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An essay is an exercise in
individual expression, and the following comments should NOT be taken
as describing an ideal ‘blueprint’. These comments are aimed at setting out some general
objectives and conventions which should be borne in mind when writing essays. Within this
framework there is considerable scope for the development of your own personal style.

The Library’s Discover Series provides some useful information for essay preparation. The Discover
playlist can be found at
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLyWI8Bu1nJ6yA_6q_GBtVU1_UEExC4r13 and consists of a
series of short videos including these:
• Discover: Research Skills
• Discover: Effective Reading Strategies
• Discover: Note-taking

Preparing an essay is a research task. It cannot be done by relying only on textbooks. It is also
expected that University essays will show more sophistication than work done in secondary
school. High school texts are not suitable as reference sources.
You should read some journal articles and/or chapters from books before writing an essay. Books
and journal articles should be the principal sources for researching your essay. A good starting-
point is the readings accompanying the topics.
In finding appropriate material, you should search the library’s catalogue by subject and keyword.
Online opinion pieces, media articles and blogs should only be used as a guide for your research as
they are not scholarly sources like books and journal articles (see Section 15 below).

There are various ways to synthesize your views with the knowledge gained from reading scholarly
sources. Some contend that you should not begin writing the essay until you have read and taken
notes from a number of books and articles. Others suggest that you should write an early draft,
then read further, and modify the earlier draft in the light of this reading. The best method
depends on the nature of the topic and your familiarity with it, and on personal preference.
However, it is generally a good idea to begin early to start writing a draft or at least an outline of
the essay’s structure. This process forces you to develop your ideas and a framework. Further
reading can then be interpreted in the light of your framework which can be modified if necessary.
If you read too many references at first, assimilation and coordination of ideas can become difficult,
and you may end up with an essay full of disconnected points.

An essay MUST be relevant to the question being answered. Equally important, it should be
demonstrated to be relevant, in the sense that the analysis must be explicitly applied to the specified
question. You need to avoid the tendency of some students to see a particular phrase in the
question (such as “monetary policy” or “enterprise bargaining”) and then to write down everything
they know on the subject.
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An essay should not be merely a summary of ideas from a handful of references. Nor should an
essay be constructed around a series of quotations from previous authors, even if the quotations
are acknowledged. It is your essay and it should be based on your assessment of the topic in
question. Quotations from other works should be ONLY introduced as supplementary evidence to
illustrate your research and analysis.
If you do quote an author, you must provide not only the name of the author, but the year the
work was published, and the page number on which the quoted text can be found. For example:
“……….” (Stilwell 2012: 23). See Sections 10 and 14 for more details on referencing.
Quotations of 40 or more words should be presented as an indented paragraph and without quote

Clear and logical organization is a characteristic of every good essay. An unsystematic presentation
suggests you are not able to arrange your thoughts in an orderly fashion. Conversely, a well-
organized answer suggests the ability to deal systematically with the topic. This would probably
involve sub-sections, emphasizing the key points and their relationship. Many students fail to carry
out this relatively simple step, and they lose marks unnecessarily.
A well-organized essay might take the following form:
(a) Introduction. Essay topics are often open to several interpretations so it is useful to give
an indication of the approach you are taking at the outset. This will largely determine the
balance of the essay and will help to demonstrate the relevance of the subsequent
argument. The introduction should alert the reader to the path along which you will be
taking them. The emphasis should be on ‘scene-setting’ and on raising the key issues
rather than on your conclusions.
(b) The main body of the essay. Here the principal emphasis should be on the systematic
development of your argument and consideration of counter-arguments. On almost every
topic there are a number of different views; it is best to consider the various alternatives
at an early stage of the essay and to outline their relative strengths and weaknesses. On
topics involving empirical investigation, it is normal to summarize the existing evidence
and consider how much support it lends to the proposition(s) you are advancing.
Depending on the nature of the topic, you may have some new arguments or evidence to
contribute yourself.
(c) Conclusion. It is normal to bring the various strands of argument together in a brief
conclusion in order to round off the essay. The conclusion should not be a summary of
the preceding discussion. It should set the implications of what you have presented.

Confine each paragraph to a single idea but not so narrowly that paragraphs become one or
two sentences. For example, the single idea might be ‘Expansionary fiscal policy can help to
reduce unemployment’. The paragraph would go on to say what fiscal policy is, why it might
generate jobs and what obstacles may need to be addressed.
A useful exercise, when you have finished the first draft of an essay, is to see if each paragraph
can be summarized by one sentence and that they form a clear logical sequence for the whole
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essay. If not, some reconstruction of the essay is probably needed.

A maximum length will be specified for each essay. This is not only to make the task of the
marker manageable, but also to provide practice in writing concisely. You should not exceed that
length. Generally, essays that are more than 10% below or above the required length will incur a
mark penalty.

Proper grammatical construction and careful punctuation is essential for an effective essay. How
you express your ideas is just as important to your mark as the content of your essay. This
requirement takes time. It will usually mean rewriting and checking of sequential essay drafts in
order to get a carefully polished final version.
It is also important to develop your own clear and effective means of expression. This inevitably
involves some emulation of that which you read, but the process should be critical and selective.
Above all, express your points as simply as possible. Split up unnecessarily long sentences into
shorter ones. For example, instead of saying ‘however’ in the middle of a sentence, use it to begin
a new sentence.

Your essay is likely to draw on empirical evidence or arguments developed by other people (e.g.
‘Keynes emphasised that profit expectations are volatile’). In all these cases you must clearly cite
the source you have used (see Section 14 on referencing methods).
A related matter concerns methods of paraphrase. Paraphrase is the process of summarizing
arguments you have read in scholarly books and journal articles. Many students copy selected
phrases and sentences, and intersperse them with a few words of their own. The main objective
would seem to be to disguise the theft! This is to be avoided: it may be considered as plagiarism. A
good paraphrase requires that you reflect on what you have read and write your interpretation
wholly in your own words.
Of course, plagiarism—copying from other works without acknowledgement—is totally
unacceptable. Intentional plagiarism is deceitful: it is a violation of the educational process.
Unintended plagiarism may also occur if you are inexperienced in essay preparation. To avoid
plagiarism, a good piece of advice is not to write with a book/journal/website open: otherwise
there is a strong tendency to reproduce the author’s words rather than your own. So read, close
the book/journal/website, and then write. Of course, you can then go back and re-read, repeating
the process, if this helps your understanding. Further, if you make notes from a source before you
start drafting your essay, you must be careful to be clear in your notes about what, if anything, you
have copied down word-for-word. If you do copy anything word-for-word, make sure that you put
quote marks around these words, and note down the page number, author etc. so that you don’t
unintentionally put a phrase, or sentence, written by an author in your essay without appropriate
referencing in your essay. You must never download material from a web site and cut-and-paste
to form part of your essay.
The official policy of the University of Sydney is that essays containing plagiarism (intentional or
accidental) will be referred to the Faculty’s Academic Integrity Adviser for disciplinary
proceedings. You should study the plagiarism examples below very carefully, so that you are
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very clear about what constitutes plagiarism, and how to avoid it.1
PLAGIARISM EXAMPLE NO.1: Use of verbatim (word-for-word) quote with no quote marks,
and no citation

PLAGIARISM EXAMPLE NO.2: Verbatim quote with no quote marks; acknowledgement of
author, but no year/page no details of quote

PLAGIARISM EXAMPLE NO.3: Appropriate citation, but use of verbatim quote without
quote marks

1 These plagiarism examples are adapted from materials originally developed by Dr Damien Cahill in
2010 for the course ECOP1004 Economy and Society.
Source text:
“A self-regulating market demands nothing less than the institutional separation of society into an
economic and a political sphere” (Polanyi 2001: 74).

Plagiarism in student essay:
A self-regulating market demands nothing less than the institutional separation of society into an
economic and a political sphere.

Not plagiarism:
According to Polanyi (2001:74) “a self-regulating market demands nothing less than the institutional
separation of society into an economic and a political sphere”.
Source text:
“A self-regulating market demands nothing less than the institutional separation of society into an
economic and a political sphere” (Polanyi 2001: 74).

Plagiarism in student essay:
Polanyi argues that a self-regulating market demands nothing less than the institutional separation
of society into an economic and a political sphere.

Not plagiarism:
Polanyi (2001:74) argues that “a self-regulating market demands nothing less than the institutional
separation of society into an economic and a political sphere”.
Source text:
“A self-regulating market demands nothing less than the institutional separation of society into an
economic and a political sphere” (Polanyi 2001: 74).

Text in student essay:
Polanyi (2001: 74) argues that a self-regulating market demands nothing less than the institutional
separation of society into an economic and a political sphere.

Not plagiarism:
Polanyi (2001: 74) argues that “a self-regulating market demands nothing less than the institutional
separation of society into an economic and a political sphere”.

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PLAGIARISM EXAMPLE NO.4: Appropriate citation, but lack of quote marks – the changing of
the word “demands” to “requires”, and leaving out the word “institutional” does not negate
the need for quote marks

PLAGIARISM EXAMPLE NO.5: Not plagiarism, as the student essay contains the
appropriate citation, and uses quote marks where appropriate

Most essay questions require some terms to be defined. This should be done as early as possible;
however, a series of definitions is not an essay. Moreover, you can normally assume that the
reader has some knowledge of the subject. Thus, it is not usually necessary to define basic
concepts; whether you understand them or not will be clear to the reader/marker by the way you
apply the concepts to the question.

Some parts of economic theory use mathematical and diagrammatic presentation. Where you
consider this to be useful you may introduce maths and/or diagrams into an essay. The critical
point in this regard is that the relevance of such material should be explicitly pointed out in the
text of your essay. The same applies to tables of statistical data. If their relevance is not
demonstrated then maths, diagrams and tables add nothing to the essay.

A political economic approach makes certain demands that are not made in other approaches
to writing. Here are three examples which do not satisfy these demands:
1. “Tariffs went up in the 1920’s”. This is true, but if it is left at that it doesn’t
Source text:
“A self-regulating market demands nothing less than the institutional separation of society into an
economic and a political sphere” (Polanyi 2001: 74)

Text in student essay
Polanyi (2001: 74) argues that a self-regulating market requires nothing less than the separation of
society into an economic and a political sphere.

Not plagiarism
Polanyi (2001: 74) argues that “a self-regulating market” requires “nothing less than the institutional
separation of society into an economic and a political sphere”.
Source text:
“A self-regulating market demands nothing less than the institutional separation of society into an
economic and a political sphere” (Polanyi 2001: 74)

Text in student essay, not plagiarism:
Polanyi (2001: 74) argues that capitalism leads to an “institutional separation of society into an
economic and a political sphere”.
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inform the reader of the process by which the decision was made to raise
tariffs. Who made the decision, under what circumstances and under what
2. “Australia’s high tariffs should be reduced in order to make industry more
efficient”. Such a statement is naive unless the context also shows an
understanding of the historical reasons for high tariffs in Australia, and the political
and economic difficulties of implementing such a policy.
3. “Rapacious multinational companies are exploiting third world economies”.
Maybe, but polemics are no substitute for arguments and evidence in a university
Ultimately, the aim of a political economic approach is to attempt to understand economic
events in their social context. For example, you might ask questions like: How has the economic
analysis been influenced by a political position or by particular assumptions about society? What
are the groups with vested interests in a certain event? What is the balance of forces leading up
to a particular outcome? Who wins and who loses? You should also provide evidence to
substantiate or illustrate your argument.

References to all your sources should be acknowledged, whether explicitly quoted or not. Also, a
complete list of publications to which reference is made should be included at the end of the
essay. Note: This reference list is NOT included in the required word limit. There is no hard-and-
fast rule about the number of references which should be consulted and listed. As a rule of thumb,
less than half a dozen is definitely too few for a full length essay. What is appropriate depends on
the nature of the topic. It is not legitimate to ‘pad’ the list with works you have not consulted:
markers can usually identify where this is done and will reduce the marks given for the essay.
There are a number of methods for handling referencing matters. Whichever you choose, you
must be consistent. Some University departments recommend the Oxford system or the Chicago
system, which requires footnotes giving full detail of each reference cited and the repetition of all
those details in the bibliography. The simpler method is the Harvard system, and this is what you
should use for essays for this Unit of Study. This system requires you to prepare a complete
reference list of all works cited, and to refer to each in the text by its author and date. Thus a
segment from the essay might appear as follows:
The empirical evidence suggests that many firms can be relocated without any loss
of profitability, as noted by Cameron and Clark (1996: 48). However, Archibald
(2001: 72) argues that the effects on employment in the recipient region may be
relatively minor because of the low value of regional multipliers.
Then, at the end of the essay, put the heading References and list all references cited in the text
of your essay alphabetically by author family name, as follows:
Archibald, G.C. 2001. ‘Regional Multiplier Effects’, Oxford Economic Papers, 25 (2): 22-45.
Cameron, G.C., and Clark, B.D. 1996. Industrial Movement and the Regional Problem,
Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd.
NOTE: In the case of a book the information given is as follows:
(i) author’s name and initials, (ii) year of publication (in brackets), (iii) title of book (in
italics or underlined), (iv) place of publication, and (v) publisher’s name.
For example: Fusfeld, D. 2001. The Age of the Economist, Boston: Addison-Wesley.
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In the case of an article, the information given is as follows:
(i) author’s name and initials, (ii) year of publication (in brackets), (iii) title of article in
single quote marks, (iv) name of journal (in italics or underlined), (v) volume and issue
number (where applicable), (vi) month (where applicable), (vii) page numbers of the
For example: Hamilton, D. 2003. ‘The Case for Fair Trade’, Journal of Australian Political
Economy, 48: 60-72.
In the case of a chapter from an edited book, the information is as follows: (i) name and
initials of the author of the chapter, (ii) year of publication (in brackets), (iii) title of the
chapter in single quote marks, (iv) name and initials of book editor(s), (v) title of the
book (in italics or underlined),
(vi) edition number (if appropriate), (vii) place of publication, (viii) publisher’s name,
(viv) page numbers of the chapter:
For example: Jones, E. 1997. ‘Government Intervention’, in Argyrous, G. and Stilwell, F.
(eds). Economics as a Social Science: Readings in Political Economy, 3rd edition, Prahran:
Tilde University Press, pp.29-31
Where reference is made to more than one work by any author in any one year, they should
be identified as follows: Brown, A. (1983a), Brown, A. (1983b), and so forth.
For further information about referencing, please consult the Library’s Harvard Referencing Guide
which can be found here: https://libguides.library.usyd.edu.au/c.php?g=508212&p=3476130

Where information is drawn from the web, the full website address (URL) should be listed in
your list of references, following the name of the author (where available) and title of the item
(in italics). You should also include the date on which you accessed the information.
For example: Argy, F. 2003. Achieving Equality of Opportunity, Evatt
Foundation, http://evatt.labor.net.au/publications/papers/96.html
[Accessed 17 March 2007]
Note that information from the web may be of questionable validity, because it is not always
subject to the same professional checks as information in published scholarly books and journals.
So, this source should be used very sparingly. You can use Wikipedia for background research,
and as a guide, if you find it useful but you should NOT use it as a reference for your essay.

Footnotes should be used sparingly, if at all, for points ancillary to the main argument. Some
authors use large numbers of footnotes but this practice should be avoided. If a point is not
directly relevant to the theme you are developing in the essay it is usually better omitted. If it is
important, then to develop it in the text of the essay. Do NOT use endnotes instead of footnotes

For bibliographical material some abbreviation is possible by the use of Latin terms. The
following are some of the most common:
op.cit. means “in the work cited”. This can be used to refer to a work when it is cited for a
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second or subsequent time in the essay, so long as there is no reference to other works by
that author in the meantime.
ibid. means “in the same place”. This can be used for immediately sequential citations to
the same work.
sic. means ‘so; thus; in this manner”. On occasion an error or peculiarity occurs in a passage
you wish to quote. So that this error or peculiarity shall not be thought a mis-type or
mis- spelling, (sic) can be inserted after the relevant work or phrase.

Always read through the final version of your essay before submitting it, to check that there are
no grammatical errors, punctuation problems or typographical errors. This is very important,
because failure to do so results in the essay appearing slip-shod and losing marks unnecessarily.
Keep an electronic copy of each essay before submitting it.

Each essay will be evaluated according to the following criteria:
1. Organization and structure
2. Extent of research
3. Use and integration of evidence (paraphrasing, summarizing and quotations)
4. Clarity of expression (syntax, grammar, punctuation and spelling)
5. Critical thinking, scholarship and argumentation
6. Referencing and in-text citations

Essays are marked out of 100.
85 and above denotes High Distinction. This requires consistently excellent standard
according to all marking criteria listed above.
75-84 means the essay is of Distinction standard. This normally requires consistently very
good standard according to each of the above criteria.
65-74 means the essay is of Credit standard. This normally indicates a consistently good
essay, or an essay that has some features that are very good but others that are only
50-64 means the essay is of Pass standard. This normally indicates a satisfactory
performance according to most of the above criteria, although some relatively poor
features may be compensated by other good features of the essay.
49 and below means the essay is a Fail. This is because of the presence of some poor or
very poor features of the essay, according to the above criteria. Students who fail essays
may still pass the Unit of Study if the low essay mark is compensated by good marks on
other assessment tasks. However, it does indicate the necessity to work hard on doing
better essays in future. Learning from the marker’s comments, in conjunction with re-
reading this guide, is strongly recommended.

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