Essay Structure

There are four basic sections of an essay you should follow:
I. Introduction paragraph
a. attention getter – Having a good attention getter for an essay is absolutely crucial. On average, people only read the first two sentences before deciding if your essay will be an interesting read or a chore. That doesn’t give you much text to convince readers to stick around. A good attention getter will invoke your reader’s curiosity and pique his or her interest in the rest of the essay. Grab your reader’s attention with something thought provoking, dramatic, or shocking.
b. background information –It’s fine to give a bit of context to your essay in the introduction, but the real meat of your argument should be located in your body paragraphs. A good test to see if information should go in a body or introductory paragraph is to ask yourself a few questions. Is this providing context (ideas) or evidence (facts)? Does this introduce my argument, or try to prove it? True evidence or proof deserves a body paragraph. Context and background most likely belong in your introduction.
c. thesis statement – Your thesis, or main argument, should occur somewhere towards the end of your introduction. Don’t pose any questions here – just state your main point of view clearly and without any hesitations.
A thesis statement:
• tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion.
• is a road map for the paper; in other words, it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper.
• directly answers the question asked of you. A thesis is an interpretation of a question or subject, not the subject itself. The subject, or topic, of an essay might be World War II or Moby Dick; a thesis must then offer a way to understand the war or the novel.
• makes a claim that others might dispute.
• is usually a single sentence near the beginning of your paper (most often, at the end of the first paragraph) that presents your argument to the reader. The rest of the paper, the body of the essay, gathers and organizes evidence that will persuade the reader of the logic of your interpretation.
How do I create a thesis?
A thesis is the result of a lengthy thinking process. Formulating a thesis is not the first thing you might do after reading an essay assignment. Before you develop an argument on any topic, you have to collect and organize evidence, look for possible relationships between known facts (such as surprising contrasts or similarities), and think about the significance of these relationships. These are often done by asking yourself question(s) about the topic and other pertinent information. Once you do this thinking, you will probably have a “working thesis” (often by answering the questions) that presents a basic or main idea and an argument that you think you can support with evidence. Both the argument and your thesis are likely to need adjustment along the way.
How do I know if my thesis is strong?
When reviewing your first draft and its working thesis, ask yourself the following:
• Do I answer my question(s)? Re-reading the questions after constructing a working thesis can help you fix an argument that misses the focus of the question.
• Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? If your thesis simply states facts that no one would, or even could, disagree with, it’s possible that you are simply providing a summary, rather than making an argument.
• Is my thesis statement specific enough? Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong argument. If your thesis contains words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what specifically makes something “successful”?
• Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? If a reader’s first response is likely to be “So what?” then you need to clarify, to forge a relationship, or to connect to a larger issue.
• Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering? If your thesis and the body of your essay do not seem to go together, one of them has to change. It’s okay to change your working thesis to reflect things you have figured out in the course of writing your paper. Remember, always reassess and revise your writing as necessary.
• Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? If a reader’s first response is “how?” or “why?” your thesis may be too open-ended and lack guidance for the reader. See what you can add to give the reader a better take on your position right from the beginning.
Provide only helpful, relevant information. Anecdotes can be an interesting opener to your essay, but only if the anecdote in question is truly relevant to your topic. Are you writing an essay about Maya Angelou? An anecdote about her childhood might be relevant, and even charming. Are you writing an essay about safety regulations in roller coasters? Go ahead and add an anecdote about a person who was injured while riding a roller coaster. Are you writing an essay about Moby Dick? Perhaps an anecdote about that time your friend read Moby Dick and hated it is not the best way to go. The same is true for statistics, quotes, and other types of information about your topic.
Try to avoid clichés. Some types of introductions may have once been successful, but have been used so often that they have become tired and clichéd. Starting your essay with a definition is a good example of one of these conventions. At this point, starting with a definition is a bit boring, and will cause your reader to tune out.
Don’t feel pressured to write your intro first. Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out exactly what information is relevant to your introduction until you’ve written the piece itself. Sometimes writer’s block is always strongest when writing the introduction. If you are having trouble with your intro, feel free to write some, or all, of your body paragraphs, and then come back to it. You might find it a bit easier to write your introduction once you’re more comfortable with the essay as a whole.
Convince the reader that your essay is worth reading. Your reader should finish the introduction thinking that the essay is interesting or has some sort of relevance to his or her life. A good introduction is engaging; it gets the audience thinking about the topic at hand and wondering how you will be proving your argument. Good ways to convince your reader that your essay is worthwhile is to provide information that the readers might question or disagree with. Once they are thinking about the topic, and wondering why you hold your position, they are more likely to be engaged in the rest of the essay.
Basically, a good introduction provides the reader with a brief overview of your topic and an explanation of your thesis. A good introduction is fresh, engaging, and interesting. Successful introductions don’t rely on clichés or irrelevant information to demonstrate their point. Be brief, be concise; be engaging.
II. Body Paragraphs
a. topic sentence – opening sentence stating the main point of paragraph (supported in the essay’s thesis)
b. evidence – without good evidence, no one is going to believe your words. Evidence is based on credible facts, findings, and statistics the writer finds reliable. It has nothing to do with your personal knowledge or information based on your experience.
c. examples – explain the provided pieces of evidence but do not forget to tie the evidence to the main ideas and discuss it.
d. transition words/phrases – are used by writers to improve the flow of writing by smoothly shifting between ideas. Among other things, transition words may be used to connect, contrast, show cause/effect relationships, and indicate chronology or position between ideas. Transitions prevent a reader from getting lost in the storyline.
e. summary (concluding) sentence – summing up evidence and examples in paragraphs and/or possibly transitioning into the next paragraph – be careful not to be redundant:
ex. It is easy to see how such a card could expedite security checks at airports one could tell at a glance whether a person should be searched or let through. ex. Ms. Jackson’s educational goals continue to light the way to her ultimate goals.
Structure can vary depending on the volume and the main idea of the text. A thesis means one short finished idea, which an author wants to tell the reader, while examples, arguments, and evidence are being used in order to prove the thesis. How do you find decent evidence? It can be anything – a situation from real life, scientist’s opinions, news or facts that were proven by science.
Quick tip: a good way to prove your ideas is to use a few arguments for every point that you make. One of them should be strong and indisputable, while the second one can be less convincing but yet informative. However, do not use more than five arguments. It can make your text too long and boring. (Note: each paragraph should have between 6-10 sentences –exception: conclusion paragraph – should have between 4-6 sentences)
III. Counterclaim paragraph (opposing view)
The counterclaim paragraph is normally found only in argument essays and argument research papers. When students are writing an argumentative essay, they need to acknowledge the valid points of the opposing argument otherwise writers sound narrow-minded and thereby less effective. So, an effective counterclaim paragraph establishes the ethos; or the writer’s credibility with his/her audience. Rather than weakening the paper, a good concession paragraph will actually strengthen the essay by showing that the writer has thoughtfully considered both sides of the argument before arriving at the final argumentative position.
Be careful though, writers don’t want the other side of the argument to sound better than his/her own. One way of avoiding this is by answering or countering any of the points the other argument has.
Counterclaim paragraphs are in the body of the essay. It usually is best to place it as a second body paragraph – but not the first body paragraph or the last body paragraph. Writers may need to develop a clear outline in order to decide where this paragraph will be placed.
IV. Conclusion paragraph
a. rephrase thesis statement – different wording than the thesis statement
b. summarize most important main point(s)
c. possible solution(s)/closing remarks – leave the reader with something to think about
So much is at stake in writing a conclusion. This is, after all, your last chance to persuade your readers to your point of view, to impress yourself upon them as a writer and thinker. And the impression you create in your conclusion will shape the impression that stays with your readers after they’ve finished the essay.
The end of an essay should therefore convey a sense of completeness and closure as well as a sense of the lingering possibilities of the topic, its larger meaning; its implications: the final paragraph should close the discussion without closing it off.
Additional Information for the Thesis Statement
The Thesis Statement
Writing in college often takes the form of persuasion—convincing others that you have an interesting, logical point of view on the subject you are studying. Persuasion is a skill you practice regularly in your daily life. You persuade your roommate to clean up, your parents to let you borrow the car, your friend to vote for your favorite candidate or policy. In college, course assignments often ask you to make a persuasive case in writing. You are asked to convince your reader of your point of view. This form of persuasion, often called academic argument, follows a predictable pattern in writing. After a brief introduction of your topic, you state your point of view on the topic directly and often in one (sometimes two) sentences. This sentence is the thesis statement, and it serves as a summary of the argument you’ll make in the rest of your paper.
Thesis Statements:
*Explain what you want the reader to think, do, believe, or know
*Are usually just one – two sentences
*Located at the end of the first paragraph (introduction paragraph)
*Gives a roadmap of the rest of the essay

  1. Make a Thesis Question
    Take your essay topic idea and turn it into a question. This can also be done by asking yourself questions about the assigned reading
    Example: divorce (topic). Thesis Question: How does divorce affect children?
  2. Brainstorm Answers
    Write down as many ideas as you can think of. You might want to Google search for ideas too.
    Example: Divorce causes children to: feel insecure about the future, not do as well in school, feel insecure in relationships, worry about their parents, become bullies or be bullied, have to get along with a new family of siblings, live a lower standard of income, wonder if they caused the divorce. (Some of these ideas might also be listed in the assigned reading).
  3. Pick a Thesis Answer
    Look at your brainstorming and decide your main answer.
    Example: How does divorce affect children? Divorce causes children to feel insecure.
  4. Make a Thesis Road-Map
    Now go back to your brainstorming. What are the best reasons for your answer?
    Example: How does divorce affect children? Divorce causes children to feel insecure because they often have a lower standard of living after the divorce, and they worry about the future, etc.
  5. Add Emphasis
    Tell how your view contrasts with other people and use intensifying transitions like “in reality” or “in fact.”
    Example Format: Thesis question. Although (what many people/critics/experts might answer), in reality (your answer) because: (your reasons).
    How does divorce affect children?
    Although some people (experts/ critics) argue that children quickly get over a parent’s split; In reality, divorce causes many children to feel insecure for a long time afterwards because they often have a lower standard of living after the divorce, and they worry about the future.

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