Let’s face it: you’re going to have to do this at some point. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.
Part 1: Structure
What I’m going to talk about here applies to most writing-based subjects at school, so things like history, geography, media, basically any time you need to argue something. They’re also going to work for biology, where you generally need to explain things. These tips also apply to languages. Your ideas will be simpler in another language, but a sound structure is going to help you convey these ideas. For English essays you can also feel free to be a bit more creative, but if you’re struggling these guidelines will help.
Some basics first. You’re probably sick to death of hearing the hamburger metaphor, but to refresh your memory here goes. You can think of essay as a hamburger; the introduction and conclusion are your buns and the paragraphs between are your toppings. This metaphor is helpful in explaining that your introduction and conclusion hold your essay together by explaining what the reader can expect to see in your essay (introduction) and summing up your arguments (conclusion). The metaphor also tells you that your introduction and conclusion should be similar, in that they both repeat the ideas that the body of your essay contains. The toppings in the burger metaphor (e.g. pattie, cheese, tomato) represent the ideas that you will present in your essay. So if you think back to the burger, you see that each topping gets its own layer; the pattie, cheese and tomato aren’t all mixed up but separate. Likewise in an essay, each idea or argument is going to get its own paragraph.
So what actually goes in your introduction? You can vary the format a bit, but a good introduction should contain two things. First, you need to state what the topic or argument of your essay is. You can give a little background info if you want, but keep it short. Don’t get distracted! The second thing you should include is something about the structure of your essay, so your reader knows what to expect. This is going to set them up to understand your ideas really well. For example you might say that your essay will cover three arguments X, Y & Z for why something is true. Or you could say that you will be exploring two sides of an issue, and will come to a conclusion in the conclusion. Either way, you need to give your reader some idea of what to expect.
So what goes in each of your body paragraphs? We’ve said each paragraph is going to contain one idea, so I want to talk about how this is going to look. Each body paragraph is going to start with a topic sentence. This is way less scary than it sounds. All it is is a simple sentence that states the idea you will explore in the paragraph. Simpler is always better with topic sentences. You want it to be immediately clear what the topic of the paragraph is. Your next few sentences are going to elaborate on your topic sentence. There might be a word that needs explaining or a concept you want to elaborate on. You might explain why what you said in your topic sentence is important. You might just need a few more sentences to help your reader understand your topic sentence. Make sure you don’t stray to another topic though! Often a body paragraph will end with an example relating to your topic. Examples can help your reader to understand a concept or argument better.
Your conclusion is going to do much the same as your introduction. It’s going to state what your main idea is. You also need to remind your reader what your arguments were, by restating the topic sentences from each of paragraphs. If you’re feeling ambitious you can also tell the reader why they should care about what you’ve argued; you can tell them how your topic affects the world.
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