Writing an essay or thesis

If you are planning on getting a degree, you almost always need to write some form of essay. It might have a different name – degree project, dissertation, thesis – but all of them involve you writing an independent project where previous knowledge from all your courses is applied.

What is an essay?

When you write an essay, you are actually conducting new research on a miniature scale. Research always begins with a question, a problem, that formulates what you want to investigate.

Writing tips

Depending on what you study, there are different practices and guidelines that determine what your essay should look like, and what it should contain. However, the most important thing is to find a topic to write about that you find interesting. Here are some tips, if you are just getting started with your essay:

  • Read the information on how to write the essay. What should be included? What is the scope of the work? When is it due? Some departments or faculties have local rules.
  • Find a topic that interests you but one that you are not too knowledgeable in. With too much prior knowledge of the subject, it might be problematic when it comes to, among other things, objectivity.
  • Set a schedule! Writing an essay will be a period in your studies with few scheduled lectures and a lot of time for studying on your own. It is important to take responsibility and ensure that the work begins and is completed on time.
  • Help each other! Your course mates are in the same situation, maybe you can read through each other's material and give tips?

The pillars of an essay

Theory and method

In order to carry out your research you will in most cases need something called theory, and then a method. That is, a starting point in research that already exists (theory), and how to carry out your research (method).

Reliability and validity

It is common to describe research with words such as validity and reliability. A high validity states that your research actually measures what you meant it should measure.

Reliability is about your research being replicable. Could the research be conducted again by someone else and present the same results? Reliability is especially important when you do a survey that is quantitative.

Quantitative and qualitative

Quantitative research is research of a larger - often statistical - material, such as a survey. The answer can often be given in numbers. The opposite of quantitative research is a qualitative one, where the answer often is given in words. For example, interviews.


When discussing objectivity in research, it is about that the interpretations made are being based on what can actually be observed, on facts. Your own feelings and what you think about something should not affect the result.

In an essay, you as a writer should also not be seen too much in the text. Words like you, I, we are often avoided. Feel free to use the passive form, where it works. If you are unsure of what applies to your essay, you can ask your supervisor.