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12.2: Basic Structure

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  • The organization of the essay depends on the purpose of the essay and requires a clear rationale for why the examples apply as an illustration of a concept.

    As a single supporting paragraph, a writer uses a topic sentence to designate the main idea followed by primary and secondary support structure. Primary supports are the main ideas to support a topic sentence, and secondary supports are the examples and details to provide the concrete information to complete the writer’s point.

    Purpose of Illustration: To demonstrate how a vacation at the Kanaapali Shores Beach Club Resort is enjoyable and affordable.

    Primary support 1: The hotel amenities

    • Secondary supporting details: the room, the bed, the bathroom, the kitchenette, the view, the concierge services

    Primary support 2: The restaurants

    • Secondary supporting details: the variety of food, the quality of food, the service, the ambiance

    Primary support 3: The beach and activities

    • Secondary supporting details: the beauty of the sand, sky, and water; sunbathing, snorkeling, windsurfing

    Primary support 4: The cost

    • Secondary supporting details: the price of the room per night, the prices of meals, the price of activities/entertainment

    In an illustration essay, each of the supporting body paragraphs will follow the same basic structure. Writers should use flexibility with that structure, though. The design is not meant to be a single sentence of primary support followed by a single sentence for secondary support. Often, a writer may have several concrete secondary examples or details to use to fully develop the primary point. However, only use as many examples as necessary without being redundant or becoming tedious for the audience.

    For example, if you want to illustrate the qualities of an effective professor, then you must first establish what attributes would be shared among many quality professors. Your illustration could then be based on instructional delivery methods, grading, interpersonal communication, availability outside of class. Each of these traits would be the main ideas supporting the thesis, and the examples of each trait could include descriptions of each trait or examples of known individuals who demonstrate it. Using this strategy helps the writer focus on illustrating how all professors could be amazing rather than just making the essay present like a tribute to one amazing teacher.

    What if you are trying to illustrate the bad habits associated with social media use? You have choices for how you organize the essay. You could handle the examples as associated by device, or you could handle the development of the essay according to each different “bad” habit or behavior and discuss each device in the context of that behavior. For example, you could talk about all of the annoying habits a person might display when on their cell phone and then all of the annoying habits people show when on Facebook. Alternately, you could talk about “rudeness” as your distinguishing category and then use the examples of rude behavior associated with all of the devices or social media applications.

    These are some of the options for outlining/organizing the paragraphs of an illustration essay:

    1. One long example using multiple paragraphs
      1. Could be narrative using an anecdotal story
      2. Spatially arranged by location or setting
      3. Order of importance
    2. Series of short examples where each example is a paragraph
      1. Weakest to most important
      2. Chronological
    3. Large series of categorized examples where each category is a paragraph with embedded examples usually arranged from least to most important within each category.
    4. Sometimes no special order is needed or process because the examples are of equal importance.


    Narrative and descriptive devices are often used to engage the reader with a general overview of the presented topic.


    Summarize the purpose and bring the essay full circle to the introductory device. If an essay started with an anecdote of a situation, bring closure to that situation. Be sure to reiterate the purpose for illustrating the ideas related to the topic.

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