Essay Writing, Part 1: University Vs. High School


Essay-writing, and communicating effectively in general, is the key to doing well in university as well as succeeding in the work force.

But what does a good essay look like? How does one argue effectively? How do I get a good mark?

I know exactly where you’re coming from: during my undergrad, I wrote close to 100 essays, varying in length from two-page film reviews to 40-page theses. I’m still actively writing essays as a master’s student as well.

Take your “leftovers” from the Hamburger Method, add some other key ingredients, toss ‘em all together… and voilà, you have a university-level essay!

I’m now responsible for marking undergraduate essays as a teaching assistant. Because of my experiences as a student and a TA, I know what a good essay consists of.

Perhaps most importantly, I also know what TAs and professors are looking for when they mark, at least in general.

Before we delve into the mechanics of essay writing for this series, I wanted to discuss the main difference between your standard high school-level paper and a university-level one.

High school: The Hamburger Method

In high school, you were taught the hamburger method: an intro, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

The top of the bun was your intro, the meat and the toppings your body paragraph, and the bottom of the bun was your conclusion.

The food analogy made it easy for you to remember (and maybe a trifle peckish ).

But in university, the hamburger method doesn’t cut it anymore. Just as your level of education has increased, so should the complexity of your writing.

University: The Hamburger Soup Method

The good thing about university essays is that you are given more freedom in how you lay out your paper.  You can split arguments into multiple paragraphs; you can have multiple introductory paragraphs; you don’t have to regurgitate your thesis in the conclusion and you can even counteract arguments within your paper.

But, there are key elements that you learned in the hamburger method that you still need to apply in university, even though you have left the five paragraph structure behind.

In either essay you need:

  • thesis statement (what you are trying to prove)
  • mapping statement or statements (what and how you will argue)
  • topic sentences (sentences that introduce your topics)
  • introduction
  • conclusion

And thus you have what I will call the Hamburger Soup Method: you take your “leftovers” from the Hamburger Method, add some other key ingredients, toss ‘em all together… and voilà, you have a university-level essay!

How you put it together depends on your writing style.  But if you are lacking the items mentioned above, your essay will be missing the focus needed for your to argue your point effectively.

As this TalentEgg essay writing series progresses, stay tuned for more tips and tricks about how to write an essay (and maybe some more food analogies).

More articles in the Essay Writing series:

Photo credit: Essay time by Tim Riley on Flickr
About the author

Danielle Lorenz is a long-time contributor to the Career Incubator. Danielle is a PhD student in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta. When procrastinating from schoolwork, you will find Danielle lurking on several social media platforms and trying to befriend the snowshoe hares on the U of A campus.