Essential Tips on Structuring College Essays

The Introduction: Setting the Framework for your Essay

The introduction to your essay is one of the most critical parts because it lays out the path that it will follow, and this is important because it guides the reader – it tells them what the essay is about, what the research question it will address, how it will address that research question, and ultimately, what will be argued (the thesis statement).

A common mistake is to say too much in the introduction; the key is to be concise and to the point – do not waste words in the introduction, use them wisely and effectively. What I like to do is start the introduction with a lure; get the reader interested in the subject with that first sentence. Then, lead into the research question, and state clearly what the essay will do, and what it will argue.

I like to be direct in my essays, I literally say, “This essay will… and from this it will be clear that…” By wording it in this way, I am being very clear and concise, and the reader knows exactly what to expect. Every teacher is different, and some might prefer you not use the words “in this essay…”, if that is the case, then amend the words slightly, but make sure to be just as concise.

Here is the introduction from the first essay (“the use of sanctions”) to give an example of how a clear and concise introduction can be laid out:

Boycotts and sanctions have long been used as important instruments of international politics [here I am luring the reader]. In some cases, individual countries impose them against another country while in other cases, an effort is made to build a multilateral consensus. Numerous examples of these boycotts and sanctions can be given: the broad-based boycott of apartheid in South Africa, the US embargo against Cuba, the UN imposed economic embargo against Iraq, and the call by Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel [here I am giving a little bit of information about the subject – what boycotts and sanctions are in the context of international relations]. What are the principles underlying the use of boycotts and why are they seen as appropriate in some circumstances and not in others [here I am outlining the research question]? This essay will address these questions by looking at the UN imposed economic sanctions against Iraq, and how it was that these sanctions were a tool of American diplomacy [here I am explaining what will happen in this essay]. From this it will be clear that, even though imposing economic sanctions on a country might be done because of good intentions, they do not work the way they are supposed to, because in most cases, as was the case in Iraq, the sanctions do not harm the people they are supposed to help, instead they just hurt the poor and vulnerable [this is the thesis statement – it states what will be argued throughout the essay].

Just like the other parts of the essay need to be broken down, so too does the introduction.

By breaking down the introduction into parts, it is much easier to make it concise and clear for the reader. The goal is to have the reader know exactly what lays ahead for them in the rest of the essay, and by following this model, this can be achieved. Introductions like this can be developed with all essay questions, so just remember to break down the question, as that will give insight into how to structure the introduction.

It is common to make the thesis statement the last sentence of the introduction, although this is not a firm rule. When crafting the thesis statement, it is very important to be clear and concise: state exactly what will be argued and do it in a way that leaves no doubt about your intentions.

When I write an essay, I like to write a preliminary thesis statement to help guide me through the research and writing process, but it is best to revisit the thesis statement once you have completed the essay, since it is at that time that you know how the essay turned out, and you might need to alter the thesis statement slightly to make it “tighter”, that is, to make it clear and concise.

The Body of the Essay

While this might seem like the most important part of the essay (and it is), if you follow the tips that I have already given you, this part will seem fairly straightforward because you are just putting into action what you have already learned.

Once you have followed the previous steps, it is important to make a tentative outline of the essay. Do this by breaking down the different aspects of the essay that you need to touch on, and create a series of supporting paragraphs.

Generally stated, each supporting paragraph should give one main idea that works to support the thesis. The key here is to not try and put too much information in a single paragraph.

You want to be sure to fully develop and fully support every new idea or point that you introduce. The simplest way to do this is to start every paragraph with a topic sentence, then use the middle of the paragraph to support that topic sentence, and then conclude the paragraph with a concluding sentence. Just like an essay, every paragraph within an essay should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

It is important to use transitions appropriately in the body of the essay which means effectively linking paragraphs through transitional phrases and words.

These are little words that indicate to the reader how the different ideas used relate to each other – you want to show the reader that the different paragraphs connect to each other. In other words, you want to continually guide the reader, you need to assume that they do not know anything about the subject, and therefore they are relying on you to guide them from paragraph to paragraph.

That is all I will say about the body of the essay because if you follow the other tips that I have given you, this part will almost write itself. If you have good research to work with, the body will almost take care of itself.

Don’t Forget the Conclusion

You have made it this far, all you need to do now is finish it off. The conclusion is not meant to say anything that you have not already said, the point of it is just to sum up the contents of the essay, and restate the thesis – you want to reaffirm the argument that was made in the paper.

Tell the reader one more time what you set out to prove, and then restate the thesis, but do it in slightly different words. It is useful to have a “closing strategy”.

This can entail using a relevant quote, an important fact, or comments about the future direction of the topic. The purpose here is to leave the reader feeling good about what they just read – make it so they feel as though they have not wasted their time.

The References

This is a tedious, yet necessary part of the process. There are many different referencing styles, the most popular being APA, MLA, Chicago, and Harvard.

While the styles vary, the contents of them are the same. You will generally need to know where the information you used came from, including page numbers. As you are writing your essay, or doing your preliminary notes, just be sure to note where you got the information from, and then the reference list/bibliography, as well as in-text citations/footnotes will be easy.

Simply take that information, and use the links on our website to learn the “formula” for doing it right. Be careful to focus on the details, but otherwise do not stress about this part. As long as you remember where you got the information (mark it down as you go along), you will be fine.