Academic Essay Writing Checklist

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This checklist is to help you with essay writing. If your answer to a question is ‘No’, refer to the books indicated, which are in CILL, or the Internet sites. You can print this checklist with  or without  the menu.

      1. Content
    1. Have you included anything that is not really related to the topic (i.e. is it all relevant?)
    2. Have you included all the main points about your topic (i.e. is it comprehensive?)
    3. Have you answered the question in the essay title?
    4. Have you critically analysed the information that you found in your research, for example do you think that the information is true, important, a fact or opinion, logical, and by a person or organisation with a good reputation?


     2. Organisation, coherence and cohesion

         a. Organisation

    1. Have you got an introduction?
      1. does your introduction identify the topic, purpose and organisation of your essay?
      2. does your introduction describe the problem in general terms (including relevant facts/figures to establish the significance of the problem)?
      3. does your introduction define key words or concepts (where necessary)? [Click here for more details]
    2. if it is a problem-solution essay, have you got a main body of the essay which:
      1. classifies and/or explains the causes of the problem? [Click for more details]
      2. classifies and/or explains the effects of the problem? [Click for more details]
      3. discusses the possible solutions to the problem?
    3. Have you got a conclusion?
      1. does your conclusion summarise the main points about the causes and effects of the problem
      2. does your conclusion briefly restate your views on the most feasible solution(s) [Click here for more details]
    4. Have you put each main point in a separate paragraph?
    5. Have you got an empty line between each paragraph?

Book in CILL: Hefferman, J & Lincoln, J (1996) Writing: a concise handbook New York, Norton pp12-20 (Writing Shelf, Intermediate Level)

b. Coherence

    1. Are the main ideas outlined in the introduction, stated in the body, and summarised in the conclusion?
    2. Does each paragraph have a topic sentence containing the main idea of the paragraph and your opinion about it?
    3. Does each paragraph explain why you believe the opinion that you have written in the topic sentence?
    4. Have you ordered the paragraphs according to an organising principle, such as important, cost, or risk?

Book in CILL: Reid, J. (1998) The Process of Composition New Jersey, Prentice Hall, p.69-70 (Study Skills Shelf, Upper-intermediate Level)

         c. Cohesion

  1. Do you use logical connecting words such as ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘however’, ‘so’, and ‘therefore’? (Don’t use ‘moreover’ or ‘furthermore’ unless the second point is more important than the first one.)
  2. Book in CILL: Potter, J. (1994) Common Business English Errors in Hong Kong Hong Kong, Longman, Chapter 11 (Grammar Shelf, Intermediate Level)


  3. Do you use ‘a’ to write about a countable subject for the first time, and ‘the’ to write about the same subject later?
    Book in CILL: Potter, J. (1994) Common Business English Errors in Hong Kong Hong Kong, Longman, page 38 (Grammar Shelf, Intermediate Level)


  5. Do you use ‘It’, ‘They’, ‘This’ and ‘These’ to refer back to a subject in the previous sentence or paragraph?
  • Organisation Tool - helps you to re-organise lists; e.g. lists of topics to put in essays.
  • Yes/No

    3. Grammar and Vocabulary

    1. Does each sentence have a subject and a verb?
    2. Book in CILL: Hefferman, J & Lincoln, J (1996) Writing: a concise handbook New York, Norton pp59 - 73 (Writing Shelf, Intermediate Level)
    3. Have you checked each noun to see if it is countable, uncountable, or abstract, and used the correct article ( a / an / the / no article) ?

      Book in CILL: Potter, J. (1994) Common Business English Errors in Hong Kong Hong Kong, Longman, Chapters 3 & 4 (Grammar Shelf, Intermediate Level)


    4. Have you checked the noun before each verb to see if it is third person (he, she, or it) and changed the end of the verb to ‘+s’ for present tense regular verbs; e.g. ‘Hong Kong changes quickly.’ ?


    5. Do you use the present simple tense to describe things you think are true all the time; e.g. ‘Hong Kong is an international city.’ ?
    6. [Click here for help in choosing a tense]
      Book in CILL: Potter, J. (1994) Common Business English Errors in Hong Kong Hong Kong, Longman, Chapter 5 (Grammar Shelf, Intermediate Level)
    7. Do you use the present perfect tense to describe experience or the results of experience; e.g. ‘I have been a university student for two months and I have become a more independent learner.’ ?
    8. Do you use the simple past tense to describe things that finished in the past; e.g. ‘Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997.’ ?
    9. Have you checked your grammar? You can check for some common mistakes that ELC teachers find by pasting your essay into the Error Detector program. You can also use these exercises to avoid other common problems:
    10. If there are things that you don’t know how to say in English, have you checked how to say them in a dictionary, or with your course teacher or a CILL teacher?
    11. Have you included some academic vocabulary?


    4. Style and tone
    1. Is your writing formal?

    2. e.g. write ‘did not’ instead of ‘didn’t’, and ‘a great deal of’ instead of ‘a lot of’.
      [Click here for more details]
    3. Is your writing polite?
      e.g. Don’t write, ‘It is foolish to believe that …’. Use, ‘It is questionable whether...’
    4. Is your writing academic? Academic style guidelines

    5. Conventions

    1. Is your conclusion based on evidence and facts?
    2. Have you defined terms and words that your teacher might not know?
    3. If you have described something as ‘good’ or ‘better than…’, have you given reasons why?
    4. Have you avoided asking questions, then answering them?
    5. Have you used academic-style writing to show how sure you are of your information (e.g. using modal verbs [may, might, could etc], adverbs such as 'probably' and verbs such as 'seems to' or 'appears to')?
    6. Have you replaced phrasal verbs such as ‘look at’ with more formal words such as ‘examine’?
    7. Have you avoided using ‘you’ to refer to your reader; e.g. ‘You must agree that …’?
    8. Have you avoided over-generalisations; e.g. ‘Everyone knows that…’ or 'They always...'?
    9. Have you included citations and references?
    10. Have you followed the essay's word length guidelines?
    11. Is the layout correct; e.g. if the instructions tell you to double-space the lines, have you done so?


    Last updated on: Friday, August 19, 2016