Essay Structure

The ability to produce a high quality essay is one of the most sought-after skills amongst students of all levels, and this short article aims to provide hints and tips for those trying to achieve this.

Each essay should have a thesis – main argument – which will be used to answer the question posed and link all of the material presented together. This is the key element that is usually missing. The ability to boil down an argument into a single sentence takes practice, but reaps rewards. The thesis does not need to be very complex, nor does it need to be elegantly crafted at first, what it will do is provide a focus for you to remember exactly what it is that you are trying to convey in your essay.

Essay structure is neglected by teaching, leading to many students adopting a write-down-all-I-know-about-the-topic approach, producing essays without any sustained analysis. However, a well structured essay which presents less content in a meaningful and persuasive way will be marked more highly than an unstructured essay. The ability to write less for increased marks is especially useful during timed exams, making them a slightly less unpleasant experience. Each essay should possess effective paragraphing, punctuation and use of grammar as well as a basic framework such as an introduction, main body and conclusion. In an introduction, briefly outline the problem raised by the question and then be explicit about what the essay is going to contain, including the thesis. The first and last sentences of each paragraph in the main body of the essay can be used to provide shape and flow, and each paragraph should contain only one point, using the PEEL system. Firstly, the point is introduced, followed an explanation, for example, the effect the point has or how important it is. Some evidence to support the point should also be presented, which could be in the form of a quote or examples. Finally, the point should be linked to the question and thesis.

Another method which is essential to producing a well structured and coherent essay is planning. An essay plan will gather all of the arguments in one place, allowing the identification of the thesis, and an assessment of whether all of the material can be dealt with in the time available. Excess material can either be cut completely, or joined together into groups which will be covered together to make one argument in less detail. The points to make in the essay can also be arranged in a sensible and coherent order, to maximize the persuasiveness of the essay. It is a mistake to think that planning is a waste of time in a timed examination – a well-planned essay is a well-structured one, leading to higher marks. A rule of thumb is to plan for five minutes for an essay writing time of one hour, ten minutes for a writing time of one and a half hours and so on.

The use of clear language is also hugely important – the main aim in writing an essay could be described as limiting the stress of the examiner. An examiner should have a very clear idea of what each paragraph is saying as a happy marker is more generous. Using connectives such as therefore, however, and to conclude, ensure that the essay is coherent and easy to read. Including a range of vocabulary will help to keep the attention of the reader and ensure their interest in the material presented. For science essays, the use of diagrams and/or flow charts is extremely beneficial. Diagrams break up the body of the text, improving reader interest, and convey material more clearly and quickly than writing it out long hand – which you no longer need to do.

One common issue that arises during essay writing is focusing too much on creating the perfect paragraph the first time. Do not stare at an empty screen waiting for your inner perfectionist to be happy – allow yourself to write a poor paragraph for editing later, as it is far easier to edit text than to create it. Also, to increase productivity and effectiveness, maximize your concentration levels by working over short time periods, with rewards in between.

If these basic rules are followed, the essay produced will have a clear direction and make easy reading – improving marks awarded.

Additional resources:

Essay Structure 2
Essay Structure Debunked
How to Structure an English Literature Essay: AS and A-level

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