Structure Your Essay to Help Your Reader
All documents need a start, a middle and an end. Traditionally, we think of the Introduction, Body and Conclusion as the key parts of an essay. Logically, this helps us set the context for the essay (introduction), present the facts and develop the arguments (body) and summarize the main points or the answer to the question set (conclusion).
Writing an Essay Introduction
Introduce the main idea of your essay and draw the reader into the subject. A good introduction gets to the heart of the subject and captures the interest of the reader. It should:
- Summarize the issues to show an understanding of the question.
- Look at the issues raised by the question.
- Outline the main issues you intend presenting.
- Present the method of research or experiment.
- Summarize the essay.
- Answer the question set.
Most students write poor introductions that needlessly repeat information and turn off the reader with too much background information. If you want to gain a top grade for your essay, you have to start strongly and gain your reader’s attention immediately. This means concentrating on either writing a powerful summary of the essay or directly answering the question set.
In trying to gain the reader’s attention, you do not need to say anything controversial or mind-blowing. All you need to do is concentrate on writing the most relevant information.
Don’t write a mystery novel
Putting a powerful summary or directly answering the question set at the start of the essay lets your reader assess the information and arguments as you present them. The standard student essay presents information, opinions and arguments, but does not tell the reader what they mean until the end. This turns an essay into a mystery novel with the illuminating conclusion only apparent as the reader turns the last page. Avoid this temptation and spill the beans. By letting your reader know your conclusions at the beginning of the essay, he or she can assess and evaluate the evidence as you present it.
Make your introduction factual
Too often, students write a warm-up first paragraph. Phrases such as: The purpose of the essay is to examine the various contributory factors leading to... or In this essay I shall examine the methodology used to assess... usually give little information. Such phrases could introduce any essay and do not present any information. For example:
Weak opening paragraph
The purpose of this essay is to examine the effect of Einstein’s theories in the historical context of accepted propositions and laws of motion and the effect these theories had on current thinking in the field of physics. In so doing, the author will show that despite opposition to Einstein’s theories when first published, these were indeed special works that reshaped current thinking to replace the ideas propounded by Galileo and Newton.
Stronger opening paragraph
Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity and Theory of General Relativity reshaped the world of physics by contradicting the existing laws of motion proposed by Galileo and developed by Newton. Although Einstein faced great opposition when proposing his theories, his work reshaped the thinking of future generations of physicists.
Use the journalistic technique of basing your information around the Five-Ws in writing: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. These will help you keep to solid information.
Remember, don’t use your introduction as a warm-up — make it direct, relevant and impressive so it sets the tone for the rest of the essay.
Writing an Essay Body
This consists of supporting paragraphs, logically arranged to develop your main ideas. List the points you wish to develop, place each point in its own paragraph, and expand on each point with supporting facts, details and examples. Each paragraph should:
- clearly present the relevant information,
- discuss and evaluate information and opinions, and
- develop an argument based on the information and a review of opinions.
This is 80-90 percent of the essay and must satisfy the reader’s appetite. To do this, the body of the essay must reflect solid research, show a clear understanding of the subject, and develop your points logically.
Writing an Essay Conclusion
The conclusion draws together the ideas and information presented in the essay. It summarizes or restates the main idea, argument or findings.
The conclusion often:
- gives a clear answer or restatement of the answer to the central question,
- summarizes the main points in the essay,
- repeats the key information and arguments, and
- points out what the evidence suggests.
The conclusion is vital. It is the last impression the reader has of the essay. Use it well, making sure your essay doesn’t fizzle out. Make it a strong statement, confidently answering the question, summarizing the position, and reviewing the topic. If you are in doubt what to put in the conclusion, think about the key information or argument the essay has presented and repeat it in a short, direct form.
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