, things to keep in mind are:

  • Content
  • Overall Structure
  • Structure within paragraphs
  • Clarity
  • Style
  • Citations

When proofreading, things to keep in mind are:

  • Don’t rely entirely on spelling checkers or grammar checkers
  • Proofread for only one kind of error at a time.
  • Read slowly, and read every word. Try reading out loud, which forces you to say each word and also lets you hear how the words sound together.
  • Separate the text into individual sentences. Read each sentence separately, looking for grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors.
  • Circle every punctuation mark to see if it’s used correctly.
  • The proofreading process becomes more efficient as you develop and practice a systematic strategy.

Academic Support Resources

Style Guides by Department (UCL)

Check here to see what style guide your department expects students to use

UCL Academc Communication Centre

The UCL Academic Communication Centre (ACC) is a new support service to enhance UCL students’ discipline-specific writing and speaking skills. They work closely with UCL academic departments and faculties to develop tailored workshops, classes and tutorials for native and non-native English speakers.

UCL Writing Lab

The Writing Lab is a free service offered through the UCL Academic Communication Centre which runs workshops, tutorials and support sessions to enhance academic writing and research skills. The Writing Lab’s services are available for undergraduate and postgraduate students in the Joint Faculties of Arts & Humanities and Social & Historical Sciences, the Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment, and Psychology & Language Sciences.

IOE Writing Centre

The IOE Writing Centre is one of UCL’s most complete academic writing resources for students. It provides insight into how to manage the writing process effectively as well as links to all of the style guides (e.g. Harvard, APA) available on LibGuides. It also offers straightforward instructions on how to cite effectively to avoid plagiarism

Purdue OWL Writing Lab

Purdue is one of the most complete and authoritative higher education writing resources on the web. It provides clear and detailed guidance on every stage of the writing process and includes useful information on subject specific writing. Note: Purdue OWL uses American English. Usually this is not a problem but if you have any doubt about whether a usage or spelling is appropriate for a British English context, check with our peer tutors or consult the IOE Writing Centre link above


Linguee is a web-sourced comparative usage dictionary for 25 languages. It allows students to search a word or phrase in one language to find authoritative examples of how it is used in web-published text alongside comparative examples from another language. Ask one of our peer tutors for guidance on how to use it most effectively.