English: skills for learning
English: skills for learning

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

1.2 Communicating with tutors through essays

A university essay is a form of communication written by students for their tutors. The tutors respond by writing comments explaining what the student did well and how he or she can improve. This is called feedback (Figure 3).

Described image
Figure 3 Communication between students and their tutors

To communicate their knowledge successfully to their tutor, students must write in a clear and well-organised way. The next activity will help you to focus on what tutors expect.

Activity 2

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes

Read what some Open University tutors say about the main characteristics they expect to find in a successful essay.

  • a.I teach sociology. In this subject students have to write assignments of about 1,000 words in the first year. I expect an assignment to address the topics mentioned by the assignment question. A good assignment directly and clearly addresses that question and doesn’t deal with anything else.
  • b.When I read an essay, I need to be able to follow what the student is saying. So ideas must be linked clearly. If the ideas are just presented as lists, I may have to stop and read certain sentences and paragraphs again to try to understand how they are related. I find it easier to read texts that flow.
  • c.For me, to be successful, essays must be well organised. The first paragraph should introduce the theme of the essay and the main point the student wants to make, the next paragraphs must develop that theme by adding more information such as explanations and evidence which help to answer the question. It is also important to use the last paragraph to conclude.
  • d.I tutor on a science module. For me a good assignment should demonstrate that the student has understood the course materials and is able to use them extensively and correctly.
  • e.I expect students to show that they can explain but also illustrate the points they make. Their answer is stronger if they can give examples and if they can include evidence taken from the course materials. This evidence can be provided by using theories and information that support what they are saying.
  • f.I tutor on a psychology module. I would say that a successful essay is easy to understand. The student must use grammar and vocabulary correctly. This means that sentences must be formed correctly and the student must have chosen the right vocabulary and in particular the correct academic and technical words.

Now match each of the characteristics below with the correct letter for the tutor statement.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Well-connected ideas

  2. Correct use of the course ideas and information

  3. Relevant content that answers the assignment questions

  4. Good use of examples and evidence

  5. Clear structure

  6. Clear use of language

  • a.f

  • b.c

  • c.b

  • d.e

  • e.a

  • f.d

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = c
  • 2 = f
  • 3 = e
  • 4 = d
  • 5 = b
  • 6 = a


This activity has shown that, to successfully communicate with a university tutor, it is important to provide a clear answer (a–c) and support it with examples and evidence (d). It is also essential to produce what the tutor expects, that is, a text that is relevant to the question and makes correct use of the ideas and information contained in the course materials (e, f).

You have already started looking at ways to provide a relevant, clearly structured answer when you learned to read the assignment question and produce a draft plan of an essay. In the next sections you will further develop this skill and learn how to incorporate examples and evidence, and link ideas.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371