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Signposting in essays: A short guide

What is signposting and why is it important?

When should you signpost?

decorative image of introduction signpostSignposting in an introduction

The signposts in your introduction should indicate:

  • what is the overall aim of your essay ('This essay intends to...')
  • what ideas or factors will be discussed and in what order ('Firstly... secondly... finally...').

You may also wish to:

  • Justify why you have chosen to focus on certain aspects of a topic ('For this reason... will be the main focus of the essay.')
  • Quantify your aims or the content of your essay ('This essay will discuss three approaches to the issue of...')

Signposting throughout an essay

Throughout an essay you will probably use two types of signposting: small and large scale.

1. Large Scale signposting tells the reader specifics about what is to come or what has gone before, for example:

'Having discussed the arguments in favour of the Third Way, it is also necessary to consider its limitations'. 

2. Small scale signposts are individual words or short phrases which help to signal direction, such as:

  • Consequently
  • As a result
  • Alternatively
  • However
  • Additionally

Signposting in conclusions

Look at the verbs you have used in your introduction (eg, suggest, discuss, argue). In your introduction, these will probably have been used in the future tense. In your conclusion, you could use the same verbs but in the past tense.

The conclusion should remind your reader of the line of reasoning you have guided them through, and how your essay has answered the original question. 

Verbs can be signposts, too

When introducing quotes or referring to other people's work, think about the verbs you can use. These can act as signposts to the reader in terms of how you feel about the theories or ideas you are discussing. 

For example:

Shoolbred (2013) demonstrates...

Cooper (2014) claims...

Verbs like 'shows' or 'demonstrates' give the impression that you are endorsing a scholar's viewpoint, whereas verbs like 'asserts' or 'claims' indicate that you might be about to challenge their perspective. Never use a verb like 'proves' if that person did not actually prove something. Additionally, be careful with words like 'portrays' and 'conveys'. Find out their exact meaning and use them wisely. 

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