Essay structuring best practice

How can you structure your essay well?


Why is this important?

One of the most crucial tasks you will face when writing an essay is to ensure it is properly structured and organised. Essays that fail to present a coherent, logical narrative are extremely hard for readers to follow, and the argument you are seeking to make is likely to be lost amid a mass of jumbled, unconnected points. This is almost certain to result in a poor grade, if not an outright fail. It therefore follows that an extremely well organised piece of work is much more likely to result in success. 


How should an essay be structured?

Although approaches may vary, as a rule an essay should consist of an introduction, the meat of the text (comprising a number of core points that follow on from one another), and a conclusion. Each of these elements is now explained in turn.


The Introduction

Whatever the topic, an essay always needs an introduction. This effectively sets the scene for the reader, so that they know what to expect in the following pages. To achieve this, the introduction should first provide a brief overview or summary of the topic area to be covered, identifying the key issues or problems that will be considered. In so doing, it should establish the parameters of the essay (what will and will not be covered) and introduce and define any key concepts. Following this, the essay should explain how it will approach the topic; for example, by stating that evidence will be presented for and against a particular theory or argument, describing the type of evidence that will be considered, or explaining the different aspects of a topic that will be addressed. Finally, the introduction should provide an indication as to the conclusion it is going to reach (and why).


The Body of the Text

Having set out what it is going to do, this is the part of the essay that puts this plan into action. Although essays may vary in terms of their length and scope, a requirement that never varies is to present a series of key points that address the essay question or title. It is therefore essential to ensure such material is relevant, covers all the key aspects, and forms an argument that is logical and coherent from beginning to end. In essence, you are telling a story that should be straightforward for the reader to follow. It is therefore good practice to plan the points you cover beforehand so that you do not miss or overlook anything, and to ensure the points made follow on logically from one another (nothing is more confusing for the reader than an essay that jumps from one unrelated point to another without any clear rationale for doing so). To help you with this, it is advisable to use headings or sub-headings to divide your essay into discrete (but logical) sections. Within each segment, use paragraphs to divide your work, and use linking sentences to connect each paragraph to the next (e.g. ‘Having reviewed the strengths of Theory X, this part of the essay now moves on to consider its weaknesses’). Each paragraph should, ideally, cover one discrete point and must itself have an introduction, middle, and end.

As a general rule, using short, concise sentences throughout your work is better than using long, rambling ones. This will assist you in sticking to word limits and getting to the point, and will also ensure your argument is easy to follow. It is essential to avoid vague, ambiguous, or unnecessary material. As you progress through your narrative, you should also lead your reader to a natural endpoint. Do not leave the argument hanging or come to an abrupt stop! Having reached the end, you should then move on to the final part of the essay, the conclusion.


The Conclusion

Although it is written last, this is an absolutely crucial part of the essay, yet is sometimes overlooked. The purpose of the conclusion is not to present any new material but to draw together the main threads of the argument and provide a succinct summary of the outcome of your work. For instance, if you have presented evidence for and against a particular claim, describe whether you have refuted it, supported it, or demonstrated that it is essentially unresolvable. In so doing, you will be stating how you have answered the essay question ‒ in fact, it is advisable to refer directly to the essay question to show the reader that you have done this. (If you have not answered it, then your argument has deviated from the set requirements and you will need to revise what you have written). Finally, it is useful to end on a positive or dynamic note by briefly identifying the implications of your conclusion for the topic area as a whole (for example, do certain actions need to be taken? Does further research need to be conducted?). The reader should, by the end of the work, be clear, as to what you did (and why) and feel that they have read a clear, informative, and stimulating narrative with a well-defined introduction, middle, and end.


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