12.06.2012

Basic Essay Structure

 

The simplest, most conventional essay structure in English includes introduction > body > conclusion. Many academic papers involve this structure, although it is often adapted in some way to suit different topics and purposes.

This structure is popular because it ensures that the main points of the essay are very clear and well supported. The introduction gives the writer's overall point and purpose in the essay. The body gives support for this overall point. The conclusion restates the overall point.

In more detail, a prototype essay of this structure includes:

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of the introduction is to capture the reader's attention, lead the reader into your topic and give the reader your overall point or purpose.

A conventional structure for introductions is general to specific. These introductions begin with some general statements on a topic (e.g. a development or trend, an interesting fact, a situation, a common belief or argument), before moving onto the particular issue or problem that the essay will deal with. They end with the overall point and/or purpose of the essay - which is called the thesis statement. This thesis statement must then be supported by the rest of the essay.

Example:

Everyone knows that vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, and that vitamin D is essential for good health. Researchers have shown that vitamin D prevents illnesses such as rickets, improves the condition of the skin, regulates the immune system and increases the rate of metabolism (Nordwist 2000). Despite this general knowledge, however, many people today still suffer from vitamin D deficiencies around the world. This essay overviews the causes of this continuing health problem.               

                                                             (Adapted from Reed 1988: The Process of Composition)

Note: If your essay is written in answer to a particular question, make sure that your thesis statement is clearly relevant to the question!

BODY

The body of the essay is divided into paragraphs. The aim in these paragraphs is to clearly support your essay's thesis statement.

Clear paragraphs usually contain just one main point which is then supported. The overall point in the paragraph is called the topic sentence. This typically occurs at the beginning of the paragraph.

Example:

An important cause of vitamin D deficiency is limited sun exposure. Human skin produces vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun. Many people who live far from the equator in the northern and southern hemispheres have inadequate exposure to the sun because the sun’s rays are not strong enough during winter months. Having an indoor occupation and using sunscreen also limit the amount of sun exposure a person receives.

                                                                                       (Adapted from "Better Medicine, Healthgrades" 2012)

The main point of this example paragraph is expressed in the topic sentence, "An important cause of vitamin D deificiency is limited sun exposure". This point is then explained by the rest of the paragraph.

Make sure that you support your topic sentence well before moving onto a new point and new paragraph. If you find yourself with many short paragraphs, you probably need to think more about your argument and read more about your topic to develop your ideas. Otherwise, the reader will find your argument hasty and superficial.

Make sure also that your paragraphs are sequenced logically so that the reader can easily follow your line of thought throughout the essay. This often involves starting paragraphs with logical connectors:

The most important cause...
Another important reason for...

The final issue which can lead to... 

This reminds your reader of the overall point/purpose of the essay and ties the essay together.

 

CONCLUSION

The purpose of the conclusion is to briefly remind the reader of your overall point, possibly suggest wider implications, and give the essay a satisfying sense of closure.  

To conclude, vitamin D deficiency is both more wide-spread than most people realize. In developing countries, the cause is often poverty and resulting malnutrition. In Western countries, however, the problem is typically an overly processed or imbalanced diet. More effort therefore needs to be made to increasing public awareness of good vitamin D sources.

The conclusion is another good opportunity to tie the essay together and make it clear that you have supported your point well.

Note that in a very short paper, you should avoid giving too much of a summary. The reader will remember all the points, so it will feel unnecessary. Instead, summarize only very briefly and then move onto wider implications and final comments.