Whether you have come up with a topic on your own or whether you are given a specific question to answer, after you determine your audience, the next step is often to consider the order in which you will present information about your topic. An essay usually follows this structured format: introduction, body, and conclusion.
Note: Some writers are not comfortable thinking about the order of their ideas before they write them. They may prefer to write a rough draft of their paper by letting their ideas flow freely and then crafting a structure for their thoughts. This can produce excellent writing. However, keep in mind that whether you start your paper by working from a specific structure or whether you start by writing freely and then restructuring your ideas to follow a certain order, it is still important to have a strong sense of organization in your paper that works to support your main idea. In your final draft your ideas should not just flow randomly; the reader should sense that there is a reason why you have chosen to structure your ideas the way you have.
1 Your introduction
- a broad general statement related to your thesis
An introduction gets the reader’s attention and gives the reader enough background information to understand your thesis, which is usually the last sentence in your introduction. A good introduction does not depend on the reader being too familiar with the topic or assigned question. It also avoids being too general or obvious, and defines key words or terms that are important to the reader’s understanding of the topic. In addition, it sets the overall tone of the paper, whether it is informative, persuasive, personal, formal, etc. Think of your introduction as a way to prepare the reader for your main idea – start off general (but not boring), and lead up to what you want the reader to believe by the end of your paper.
What is a thesis statement?
A thesis statement is a sentence that communicates the main idea of your paper to the reader. Your thesis tells the reader what point you are going to make about your topic. If someone were to ask you, “What is the main idea you want people to believe after reading your paper?”, the sentence you would give in reply is your thesis statement. Remember that a thesis statement does more than simply introduce the reader to the topic of your paper; a thesis statement takes a stand on a topic.
Why is a thesis statement necessary?
Aside from making a paper more organized, a thesis causes you to focus your thoughts as you write. Knowing what the main point of your essay is allows you to narrow down your information. You are then able to include information that is relevant to your paper and weed out any unnecessary data.
2. The paragraphs in the body of your paper
- include concrete details, examples/incidents, facts and statistics, and supporting arguments
The number of paragraphs in the body of your paper will be determined by the content of your paper. Remember, it is a good idea to stick to one main idea per paragraph, without switching to new topics or digressing.
Each sentence within your paragraphs should relate to the main topic sentence of that paragraph (the sentence that states what the paragraph is going to be about – usually located at the beginning of each new paragraph). In addition, each paragraph in your essay should support or relate in some way to your thesis statement.
To check whether you are sticking to one topic per paragraph and whether your paragraphs are related closely enough to your thesis, try doing a backwards outline. After you have finished writing your draft, count the number of paragraphs in your essay, writing the numbers on a separate sheet of paper. Then skim your draft and write down enough words next to each number to represent what is in each paragraph.
If you find that you have a lot of words with little relationship to each other next to your numbers, you should probably go back to your draft and rework your paragraphs so that they each cover only one main idea. Also, if you find that you have paragraphs which cover information unrelated to your thesis, you might want to consider either cutting or modifying those paragraphs in some way. Finally, doing a backwards outline like this will show you whether or not you have followed a consistent outline in the organization of your ideas, and it will assist you in reorganizing your ideas if necessary so that you are following a consistent outline.
3. Your conclusion
- summarize the main points in your essay
Your concluding paragraph should also include (usually at the very beginning or the very end of your paragraph) a restatement of your thesis using different words. You should end your conclusion on a strong note, without apologizing for anything in your paper and without introducing completely new ideas that were not covered in your paper. It is often a good idea to end your conclusion with a call to action or a comment regarding the future as related to your topic.