See this as a YouTube video: http://bit.ly/structureanessay
Many of us have been taught in high school all of these weird acronyms, like KISS and SEXY (sentence, example, explanation or some crap), but I personally found these acronyms to be all weirdly sexual and not helpful in the slightest. Over my years at university, and now as a lecturer having marked thousands of essays, I have figured out the simplest technique as to how to write a great academic essay, and there are no sexual acronyms involved.
1. First, your introduction.
All you have to do for an introduction is state off the bat what you are going to argue or do in your essay. In journalism we call this the nutgraph, it’s basically like, if you were to explain to your best friend what your essay was about in a nutshell, what would you say. For example, in the essay I wrote about 16-year-olds voting, I started in my first sentence that “this essay will argue that 16-year-olds should be able to vote”. It’s simple and I’m stating my argument straight away. The reason I think this sentence should ideally go first is because markers are generally busy and do not want to spend more than 10-15 minutes grading your paper. So if you state straight away what you are going to argue, then you don’t leave them waiting and they know you have a clear point and what that point is. I usually start every essay with “This essay will” as I find that is the simplest and easiest way to express what you are about to do immediately.
Then, all you have to do is write the building blocks of your argument, i.e. how you are going to prove your first statement. And all you have to do for that is say what point you are going to make in every paragraph. You don’t want to make it like a table of contents as in “in paragraph one I will discuss ABC,” but if you’re like “The essay will first explain ABC, then argue ABC, then look at this counter argument, then overcome it” that would be great. So it is saying what you are going to do in every paragraph but not in a blunt way. That’s personally what I love marking as already in the first paragraph I know exactly what the student is arguing and I know how they are going to argue it. it’s very simple, clear, and it helps me when I’m feeling lazy while marking to know exactly what is happening. I find it super effective, and I recommend sticking to roughly this strategy rather than getting fancy.
2. Body paragraphs
When writing the main body paragraphs, you want to do what I call ‘holding your lecturer’s hand’. You want to explain what you are about to argue in every paragraph before you start the paragraph and tell your lecturer how this paragraph links to the overall argument or point of your essay (which is what you stated you would do in your first sentence). So if you were arguing the voting age should be lowered to 16, you would start off a paragraph about voting being representative by going like this: “First, modern democracy’s function must be analysed to show why 16 and 17-year-olds should theoretically be allowed to vote in New Zealand.” It’s linking back to the main point of the essay and it’s explaining to your reader exactly what your paragraph will be about and why it’s in your essay. Some people call this a ‘topic sentence’ but I personally call it ‘holding your lecturers hand and explaining how the paragraph will link to your overall essay’.
Once you’ve done this just lay our your argument how you normally would argue something. This is usually by starting off with an explanation and backing that explanation up with a few examples. Most people do this part of essays really well, it’s just the first sentence and linking it to the overall point of their essay that I find students struggle with. So if you focus on how each paragraph links to your essay, I think this arguing part won’t be a problem. But if it is leave a comment and I can make another post/video about it.
Counter arguments: Remember, if you are doing an argumentative essay and are writing a counter point, you still need to link that into your overall essay. Like you don’t just want to say 16 year olds should be able to vote, some say they shouldn’t because they’re too young. You want to link in why even though there is a counter-argument (as there usually always is) that your point of view is still on balance more logical. So for example, you could say something like this “One opposition to the above argument is that people below age 18 are not politically mature enough to vote in ways that would represent their interests, thus corrupting the representative system. However, this proposition can be challenged.” So it’s acknowledging that there is a counter argument, but it’s overcoming it. this is important to do to make sure your essay flows and argues one consistent thing and makes sense. It also shows you have considered other points of view but still think yours is best.
Your conclusion should be a mirror paragraph to your introduction. All you want to do is repeat what you’ve already told people, i.e. repeat your first sentence but do it in past tense (“this essay argued that...”) and then repeat what arguments you made in each paragraph to make this point. Then, the only extra thing you need on top of what you already have in your introduction is some sort of ‘statement of general importance’ to finish the essay off. Usually I always end with something like “this topic is important and needs further study” because generally topics are important (at least to your lecturer) if you have been assigned to research it. For example: “Ultimately, in light of the arguments put forward in this essay and many other points that were not mentioned due to word constraints, New Zealand must continue to discuss youth suffrage and whether the laws are still fair in today’s democratic and social climate.”
And that’s it! Then you will have a simple and straight forward essay that your lecturer will generally like as it will be easy for them to read and will flow and make sense. I used to think of essays like one piece of string, it all needs to be linked and the same thing, but each paragraph is just a different colour of the string. It all needs to tie together and flow, so I hope these steps can help you get there.
If you would like any more tips on how to structure individual paragraphs in more depth let me know. Otherwise please leave a comment if you enjoyed this and like and subscribe to my YouTube channel (link in 'About' above). Bye!