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Improving your essays

Explore how to structure your assignments, introduce new topics and take your reader on a journey

An essay can be thought of as a journey from the introduction to the conclusion. In this analogy you are the driver, and your readers are your passengers. Signposts are the roads on the map which you choose to take.

Although this information sheet focuses on essays the basic principles apply to most types of assignment.

If you do not signpost, it is a bit like sleeping on a journey and only waking up occasionally. It can be disorientating. You tend to wonder where you are and how you got there. This is the feeling that tutors have if your content is not clearly signposted.

The examples provided below are only intended for guidance. Each word and phrase has its own precise meaning so you must use the correct term. These examples are suggestions and you do not need to reproduce them exactly. Many of these terms can be used in any section of an essay but you should ensure that the phrase and verb you choose are right for your field and what you want to say.

What signposting means

Signposting means using words to tell your reader about the content of your essay. This is done to help the reader understand as clearly as possible. Below are three examples of signposts and what they mean.

 

Signpost Meaning
…in order to explain and understand the causes of this offence, it would be useful to apply the criminological theory. The reader knows that the writer will use theory to explore and explain a criminal offence.
There are several ways in which the new style shopping centres may be seen as attractive. The reader knows that the writer will include at least two aspects of attractiveness.
Another issue which often concerns feminists is the pay gap. The reader is reminded that at least one issue has been written about, and that another is about to be covered.

 

Types of signposting

Signposting can come in the form of single words, short phrases, long phrases, or whole sentences. Examples of each are provided below:

  • Single words: however; furthermore; initially.
  • Short phrases: in contrast; in conclusion; an additional point.
  • Sentence: Having discussed the reliability of the research, this report will next address its validity.

Signposting in the introduction, body and conclusion

The table below contains some terms which you may use for signposting, in the introduction, main body and conclusion.

Signposting in the introduction

The following example provides the opening statement, a verb which could follow it, the start of the next sentence, and a verb which could follow it.

This essay will:

  • focus on... 
  • examine...
  • address...
  • analyse...

... It will then: 

  • ascertain
  • establish
  • clarify
  • show

You might wish to quantify what the essay will do. For example, you could say, 'This essay will address three aspects'. You could also signpost how this will be done. For example, you could say, 'This essay will attempt to determine whether cats are better pets than dogs by analysing studies of their behaviour.' Other examples of terms you could use include: describe, review, evaluate and explore. 

Signposting in the main body

The following examples provide a word or phrase and what it tells the reader.

  • This essay will now — introduce what is next
  • Furthermore — this takes the point, issue, or data further
  • In contrast — this includes a strong alternative or challenge 
  • However — This add an alternative or challenge, but less strongly than the phrase 'In contrast'

Signposting does not always mean having a statement of intent, such as “It will then”, or “In addition”. You may simply state the point. For example, to signpost a point or paragraph, you could say “Cats are often seen as less affectionate than dogs”.

Signposting in conclusions

In conclusions, you can use many terms and phrases that you have uses in the introduction and main body, but not all of these are appropriate for a conclusion. Don't introduce new material in a conclusion. You can use the past perfect tense; “This essay has focused on”, or present tense; “This essay shows that...”. 

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