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Essay Structures

Every essay has thee parts, an introduction, body, and conclusion. If it is going to be an essay, it is going to develop a topic at enough length to need more than one paragraph. Thus, it will be hard to have an “essay” without at least three paragraphs.





In practice, an effective essay will be complex enough and long enough that it will probably make sense to divide it into at least five paragraphs:


introductory paragraph

body paragraph 1

body paragraph 2

body paragraph 3

concluding paragraph

When do you start a new paragraph? We’ll talk about that later, but you can see how some of those body paragraphs might get too long and naturally chunk up into sections, which may have several paragraphs. That gets us to this version of our table:


introductory section

body section 1

body section 2

body section 3

concluding section

Even though this is a neat table, it implies that each section is the same size, and that doesn’t have to be true at all.

We have three kinds of paragraphs that serve different purposes and thus have different structures:

Introductory paragraphs

Hook, thesis statement, context, preview

The first paragraph or two of any essay needs to accomplish several things. It must contain a sentence or several sentences that are the main assertion, the statement of what the essay is organized to support. After I get done reading your thesis statement, I should be able to answer these questions:

  • What situation does this writer find problematic?
  • What does he/she think the situation should be?
  • How does he/she characterize the gap that has to be overcome to improve the situation?

In addition to this thesis statement, the introduction should do several other things. It should make a conscious attempt to provoke or capture the reader’s interest, what I’m calling a hook. The introduction should show that the writer has a sense of the larger context that the situation exists in. And finally, the introduction should preview the organization of the essay’s body sections.

What are you going to use to capture the reader’s attention. You know who the reader is, the questions he/she has, the decision that he/she needs to make or the problem to solve. What might catch his/her interest, might tell him/her, oh, this essay sounds interesting because it may address this decision that I have to make? Of the many things that could hook that reader, what will you use?

The context is the way you further solidify your standing with the reader. Let them know that you know where they’re coming from (the context of their problem or decision).

The final thing that will get the reader to read the essay is your promise of what they’ll get out of it. This is your thesis statement.

Body paragraphs

Topic sentence, support, explanation, transitions

The paragraph is like a mini-essay.

Where the essay has a thesis statement, the paragraph has a topic sentence that functions in the same way.

Where the essay has body paragraphs to support the thesis, the body paragraphs have evidence to support the topic sentence.

What is special about topic sentences?

They make claims or assertions that need evidence to support them.

What is special about supporting sentences?

They relate observable, empirical evidence — events, facts, images (both still and moving) and statistics — as well as expert opinion about that evidence.

They relate relevant, plausible examples – stories about people, things, and events.

What is special about explanation sentences?

They tell the reader about the implications, meanings, and inferences to be drawn from the supporting evidence.

What is special about transitional sentences?

They glue the previous part to the next part of the essay. Two other metaphors: transitional sentences are like swinging doors. Transitional sentences have a foot in what came before and what will come after.

At their best, transitional sentences do more than alert the reader that the next part of the essay is beginning. They also tell the reader about the rhetorical mode. They provide the essay’s flow.

Concluding paragraphs

postview – Tell them what you told them. Add it up. Summarize the effects of all your trigger-pulling.

restatement of thesis – Nail it one last time.

sense of closure – The handshake that ends the encounter.

Essay structures within structures

Let’s look at the big picture, how all this writing fits together. Report structures are modular, parts within parts, many of which can be moved around, selected, and rearranged to fit various writing purposes and audiences.

recursive: structures within structures

generic essay structure

essay 1

intro hook, thesis statement,
context, preview
body section 1

(see below)

topic statement, support,
explanation, transitions
body section 2
body section 3, etc.
conclusion postview, restatement of
thesis, sense of closure

generic body section structure

body section 1

topic statement an assertion relevant to the
thesis statement
support evidence – facts, statistics,
expertsexamples – stories about
people, things, and eventsillustrations – images, tables,
explanation what it means, what reader is
supposed to get out of it, how it contributes to thesis
transitions how this section relates to
other body sections and thes