Tips and Guidelines for Essay Writing

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1. Essay title

The title of your essay should encapsulate the main focus of your topic, and the central question that you are discussing. Avoid 1 or 2-word titles such as “Hacking”, “Wikileaks” or “Social Networks”. Consider fleshing out the main title with a subtitle—e.g. Wikileaks: The Ethics of Internet Whistle-blowing”.

2. Defining the scope of your topic.

The scope of your topic should not be too broad, otherwise the level of discussion in your essay may be too superficial and lack depth. You should try to focus on specific examples and case studies to illustrate general issues, concepts and principles. Don’t try to cover too many aspects of your topic. Instead, focus on one or two. Remember, you can always specify the parameters of your topic in your introduction.

3. Essay structure

Ensure that your essay has a coherent and organised structure with a clear introduction, relevant sub-sections and a conclusion. Keep your introduction brief and concise. Try to avoid wasting words on sweeping generalisations, padding and unnecessary definitions (e.g. “what is the Internet?”). Consider organising your essay into sections with separate headings, covering social, professional, legal and ethical issues.

Professional issues.

If you cite professional codes of conduct in your essay, like those of the British Computer Society, make sure that:-

a) They are relevant to the context of your topic (e.g. the country that you are looking at). For example, the ACM (USA) code of conduct may not be relevant to a UK case study or topic.

b) Make sure also that you apply any general codes of conduct to your topic—don’t just cite them, explain how and why they are relevant to practising IT professionals.

Don’t restrict your discussion of “professional issues” to the BCS code of conduct. Look at the implications of your topic for IT practitioners of all kinds (from software developers to IS managers). Consider the codes of practice of other professionals relevant to your topic (for example, forensic analysts or police officers gathering digital evidence). Consider also the policies and codes of practice of organisations and businesses (for example, Facebook’s policies re: privacy and third party access to personal data).

Legal Issues

Make sure you are citing the correct legislation that is relevant to your topic. It is not sufficient to cite any law, arbitrarily, that you happen to think is relevant. There must be some precedent or basis for doing so (has the law actually been used or applied in your topic area?). The legislation you cite should also be applicable to the context of your topic (i.e. the country or region you are looking at). For example, US law on copyright might not be relevant in the UK, and UK law on Computer Misuse might not be relevant in China, etc, etc.

Social issues

Ensure that you understand what a “social issue” is with regard to the impact of information systems and ICT. Revisit the slides for Lectures 2 and 10 (particularly slide #15). Make sure you understand what the social aspects of your topic are (i.e. what are the issues raised by the impact of your topic on society, and on social relationships, attitudes and behaviour). At the very least, you should aim to describe what that impact is, or has been.

Ethical issues

Make sure that you explicitly identify the underlying ethical principles that your topic involves. These were discussed in lectures 1, 2 and especially 10, and in the weekly seminars on different topics. State the ethical principles involved, and keep these in sight throughout your essay.

Make sure you understand the difference between a) identifying an ethical issue and b) making a personal moral judgement. You should refrain from making moral judgements that close down an issue. You should also refrain from offering your own personal opinions, at least in the main body of your essay, and especially if these are unsupported by evidence and sound reasoning. A particular viewpoint may be expressed in the conclusion, but only after a balanced consideration of other viewpoints and arguments in your topic area.


Ensure that you consult a range of quality academic sources in your essay. A list of URLs at the end of your essay is insufficient. Newspapers articles can be cited, particularly when referencing a case study or story that is relevant to your topic. However, these are not authoritative academic sources. Scholarly books and journal articles are. Academic journal articles will invariably contain the most current research. Books may not always be the most up-to-date sources, but they should be referenced as sources of key arguments, concepts and principles. You should try to include as many books as possible in your list of references, including, at the very least, the core text.

However, it is not sufficient to simply produce a list of references at the end of your essay. You must show that you have read these sources, and that you have incorporated them into your work. You must do so by referencing them in the body of your essay. Ensure that you use the correct referencing style (Harvard) for doing this.

Source: Middlesex University

2017-05-18T19:18:28+00:00 April 17th, 2014|Skills|