Essay Structure

Writing a structured essay helps you to organise your thoughts in a concise way and present your ideas clearly. But how should an essay be structured, and what should you include? Crafting a successful essay structure in English is like constructing a beautiful piece of architecture - it requires a solid foundation, a clear blueprint, and attention to detail. Just as a skilled architect carefully plans and executes each aspect of a building, a writer must carefully structure their essay to effectively communicate their ideas to the reader. So, let's explore the art of essay structure and discover how to create a work of written art that is both captivating and impactful.

Essay Structure Essay Structure

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Table of contents

    Essay structure: types

    Depending on the type and purpose of your essay, the structure may differ slightly; particularly in the main body of the essay. We will now look at how to structure a number of different essays. This includes more traditional essays and reflective essays.

    Academic essays

    What is an academic essay?

    An academic essay is a clear, concise piece of writing that focuses on developing your ideas and/or argument through analysis, interpretation and evidence.

    There are a few traditional essay styles, such as:

    • Argumentative
    • Expository
    • Narrative
    • Descriptive

    We will focus on argumentative and expository essays as these are the most common (so you may already be familiar with writing them!). Let's look at them in more detail:

    Argumentative essay

    As the title suggests, an argumentative essay focuses on developing and strengthening an argument. This is done through the analysis and interpretation of evidence, and is used to persuade the reader of your side of the argument.

    Argumentative essays are written in the third person (he/she/they).

    Fairclough (2011) found evidence of language being used to create a new 'common sense'. He stated that this often happens in advertising.

    The structure of an argumentative essay might go a little something like this...

    In the main body of an argumentative essay, you could write a couple of paragraphs arguing for something, and another arguing against it - this shows you are able to consider other points of view and can form your own opinion from it. The main body should consist of at least three paragraphs, although this can vary depending on the word count.

    This type of essay tests your ability to research effectively and also develop a strong argument. You will usually write an argumentative essay for a final project (i.e. as part of coursework) as it is a chance for you to show off your knowledge about a topic.

    Expository essay

    Like an argumentative essay, an expository essay focuses on the argumentative aspect of writing and is written in the third person - however, it does differ slightly. An expository essay is usually shorter and relies less on extensive research/preparation.

    There is more of a focus on a specific topic or idea - each paragraph in the main body should focus on one aspect of the topic. It is unbiased (providing an objective view of the topic).

    Another example of a type of expository writing is a newspaper article! In such writing, there is a focus on a particular topic, and each paragraph is about an aspect of the topic. There is also not a bias, but instead a reliance on facts.

    You may be asked to write an expository essay in class, or for an exam (e.g. as a timed exercise). Because of this, the number of paragraphs depends on how much you are able to write in a particular time frame.

    Essay Structure Image of a person writing StudySmarterFIg. 1 - Try planning your essay before typing it out.

    Essay structure: example

    Argumentative and expository essays should contain the following three things:

    1. Introduction

    2. Main body

    3. Conclusion

    Let's look at these in more detail.

    Essay introduction structure

    An introduction is an opening paragraph that states the purpose and outlines the main objectives of your essay.

    An example of an introduction structure is as follows:

    A hook - a memorable sentence to draw your reader in and give them something to think about.

    Background information - context for your reader, giving them a better understanding of the topic you are exploring in your essay.

    Essay brief and outline of main points - a brief is the main idea of your essay; it tells the reader what your essay is about. Outlining your main points means briefly stating what you are going to talk about in your essay and what you are going to expand on. It lets the reader know what to expect throughout the rest of your work.

    Not all introductions include these exact elements - this is simply an example of how you could structure an essay introduction.

    Essay introduction example

    Blue: hook

    Pink: background information

    Green: essay brief and outline of main points

    Worldwide, around 1.35 billion people speak English. The use of the English language is becoming increasingly prominent, particularly within political and economic communication around the world. Due to its global influence, English is now regarded as a lingua franca (global language). But how and why has English become so powerful? Through the analysis of language globalisation, this study will explore the positive effect English has on both global communication and language learning. It will also consider the ways in which English could be used in the future to further develop learning potential.

    Main body structure

    The main body of your essay is divided into different paragraphs and allows you to expand on your ideas and/or your argument. It is your chance to think critically and analyse and interpret information. It shows the reader that you have a deep understanding of the topic!

    An example of a structure to follow for the body of your essay is the PEE paragraph structure, which is most often used for academic essays. PEE stands for: point, evidence, explain.

    Point - a statement relating to your essay brief

    Example - back up your point with evidence (this is where your research comes in handy!)

    Explain - analyse your evidence; go into detail about what it shows and how it relates to your topic.

    PEE Paragraph example

    Blue: Point

    Pink: Evidence

    Green: Explain

    Williams uses the motif of a paper lantern throughout the play to represent Blanche's concealing of the truth and her insecurities. An example of this is shown when Blanche declares "...put a—paper lantern over the light ... It isn’t enough to be soft. You’ve got to be soft and attractive. And I—I’m fading now! I don’t know how much longer I can turn the trick" (A Streetcar Named Desire, 1947, p. 92). The use of this motif shows Blanche's attempt to manipulate the truth, as she wants to be seen in a more flattering light and appear more attractive than she is. She wants to gain respect from others, so instead of revealing her true self in a realistic light, she creates an unrealistic illusion. Further, this portrays Blanche as an insecure character who deceives those around her in order to appear pure and young, as she cannot face the harsh reality of growing old.

    Essay conclusion structure

    A conclusion is a final paragraph that summarises the main points of your essay and brings it to a close.

    An example of a conclusion structure is as follows:

    1. Review the main point of your essay brief (what your essay is about).

    2. Summarise the main points made in your essay.

    3. Offer a recommendation/improvement/question (to help with future studies and leave the reader with something to think about).

    Not all conclusions include these exact elements - this is simply an example of how you could structure an essay conclusion.

    Essay conclusion example

    Blue = revisited essay brief

    Pink = summary of the argument

    Green = ending on a rhetorical question

    Overall, the effect of social media on teenagers' communication is negative. Social media use among teens decreases communication skills and causes face-to-face interactions to feel disconnected. It also encourages laziness and conveys inauthentic emotions. Due to a lack of emotional connection, it also gives teens the ability to be spiteful online, which impacts the well-being of others. Will social media continue to negatively affect how young people communicate in the future?

    Reflective essay structure

    Another type of essay is the reflective essay. As the title suggests, a reflective essay is used to reflect on an experience. Unlike both argumentative and expository essays, a reflective essay is written in the first person, as it is used to recount a personal experience. For example, reflecting on a project or study you carried out.

    The structure of a reflective essay is the same as an academic essay, consisting of an introduction, main body, and conclusion. However, there is more of a focus on individual thoughts and feelings as opposed to creating an objective view and argument.

    Think of a reflective essay as a diary entry, in which you recount a personal experience!

    Essay structure, Image of woman thinking, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Reflective essays require deep thought.

    The introduction of a reflective essay should briefly tell the reader about the project or study you carried out. For example, something like:

    'I carried out a study on the use of fillers used by women and men in spoken language. I recorded a total of 15 casual conversations between pairs (5 with only men, 5 with only women, 5 with mixed-sex). I wanted to find out whether or not fillers are used more by women in both same-sex and mixed-sex conversations. This study was inspired by the gender theory of Deborah Tannen, who suggested that women talk in a more indirect way than men.'

    The main body of the essay should expand on your experience carrying out the project/study and your feelings towards it. Be honest about what happened and what you found out from it. For example, you could take into account the following things:

    • What did I find out from this experience?
    • Did this experience have a positive or negative impact on me?
    • Which elements went well?
    • Which elements could have been improved?

    The conclusion should summarise what you found out about the experience and your feelings towards it.

    You could also consider how things could improve if you were to carry out the experience again. For example, you could write something like:

    'If I were to carry out the project again, I would ensure to gather more recordings as it would allow me to gain a more varied perspective and would be more reliable. It would allow me to gain a deeper understanding of the similarities and differences in language use between men and women.'

    It is important to note that, while a reflective essay is about describing something that happened, it should also be critical. This means you should consider not only how your experience relates to your own life, but also the wider world and the experiences of others. Ask yourself the following questions:

    How does my own experience link to society as a whole?

    Have I recognised and appreciated the views of others?

    Does my own experience differ from others?

    There will always be limitations to what people can know (and not everything has a definite answer) but it is good to be aware of other opinions and interpretations, as everyone views the world in different ways.

    Essay Structure - Key Takeaways

    • An academic essay is a clear, concise piece of writing that focuses on developing your ideas and/or argument through analysis, interpretation and evidence.
    • An argumentative essay is a type of academic essay that focuses on developing and strengthening an argument through the analysis and interpretation of evidence.
    • An expository essay is a type of academic essay that focuses more on a specific idea/topic. It is shorter and relies less on extensive research/preparation.
    • Argumentative and expository essays consist of an introduction, main body and conclusion.
    • A reflective essay is used to reflect on a personal experience. It follows the same structure but is not as detailed and is written in the first person.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Essay Structure

    How to start an essay?

    You should begin your essay with an introduction. This lets the reader know of the topic you are writing about and the main points you will make throughout your essay.

    How to structure an essay?

    Most essays include the three following aspects:

    1. Introduction

    2. Main body

    3. Conclusion

    How many paragraphs are in an essay?

    The number of paragraphs in an essay depends on the type of essay and what you are writing about! For example, if you are writing an argumentative essay, you should show an in-depth analysis and interpretation of evidence. You should have at least: an introduction, conclusion and three paragraphs in the body of your essay.

    What is an introduction structure example?

    An example of an introduction structure is:

    1. A hook (draw in reader)

    2. Background information (context for reader)

    3. Essay brief (what is the essay about)

    What is a conclusion structure example?

    1. Review the main point of your essay brief (what your essay is about). 

    2. Summarise the main points made in your essay.

    3. Offer a suggestion or improvement (to help with future studies).

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What person are argumentive essays written in?

    What person are reflective essays written in?

    In which section would you show off your critical thinking skills?

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