Writing Effective Essays and Reports



Numerous writing, style and grammar books and web sites exist. This booklet fills a particular niche (simple, free, accessible), and complements other resources that are available. It’s a useful resource for university and college instructors who want to provide straightforward instructions to students, and for students who want to improve the quality of their writing.

The booklet outlines a mainstream approach to preparing essays and reports that should be acceptable in most social and natural/engineering science courses. Conventions in the humanities are different. Thus, while much of the general advice in the booklet will be pertinent to students in the humanities, instructions regarding citation and the organization of essays and reports will be less relevant.

The booklet is organized into five main sections and an appendix.

  1. Section 1 provides an overview of the booklet and makes a case for the importance of effective writing.
  2. Section 2 outlines a straightforward system for organizing essays and reports, and presents some basic, well-accepted conventions for improving clarity.
  3. Section 3 explains why and how to cite sources, and outlines basic rules for quoting text written by other authors. The author-date system that is common in the social and natural/engineering sciences is used.
  4. Section 4 explains how to organize a reference list according to a mainstream style that should be acceptable in most social and natural/engineering sciences courses.
  5. Section 5 provides a checklist that you can use to ensure that you’ve addressed the various concerns covered in this booklet.
  6. The Appendix addresses three additional topics. Section 6.1 offers tips and suggestions for finding literature and evaluating the relative quality of different kinds of sources. Section 6.2 provides a list of selected word usage and grammar problems that are common in student writing. Section 6.3 suggests a few writing, style and grammar books and web sites that you can consult for more information.

Special topics addressed in the booklet include the following:

  • Plagiarism — what is it and how do you avoid committing this serious form of academic misconduct?
  • Refereed journals — what are they and why are they high quality sources?
  • Automating citations — what kinds of tools are available to simplify citation and the creation of reference lists?
  • Search strategies — what tools and resources exist, and how can they be used most effectively?


Getting the Booklet

The booklet is distributed in the Adobe Acrobat™ format. It can be printed in two forms:

  • The guide is most effective as a booklet that students can keep handy as they work on assignments. Click here to download the cover file and click here to download the body. A print shop can use these files to create a 5.5″ x 8.5″ booklet with a cardstock cover and staples in the spine.
  • A copy of the guide in the form of a “two-up” printout on standard 8.5 x 11″ paper can be created. This is a simpler format for individuals who wish to create a copy of the guide on their own printers. Click here to download the file.


Both versions are suitable for on-line viewing, although the two-page format may be hard to read on a small screen.

Conditions for Use

This booklet is copyright Rob de Loë. It may be freely used and duplicated for non-commercial educational purposes only. The costs of duplicating the booklet may be recouped. However, it must not be sold for profit.

If you use this booklet in your course(s), then I would like you to send me a note indicating your organization, the course in which you used the booklet, and the number of students in your course. I would appreciate receiving any feedback that I can use to improve the booklet.

Contact the Author

Rob de Loë
Department of Environment and Resource Studies
University of Waterloo
Waterloo, Ontario
Canada N2L 3G1

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