Structuring Your Essay
Essays in college may be very long or relatively short. Some will have five paragraphs, a structure you may have seen before. Others may have fewer paragraphs, and still others may have many more paragraphs.
All of your college essays, though, will be divided into paragraphs: groups of related sentences that develop an idea that is in turn tied back to your main topic. Each paragraph will be presented on your page separately; when you start a new paragraph you will go to a new line, and usually, indent about half an inch. In some disciplines and some online work, you may skip a line instead of indenting.
Regardless of the number of paragraphs, all of your essays should have three kinds of paragraphs:
- An introduction paragraph (or paragraphs in very long essays),
- Body paragraphs, and
- A conclusion paragraph
Paragraph Handout - handout from OWL Writing Lab (Purdue University)
In an essay, you’ll first present a broad overview of your topic and the position you take on that topic in an opening paragraph called the introduction. Your thesis statement, usually the last sentence in the paragraph, will state your position. Think of this as your “attitude” toward your topic. For example, if you are writing an essay about apple farming for an economics class, your topic will be apple farms. Your attitude could be many things, depending on your assignment, but perhaps you’ve been asked to explain in which areas of the country apple farms are most successful. Your thesis statement could be, “Although apples can be grown in most of the United States, the most successful large-scale apple operations are in Michigan and Washington State.” In that case, your position, or attitude, is that Michigan and Washington are where the most successful apple farms are located.
Once you have an introduction and a thesis, you will need to support that thesis with some examples or evidence. You will do that in the body paragraphs that follow the introduction. An essay may have two, three, four, or more body paragraphs, but the most common number is three.
Each body paragraph will develop one point that supports your thesis, and each will contain several specific details, examples, or evidence of that point. For example, in your apple essay, in one paragraph you could make the point that the climates in Michigan and Washington State are perfect for apples. Some of your details could be the average annual temperature in the two states. You could add that those average temperatures are 44 degrees Fahrenheit for Michigan and 48 degrees Fahrenheit for Washington, perfect for growing apples.
You would also want to add at least one or two more body paragraphs to your essay, each with its own point to make in support of your thesis. In the apple essay, perhaps one would be about low land taxes in the two states and the other about the ease of getting apples to market there.
The final paragraph of your essay is the conclusion. In this paragraph, you’ll sum up your main points, and you may restate your thesis. However, you should avoid using the exact same words you used earlier in the paper – you have to reword, or find a different way to say, those points and that thesis.
After summing up, you should consider what the broader implications of what you have written may be. Have you (or has your reader) learned anything from the essay? Clarified thoughts on a subject? Proven a point? Determined what should be done about a problem? If so, you should indicate this in a sentence or two – this is the real “conclusion” of your essay.
- Jenny Crisp