At the very minimum your essay will need an introduction, body and conclusion. Your line of argument should run through the entire essay, as it links all of your main points and evidence to your central position.
The introduction is the opening to your essay and therefore it should be clear, strong and persuasive. You need to show that you have understood the question and that you are taking a clear position and presenting a logical argument to support it. The introduction starts broadly then narrows down to your specific focus—hence the hourglass shape to the diagram.
The first thing to do is give the appropriate level of background or context to the topic. This helps to orient the reader and lays the groundwork for your position and argument. Keep the background material to a minimum by focusing on contextualising the debate rather than giving an exhaustive outline of the topic.
Next, outline the issue or debate that you will engage with. This could include mentioning why it is controversial. For example, you could briefly explain the main disagreement between relevant theorists in the field.
Then you are ready to state your position and the key points of the argument that you will use to support it. In other words, this is the place for your thesis statement. Again, make sure that it answers all of the essay question.
In shorter essays, the thesis statement can act as a signpost, laying out the key reasons that you will explore in the body. In longer essays, a paragraph of explicit signposting may be required in the introduction, e.g. ‘Firstly, this essay argues…’
By presenting your whole argument in the introduction, the reader now knows what to expect. This is called ‘signposting’—planting signs that help to guide the reader through your writing. Signposting helps to signal your argument in your essay and avoids the reader having to ‘hunt’ for it within the body. An essay without a clear thesis statement and signposting in the introduction can be frustrating to read, as the author’s position is difficult to discern.
The body paragraphs
Paragraphs form the body of the essay. They are its ‘building blocks’ and it is important to structure them well. Each paragraph should contain one main idea. It develops that idea in three parts, with a topic sentence, supporting sentences and a concluding or linking sentence.
The first sentence of a paragraph is usually the topic sentence. It should indicate your position and encapsulate the argument that you make in that paragraph. To help write the topic sentence ask yourself, ‘What is this paragraph about?’ and ‘How does it develop my argument?’ If you cannot answer these questions clearly, then the paragraph could be cut or revised.
The topic sentence needs to be clear and unambiguous because it acts like a signpost that tells the reader what to expect next.
The sentences in the main part of the paragraph support and develop the main idea. Each sentence should connect to the others to create a logical flow. This is where you incorporate your research and analysis and support it with evidence, such as quotations or statistics.
Whenever you use an idea that is not yours, whether quoted or paraphrased, you must cite its source. Referencing is central to academic integrity, which means that you must acknowledge when you have built your argument on the work of other scholars.
Concluding and linking sentences
The final sentence of your paragraph should summarise or conclude the idea that you introduced in the topic sentence. It can also lead on to the next paragraph by developing a logical link to the next main idea. Good transitions at the end of paragraphs help the essay to feel more coherent. If you have trouble linking the main ideas across your paragraphs, consider reordering them.
The final section of your essay is where you move the focus outwards from your specific topic to a question about its wider relevance.
You should first summarise your position and the key points you made throughout your essay. This reorients the reader and reminds them of what you have argued.
No new points should be made in the conclusion. It is also best to avoid introducing new sources of evidence.
The next part of a conclusion considers the implications of your argument. Think about what it means for the topic or the wider field. It is also possible to include some brief speculation about the implications for the future.
Ending your essay with a strong and memorable sentence can help to leave the reader satisfied that you have answered the question well.
When you have written your draft, re-read the essay question to ensure that you have addressed the task. Have you covered every part of the question? Have you done what you set out to do when you came up with your thesis statement?
It is also a good idea to re-read your introduction and conclusion to ensure that they match. Ask yourself whether your argument is the same at the beginning and the end. If not, you may need to revise your thesis statement and reconsider your structure.