How is an essay structured?
In order for your essay to be convincing and make sense, it needs to be presented inside a well structured piece of writing. How do you do this within the framework of an essay's general structure of Introduction,Body, Conclusion? Firstly, you need to be clear about what elements you should include within these three sections of an essay. The table below outlines these elements.
|Introduction|| General statement or orientation to topic|
Brief summary of the main topics/arguments/points made in the essay
These sentences support, expand or explain the point made in the topic sentence
|Conclusion||Restatement or summary of the main points made in the body paragraphs and a final comment (if appropriate)|
You also need to be clear about the function of each of these essay sections.
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Basic Essay Structure
A good way to approach an essay is to envision it as a three-part project. An essay is made up of the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.
An introduction should answer three questions:
- What is the paper's subject?
- How does the paper approach the subject? This is where you let the reader know how your paper is organized. Here you briefly introduce your main points or the evidence that you will use to prove your point. You should move from the general to the specific, and, ultimately, your thesis statement. Try to interest your audience. Why should the subject be important to them?
- What is the paper trying to prove about the subject? This is expressed in the thesis statement. The thesis is usually the last sentence in the first paragraph, and it clearly states the argument or point you want to prove in your paper, and, depending on what the professor asks you to do, it may also include a solution to a problem.
The body consists of everything between your introduction and conclusion, and it is where you discuss the evidence that you have in support of your thesis statement.
Don't assume that your body will be only three paragraphs long. You may have been taught by previous teachers that an essay, by defintion, involved an introduction contained a thesis that stated exactly three points that you were going to prove, with a paragraph for each of the three points, followed by a conclusion. College professors sometimes refer to this as the "five paragraph monster" because many students have developed the habit of writing this way. Metaphorically, students have put themselves inside a confining box that they can't climb out of. This is a very simplistic, limiting approach to writing an essay. So why were you taught it in the first place? Think back to your childhood. You were probably taught to ride a tricycle before you got to a two-wheeled bicycle. You may have been given training wheels with the two-wheeled bike. The five-paragraph template is the essay equivalent of training wheels. You should be able to keep yourself steady on your own now--it is time to lose the training wheels. An essay can have any number of main points, and you may expand on a main point across more than one paragraph. Research essays will go well beyond five paragraphs, and are typically seven to ten pages long.
Your first body paragraph is a good place to expand on your thesis and introduce further explanations of what you are going to prove, as well as defining key terms.
Each body paragraph should do the following:
Provide a transition from the last paragraph and introduce your point
Explain your point
Give supporting evidence (quote, paraphrase, or summarize relevant information from your research, making sure to cite it)
Explain how the point and evidence relate to your thesis statement. The whole point of each paragraph is to relate your point to your thesis, but it helps to spell it out clearly in at least one sentence of the paragraph; we call this the "topic sentence," and it does not have to be at the beginning of the paragraph.
|Sample Structure for a Body Paragraph|
Transitionfrom previous paragraph.
Topic Sentence (could be elsewhere in paragraph).
Transition,Idea #1. Explain(supporting details, evidence, citation, illustrations (citation if from source), tie to topic sentence). Transition,Idea #2. Explain (supporting details, evidence, citation, illustrations (citation if from source), tie to topic sentence). Transition,Idea #3. Explain (supporting details, illustration (citation if from source), evidence, citation, tie to topic sentence).
(may provide transition to next paragraph).
The conclusion summarizes the main points you have raised in support of your thesis, reiterating the thesis.
A conclusion doesn't have to be lengthy. In many ways, it mirrors the introduction. In fact, the introduction and the conclusion should be the last parts of the essay that you write--as long as you don't start writing the body until you have a tentative thesis in mind: your controlling idea.
Remind your reader of why the issue is important. Reiterate the thesis--but try not to simply repeat it word for word.
Remind your reader of the proof you offered to support the thesis.
Do not introduce any new facts or arguments--if you think of any and they are relevant, create body paragraphs for them or move the information to existing body paragraphs.
Organization in a paper is important not only because it makes the paper easier to write, it also guides the reader through the paper. A clearly organized paper will better hold the reader's interest and convince them that your thesis is valid.