Essay Writing: A Guide On Structure
When I sit down to write an essay, I struggle to get all of the ideas out of my head. It’s not that I don’t know what I want to write or that I can’t find the evidence. Rather, it’s that I need an outline in order to focus all of the ideas circling my head.
If you’re like me, then the following is a rough outline made to help you organize your essay. The goal is to make every paragraph, sentence, and word necessary to the argument. No fluff allowed.
- Introduction sentences: Concisely give the audience a preview of your paper. Introduce your topic, give some background history, and discuss the question your essay will try to answer.
- Thesis: Your thesis, the argument, is usually the last sentence of this introductory paragraph. This is the most important part of your essay, as it’s the central idea of everything your paper will prove. Make sure that it’s clear, and encompasses the major conclusion your readers should walk away with after they finish reading.
The goal of your first paragraph is to introduce your reader to exactly what it is you want to say. Present any necessary background information and state the relevant history about your topic.
- Topic Sentence: One statement introducing the topic of your body paragraph and how it relates to your thesis.
- Evidence: Quote a book passage, a scholarly article, or a objective fact that you found in your research.
- Explanation of Evidence: Summarize the evidence in your own words and explain how you interpret it.
- Analysis of evidence: Discuss how this specific piece of evidence backs up your topic sentence.
- Relation to thesis: Bring it all back to the larger argument. What does this small piece of evidence mean in the big picture of your thesis?
Your body paragraphs are your chance to prove your point. Be detailed, thoughtful, and comprehensive in your analysis of your evidence, and relate each point back to the “bigger picture.” Remember, your body paragraphs are all about supporting your thesis. Stay away from one paragraph fitting the entire page. Breaking paragraphs up into subsections helps the reader from getting lost in its size, and clearly organizes the paper into specific sub-sections.
- Solution: Answer to the question ‘so what?’ Why does it matter?
- Connect the dots: Show how each paragraph was necessary to make your point.
Many people struggle with the introduction and conclusion to their essay, so try writing your body paragraphs first. You might find that you naturally write your introduction or conclusion based on the substance of your paper.
Bringing Your Essay Together…
Each piece of this outline should be a sentence or more. A thesis is one or two sentences of the argument for the paper. The topic sentence is one sentence. Then, your piece of evidence, explanation, analysis, and relationship to the thesis are at least one sentence each. As a result, following this structure should give you a minimum of five sentences per paragraph. Always think less about “length” however, and more about how each sections helps you explain and analyze your thesis. Ideally, your essay should include three to four body paragraphs, each of which proves a different aspect of your thesis. If you’re looking to go the extra mile, consider including a paragraph that talks about potential flaws in your thesis. Doing this will show that you’ve effectively thought through your topic, and gives you the opportunity to argue those counterpoints head on. It wasn’t until my senior of college that I understood that my writing weakness was organization. Consequently, I spent the majority of my college career confused as to why, if I had such great ideas, professors had such a hard time understanding my writing. In the end, by following this basic structure I was able to communicate my thoughts effectively—and I hope you’ll find it as useful as I have.
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” ― Richard Bach