How to Write Documented Essay

A documented essay is a standalone type of college essay. In essence, it is a mini research paper, which has many similar features to a term paper or even a thesis. Students fear writing this type of essay for a good reason – one cannot free-ride on this assignment or write it overnight. Instead, a documented essay takes a load of attention, preparatory reading, and analytical capabilities.

Learn how to write an documented essay step-by-step, what some of the best sources for this kind of paper are, and where to find a worthy documented essay example – everything in a single place – in this article down below.

Documented Essay writing

What is a Documented Essay?

A documented essay is a type of college or university essay, which is written based on documented sources of information. Contrary to popular narrative or descriptive types of college essays, this one relies on a solid evidence base, and factual information and stipulates the development of an original idea or a concept (point, thesis statement) based on that factual information.

Any documented essay example that we can find shows that this is a rather lengthy paper – the normal length of a documented essay is 5-7 pages of a standard format and font size. This sharply contradicts the usual essay requirement of 1-2 pages.

By learning how to write an documented essay, students get ready for graduate research work, such as a thesis or a degree dissertation. We recommend you take this type of academic paper seriously and by doing so make your graduate life at your college easier.

Information Criteria and Information Analysis Principles

The key to a great documented essay is the documented sources of information. How to find worthy sources, how to evaluate them, and how to analyze them – these are the prerequisites to your success when preparing to write a documented essay.

The most important criteria for the selection of information for your essay are:

  • correspondence of information to the topic of the documented essay;
  • the scientific value of information;
  • the objectivity of information (as a rule, this criterion is ensured by the credibility of the source);
  • accuracy of information.

Documented Essay

When studying the information selected, stick to the following principles:

  • general familiarization with the source (table of contents, abstract);
  • careful viewing of the content of the source;
  • selective study of a part of the source that is significant for your essay;
  • taking notes of materials of interest (chapters, paragraphs, sentences, etc.);
  • critical evaluation of the outlined material, and discussion with your mentor if needed.

Documented Essay Writing Steps

Topic selection

This is the first step, on which all subsequent ones depend. The topic should:

  • be up-to-date;
  • contain scientific novelty;
  • have theoretical and practical value.

Of course, besides the above points, the topic should be interesting to you as a student, as only then you will be able to fully reveal it. To help you choose a topic and learn how to write an documented essay:

  • Mentor/your teacher (you may be interested to discuss the topic with them).
  • Your knowledge (for your documented essay, it is better to choose a topic that you know well).
  • Thematic events (at conferences and training you can learn about the current problems of the industry).
  • Practical experience (remember the problems you encountered during your internship).
  • Scientific publications (they reflect current trends in the specialty).


The next step in writing your essay is preparing a plan. This is best done under the supervision of your teacher: who will tell you which points should be included in the final paper. Any decent documented essay example would have the following structure:

  • title;
  • table of contents (if the paper is longer than 7 pages);
  • introduction;
  • theoretical part (overview of documented sources);
  • the main body (practical and research part);
  • conclusion findings;


Start writing your documented essay according to the plan. Follow the structure outlined in the plan and agreed with your teacher. In doing so, it is important to support each of your arguments and points with well-documented facts. It is not necessary, however, to agree with the cited sources, as an essay a genre stipulates the development of original and valuable ideas.

If you want to learn how to write an documented essay, you should learn how to cite sources correctly. In academia, there are several approved referencing styles, with the most popular ones being APA and MLA. Make sure that each of the documented sources you refer to in the text of your documented essay is properly noted at the end of the paper – in the bibliography list.


A serious paper like a documented essay requires a thorough final check work. With time and practice, you should learn to allocate at least 20% of your overall time to this important and responsible step.  First, proofread the text to find and correct any inconsistencies, redundancies, unclear phrases, or terms. Then, at the final stage, edit your work for grammar, linguistic or formatting issues. Don’t forget about the plagiarism check too!

Selection and Study of Sources

When it comes to sources of documented information, students often get lost. Despite the seeming simplicity of this matter, many respondents struggle to name even a couple of credible sources. We have been able to scan through every documented essay example available in our database of free samples, and here is what we found. All sources of documented information can be classified into the following categories:

  • Textbooks, teaching guides, manuals, and books by famous authors. They will allow you to comprehend the basics of the task of disclosing the topic. From them, you will learn the basic postulates of the problem under study, terms, definitions, structures, and connections with other subjects.
  • Articles from scientific magazines, other documented essays, and reports by famous scientists will reveal to you the practical side of your topic, demonstrating the variety of approaches in its research.
  • Electronic resources will introduce you to the world of libraries, reference books, textbooks, articles, dissertations, similar essays, and abstracts. From them, you can easily draw what other students and scholars have researched on your topic. World knowledge will also become available to you thanks to electronic resources.
  • Catalogs and dictionaries in the college library will allow you to get closer to the topic of research from the perspective of the teacher who supervises your documented essay. Usually, teachers recommend the educational literature of their college, requiring students to borrow terms and postulates of certain authors from specific publications stored within the walls of the academic institution.

When learning how to write an documented essay, many students devote most of their time to studying electronic resources on the Internet. Unfortunately, this is not always the right way to go. Remember that electronic resources may only make up 1/3 of the bibliographic list of academic work. The focus should not be on viewing and analyzing them (although it is sometimes interesting to read the arguments of other students on the problem you are considering). The dominant share of information for the documented essay should be obtained from printed sources and text materials.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many sources of information should there be in my documented essay?

As a rule, authors should refer to at least 5 well-documented sources of information. At the same time, graduate students may be required to include as many as 10 or 15 sources of information.

Can I criticize the referred documented sources in my essay?

Constructive criticism and a good analysis of the information can be found in every documented essay example. When criticizing, you should present alternative points of view and support your judgments with logic and evidence.

How do I structure my documented essay?

The general essay structure applies to this type of essay: an introduction, the main body, and a conclusion. Additionally, you may be required to include a table of contents and a theoretical part (literature/sources overview).

What is the easiest way to learn how to write an documented essay?

Constant practice is the best and easiest way. Start with simple and short essays, aim to include only credible sources of information in every college essay you write, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes and receive poor grades at first – ask for the teacher’s feedback each time you get those and you will inevitably start to make progress in writing documented essays.