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How to Structure an English Essay

by Michele Cooper, Demand Media
    Most academic essays will have more than three body paragraphs, but all will have an introduction and conclusion.

    Most academic essays will have more than three body paragraphs, but all will have an introduction and conclusion.

    There are various types of academic essays including expository, descriptive, argumentative and narrative. While every type of essay is unique and calls for different content, length and style, a majority of essays have a similar structure. The five-paragraph essay is the basic approach to essay structure. The five paragraphs consist of the introduction, three body paragraphs and the conclusion.

    First Section

    The introduction presents the essay and often contains a thesis statement. A thesis statement states the main argument or point and what the essay aims to achieve. The goals of the introduction are to entice the reader and to give them an overview of what is to come. No matter what type of essay is being written, the goal is to summarize the arguments, define any important terms and provide any needed background information.

    Body Paragraphs

    The body paragraphs of an essay serve to explore the main ideas that support the thesis statement. A basic essay has at least three body paragraphs, and each typically has a different supporting detail. For example, if the essay is about why public school students should wear uniforms, then each paragraph would have a different supporting argument. One may be about how uniforms help children feel like they belong, the next about how it saves money for families and the last about how it helps overall test scores.

    Counterarguments and Research

    Certain types of essays benefit from counterarguments -- particularly argumentative papers. Counterarguments give the opposing side of the main idea and show that the writer has thoroughly explored the issue. Using the previous example, the writer would describe the downside of uniforms -- children not being able to express their independence, for example. Research is also important and is present in most essays. Each body paragraph should contain specific details from research that support their arguments or points. Research can come in the form of paraphrasing or quoting.

    Conclusion

    The conclusion wraps up the essay and reiterates the thesis, as well as the main issues explored in the body paragraphs. Nothing new is usually introduced in the conclusion, and often the reader is left with a sense of a well-rounded argument or idea. It is important that the reader is not left with any questions, or is pointed in the direction of getting possible questions answered. For example, if the reader wanted to know more about school uniforms, the writer could point them to further research or proof.

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    About the Author

    Michele Cooper has been freelance editing and proofreading since 2006. She has published poetry in the literary journal "Night Roses." Cooper currently teaches writing courses at the community college level and brings her expertise in communication to all of her writing. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Hunter College and a master's degree in teaching/education from State University New York at New Paltz.

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