We’re super pleased that from now on we’re going to be sharing weekly blog posts from the awesome Skills Team, who are based over in the Library. You can find a whole archive of useful blogs over on the Skills Blog, and you can find out more about the many and varied services they offer and sign up to their Undergrad Newsletter over on the Skills Website. Without further ado, over to the Skills Team… 

Well structured essay or wobbly blob?

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A really important aspect of writing an essay is to make sure it has a good structure. Without it, it becomes unwieldy and unfocussed – a bit of a wobbly blob.

At it’s simplest, an essay needs an introduction, several main body paragraphs and then a conclusion. Each of these grows as the length of the essay grows. The introduction and conclusion should be approximately 10% of your word count EACH. So, roughly this would mean:

2,000 word essay = 200 word introduction, 1,600 word main body, 200 word conclusion
3,000 word essay = 300 word introduction, 2,400 word main body 300 word conclusion
4,500 word essay = 450 word introduction, 3,600 main main body, 450 word conclusion

The introductions and conclusions get longer because you have more to introduce and more to conclude. Not surprising really.

What goes in your introduction?

An introduction serves four main purposes:

  1. Set the scene
  2. Explain how your essay will answer the question or cover the assignment criteria
  3. Introduce any key concepts or define any key terms.
  4. Let the reader know what position or stance you will taking.

Unsurprisingly, its role is to introduce the rest of the essay. It is surprising however, how few student introductions do actually address that basic task.

Next week’s blog post will concentrate specifically on introductions so if you feel you are weak on these, don’t forget to read that.

What goes in your main body?

Your main body is where you use a series of paragraphs to make the points you need to build the argument that leads to your conclusion.

How many paragraphs?

Academic paragraphs are usually between 200 and 300 words long (they vary more than this but it is a useful guide). With that in mind, you should be able to work out roughly how many points you need to make given the length of your essay.  If we look at the 3 examples above:

2,000 word essay had 1,600 word main body = 6-8 paragraphs (6-8 points)
3,000 word essay had 2,400 word main body = 8-12 paragraphs (8-12 points)
4,500 word essay had 3,600 word main body = 12-18 paragraphs (12-18 points)

themes

The paragraphs in the longer essays will probably be grouped into themes to give your argument a bit more organisation.

Paragraph structure

In order to build an argument, each of your paragraphs needs to be a little mini-argument in its own right. The basic structure is:

  1. Make a point – assert something!
  2. Give evidence to back up that point.
  3. Explain to the reader how the evidence supports the point and why the point is relevant to your overall argument (the position you are taking). BE PERSUASIVE!
  4. Link directly back to the question or to the next paragraph.

Make sure the points follow a logical narrative (if you just looked at them in isolation does your argument build nicely).

What goes in your conclusion?

The conclusion should:

  1. Summarise the main points covered in your essay.
  2. Explain why these points led you to your final position (i.e. enabled you to answer the question).
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They often finish with a general statement about the significance of this within the field although sometimes this is unnecessary or inappropriate.

It is rare to reference things in your conclusion as strictly speaking there should be no new evidence presented and therefore no need to include citations.

In essence there needs to be a sense of satisfaction that everything has been brought together well.

Our blog in two weeks will focus entirely on writing killer conclusions so make sure you read that too!

Header image: CC-BY-SA  Nataliatarkh