An academic essay is a piece of writing in a formal style which answers the question or statement posed in the essay title. The essay will be based on your research and, possibly, your own experience. You’ll need to reflect on your findings and present your ideas in an analytical or critical style.

The essay marker will be looking for your ability to read around a topic, evaluate what you’ve read, and present a coherent argument. You’ll be expected to be make connections between the different ideas and practices relevant to the subject, and to add your own views and conclusions within the context of the question. For example, if the question relates to recruitment and asks you to evaluate current methods of recruitment practice and the methods used by your own organisation, it would be expected that you had read a number of articles, texts, journals and course materials, as well as considering discussions during your face-to-face course sessions, and be able to compare and contrast the views and practices you discover.

The key differences between an academic essay and a business report are:

  • An essay may be more free-flowing than a structured report, although it will still be broken into relevant sections to explore the topic and lead the reader through the ‘story’ you’re building.
  • As an academic piece of writing, you’ll be expected to ‘cite’ all the sources you’ve used to support your ideas and list them at the end as a reference list or bibliography.
  • An essay is usually written solely as an assignment as part of a course, not for a wider audience.

Planning your essay

Writing your essay

Presenting your essay

Useful contacts and books

Related content

Jobs search webinars 2022

Supporting CIPD members in successful job search

CIPD qualifications webinar: Take your career to the next level

Listen to our webinar to hear how our new qualifications could give you the skills and knowledge you need to excel in the people profession.

How to Study Effectively

There are a number of key considerations when developing an approach to studying to suit you. These study tips will help ensure you study effectively.

Be the change you want to see: How our volunteers are making an impact during the pandemic

Watch our webinar to find out how our volunteers having been using their professional expertise to help others during the pandemic.

Latest guides

TUPE transfers: Guide for people professionals

Outlines the main legal requirements surrounding TUPE transfers, and the essential steps involved in managing them

For Members
Using and deploying skills effectively in the workplace

This guide offers advice on assessing skills, planning skills development and deploying and redeploying staff

For Members
People manager guide: Supporting employee resilience

Practical guidance on helping employees adapt and thrive when faced with workplace stress

For Members
Resilience: Guide for people professionals to support employees

Advice and tips on how HR professionals can support organisational and individual resilience

For Members
All guides