Essay Organization

Learning Objectives

  • Examine the basic organization of traditional essays

Although college essays can offer ideas in many ways, one standard structure for expository essays is to offer the main idea or assertion early in the essay, and then offer categories of support.

One way to think about this standard structure is to compare it to a courtroom argument in a television drama. The lawyer asserts, “My client is not guilty.” Then the lawyer provides different reasons for lack of guilt: no physical evidence placing the client at the crime scene, client had no motive for the crime, and more.

In writing terms, the assertion is the thesis sentence, and the different reasons are the topic sentences. Consider this following example:

  • Thesis Sentence (assertion): The 21st century workforce requires a unique set of skills.
    • Topic Sentence (reason) #1:Workers need to learn how to deal with change.
    • Topic Sentence (reason) #2: Because of dealing with such a rapidly changing work environment, 21st-century workers need to learn how to learn.
    • Topic Sentence (reason) #3: Most of all, in order to negotiate rapid change and learning, workers in the 21st century need good communication skills.

As you can see, the supporting ideas in an essay develop out of the main assertion or argument in the thesis sentence.

Essay Organization

The structural organization of an essay will vary, depending on the type of writing task you’ve been assigned, but they generally follow this basic structure:

Introduction

The introduction introduces the reader to the topic. We’ve all heard that first impressions are important. This is very true in writing as well. The goal is to engage the readers, hook them so they want to read on. Sometimes this involves giving an example, telling a story or narrative, asking a question, or building up the situation. The introduction should almost always include the thesis statement.

Body Paragraphs

The body of the essay is separated into paragraphs. Each paragraph usually covers a single claim or argues a single point, expanding on what was introduced in the thesis statement. For example, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, the two main causes of schizophrenia are genetic and environmental. Thus, if you were writing about the causes of schizophrenia, then you would have a body paragraph on genetic causes of schizophrenia and a body paragraph on the environmental causes.

A body paragraph usually includes the following:

  • Topic sentence that identifies the topic for the paragraph
  • Several sentences that describe and support the topic sentence
  • Evidence from outside sources
    The words "the end" written in sand.

    Figure 1. College instructors require more than just “the end” at the close of a paper. Take the time to revisit your thesis statement, bringing all of your claims and evidences together in your conclusion.

    • Correctly formatted in-text citations indicating which source listed on the Works Cited page has provided the evidence,
      • Remember that information from outside sources should be placed in the middle of the paragraph and not at the beginning or the end of the paragraph so that you have time to introduce and explain the outside content
  • Quotation marks placed around any information taken verbatim (word for word) from the source
  • Summary sentence(s) that draws conclusions from the evidence
  • Transitions or bridge sentences between paragraphs.

Conclusion

  • Draw final conclusions from the key points and evidence provided in the paper;
  • Tie in the introduction.
    • For example, if you began with a story, draw final conclusions from that story; If you began with a question(s), refer back to the question(s) and be sure to provide the answer(s).

Try It

Step through this presentation to review the main components of an essay, then see if you can correctly organize the essay below.

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