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How to write an environmental science essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 1238 words Published: 7th Mar 2017

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Environmental science is an idiom, which has come to encompass a wide range of scientific disciplines in order to provide an integrated, quantitative, and interdisciplinary approach to the study of environmental systems [Coupland 1997]. Although the environment has been studied for as long as there has been science, the recent interest in putting the pieces of understanding together to study environmental systems has come alive as a substantive, active field of scientific investigation starting during the 1960’s and 1970’s. This has been driven by the need for a large multi-disciplined subject to analyse complex environmental problems, the arrival of substantive environmental laws requiring specific environmental protocols of investigation and growing public awareness of a need for action in addressing environmental problems. In order to write an environmental studies essay these disciplines need to be brought together to fully appreciate the many interactions among the physical, chemical and biological components. Environmental studies is a very diverse subject matter and essays should try to deal with the issues in relation to human activities, economics, law and social science when answering the question at hand.

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When writing an environmental studies essay it is important to recognise that different titles suggest fundamentally different strategic approaches to essay writing. Jones et al, 1999, outlines this point by suggesting that essays can be split between non-critical (or descriptive) essays, which are more related to the chronology or uncontested ‘facts’ of an event, and critical essays, which requires the development of an argument through the piece. When writing science-based essays it will be this approach that lends itself more readily to the subject matter. It may be helpful to distinguish between ‘weakly’ and ‘strongly’ critical approaches in order to ensure that the essay presents the complete argument, and that the arguments are well balanced [Thomson 1996].

Weakly critical writing may involve evaluating alternative points of view, especially for the soundness of their reasoning and the legitimacy of their conclusions [Jones 1999]. It may well also involve developing your own arguments, and advancing your own conclusions; and may sometimes involve making personal ‘value judgments’. Strongly critical writing involves recognised the problematic and contestable character of knowledge claims. Here the writer needs to look at the presence of underlying values and assumptions (including those embodied in competing paradigms, discourses, rationalities and ethical principles [Thomson 1996]). In this case the writing is able to show critical awareness of your own, as well as other’s arguments, and it is this style that is more appropriate when trying to balance the array of arguments, over the various disciplines, that an environmental science essay would present.

The basic structure on an essay has three main components: the introduction, the body and the conclusion. Each one of these parts serves to provide form and function in the communication of clear ideas, and each has a specific role to play that, when fully realised, allows for a continuous dialogue of logic, argument and erudition. The first element to address is the introduction, a vital invitation that should capture the reader’s attention and draw focus to the title of the piece. The introduction presents the aims, scope and procedure of the essay [Bell 1993], and should outline any limits you propose to place upon your discussion, to justify the particular focus you have chosen and clarify the particular perspective or orientation the essay will take. The introduction should also seek to outline individual arguments that will follow in the main body of the essay, summarizing how each supports the argument in question. When writing any essay the writer needs to demonstrate those areas that will be looked at and the rationale behind these choices in each case. These areas or identified topics can then be discussed in more detail through the main body of the essay.

The body of any environmental studies essay is where the main thrust and support for the argument should be found. As the introduction delineates the key arguments that will be raised through the essay, the main body should address each point in more detail. Each paragraph in the body of an essay has a specific function. They can generally be identified by the topic sentence, which gives purpose to the paragraph and introduces the key issue, which will be addressed within it – in this sense each paragraph is constructed around a separate idea. It is also important to try and use paragraphs as transitions from one topic to another, so that there are no intellectual breaks between points of argument and the essay flows smoothly. Without these transitions they essay would read more like an outline, bulleting points one after another. To avoid this sub-headings are used extensively in the natural and social sciences (both of which are key components of environmental studies), and is a style characterised is scientific journals, which preserves the fluidity of a piece. Figures or tables should also be used in environmental studies essays as a means to present information, which illustrates, clarifies or helps to reinforce the writer’s ideas, and should be used throughout the main body.

After the body of the essay has been written, a conclusion must be drawn, which should reiterate to the reader the proven arguments and their relation to the essay title. Writing clearly and concisely through the essay will allow you to develop better scientific arguments when attempting to conclude your argument. As aforementioned, environmental studies essays can often encompass a wide variety of scientific discussions as well as more humanistic debates and the conclusion should be able to transcend each of these genres to ensure that each argument has been communicated with a consistent tone. Throughout the piece a balanced argument should be put forward, the conclusion is the writers’s opportunity to synthesise their own opinion based on the evidence put forward.


Bell, J (1993) Doing Your Research Project. Open University Press (2nd edition)

Creme, P and Lea, MR (1997) Writing at University: A Guide for Students. Open University Press

Northedge, A (1990) The Good Study Guide. Open University Press

Parker, D (1994) Tackling Coursework: Assignments, Projects, Reports and Presentations (DP Publications)

Thomson, A (1996) Critical Reasoning: A Practical Introduction. Routledge

Jones, P, Merritt, Q and Palmer, C (1999)‘Critical thinking and interdisciplinarity in environmental higher education: the case for epistemological and values awareness’, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 23 (3), pages 349-57

Coupland, N and Coupland, J (1997) ‘Bodies, beaches and burn-times: “environmentalism” and its discursive competitors’, Discourse and Society, 8 (1), pages 7-25.

Web resources:

Iowa State University Environmental Science homepage.


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