Undergraduate Studies

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How to write a Health Essay

The complete guide to writing a 2:1 standard university essay

Understanding what is being asked of You The first thing you must do in the process of writing a successful health essay is to make sure you fully understand what the essay question is asking you to do. There are key terms that you should look out for which will act as signposts to how you should construct your response to the essay question. For example, if asked to evaluate the impact of the Health and Social Care Act upon the patient experience, it is important that you provide a critique of the strengths and weaknesses of the outcomes of the implementation of the Act. If asked to discuss the statement ‘the Health and Social Care Act has been ineffective in improving patient outcomes’ then you are required to decide whether or not you agree with this statement, and present your arguments accordingly. Understanding what you are being asked to do will not only enable the structuring of your essay but will also demonstrate the directions in which you should take your reading in order to address the essay question effectively.

Researching your Health Essay Essays that achieve the highest marks tend to primarily source research articles from peer-review journals. This ensures that established research that directly bears on the research topic is evaluated by the writer directly. This is understandably preferable to the writer regurgitating previously expressed opinions and literature summaries that appear in text books and on various internet sources. Furthermore, disseminating research findings from journal articles, which are the platform at which scientific debates occur, is a highly valuable skill and an effective method of demonstrating understanding in your essay. Articles from peer-review journals can be accessed online through electronic databases such as PUBMED and MEDLINE. For a full list of electronic resources that are useful to health essay research see Winship & McNab (1998).

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Structural Requirements Although each essay question will be different throughout your higher education experience, successful responses will follow the same structural basis each time. Writing successful health essays is dependant upon understanding the structural rules for essay writing. Each essay you write should begin with an Introduction which sums up how you plan to respond to the question and what course your arguments will follow. The excerpt from Power, Lake, & Cole below demonstrates this succinctly.

“This paper reviews child and adolescent adiposity measures and associated long-term health risks. The first section argues that anthropometric measures are practical for large scale epidemiological studies, particularly the body mass index. Limitations of this and other measures are presented. The second section summarises the evidence on the relationship between child and adolescent and adult adiposity.”

Following on from this the Main Body of the text will follow the plan as has been set out in the introduction. Arguments should be logically and coherently presented, and paragraphs should be linked so that they naturally flow from one to the next. Subsequent to the presentation of your arguments in the text’s Main Body, the Conclusion will sum up what you have presented in your essay, and will deliver the message that you would like the reader to take away with them. However, ensure that your conclusions do not range beyond that which has been presented in the text of your arguments.

Refining your Arguments Once you have written the first draft of your essay, you now have the opportunity to refine your arguments, ensure that they all specifically address the essay question and that the argument flows in a coherent order. Methods that have proved useful for many students include:

  • Leaving a period of a week or more between writing the first draft and attempting the second draft.
  • Reading your essay out loud to enable judgements on coherence and flow.
  • Diagramming argument structures in order to ensure that they achieve a logical progression.

Finishing Touches Each essay you complete needs to adhere to the basic formatting structures as set out by your higher education establishment. Failure to adhere to these very basic guidelines will result in a poor result for your health essay. Furthermore, the failure to recognise these requirements will indicate that your work is sloppy and will provide a bad impression to the person marking the work. This is the last thing you want to do! Typical formatting requirements include font size and style (usually size 10 or 12 Times New Roman), margin size (generally no more than 2cm) and line spacing (1.5 or double spaced is the general convention required). It is also a good idea to double check whether the essay requires headers or footers, and if so, how these should be presented on the page.

Plagiarism, Referencing and Demonstrating Originality Whenever writing a health essay, it is always vital that you refer to the sources that you used to formulate your arguments. This must be done both in the text and in the reference section at the end. If referring to a general theory existent in the literature, the textual reference can be made in either of the two following ways:

‘Ajzen’s (1991) theory of planned behaviour is used in health promotion settings to model patient health behaviours’

‘The theory of planned behaviour (Ajzen, 1991) is used in health promotion settings as a model of patient health behaviours’.

Direct references to the text need to be framed in quotation marks and the page numbers need to be provided:

“Whether health screening and motivational-interviewing–based counselling provided by clinicians during routine care can change behaviours is unknown.” (Olsen, Gaffney, Lee, & Starr, 2008, pp. S359).

Each citation in the text requires a corresponding entry in the Reference section which appears at the end of the essay.

To reference a journal article: Castro-Costa, E., Ferri, C.P., Lima-Costa, M.F., Zaleski, M., Pinsky, I., Caetono, R., & Larenjeira, E. (2008). Alcohol Consumption in Late Life: The First Brazillian national Alcohol Survey. Addictive Behaviours, 33(12), 1598-1601.

To reference an online journal article: Moore, L., & Tapper, K. (2008). The impact of school fruit tuck shops and school food policies on children’s fruit consumption: a cluster randomised trial of schools in deprived areas. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 62, Available at: http://jech.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/62/10/926. Retrieved October 20th 2008.

To reference a book: Bowling, A. (2002). Research Methods in Health: Investigating Health and Health Services. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.

To reference a chapter of a book:

Kitzinger, J. (2006). Focus Groups. In C. Pope & N. Mays (eds.) Qualitative Research in Health Care. London: Wiley-Blackwell.

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