Writing A Short Essay
This guide to essay writing outlines just one way to structure an essay. It is by no means the only way, and your professor may or may not require you to structure your essays this way. It follows the general pattern "tell what you're about to say, say it, and then tell what you've just said." Sound a bit repetitive? It is, a little, but it helps make your ideas clear.
I. The Introduction -- First Paragraph.
- The first few sentences should introduce the general topic of the paper.
Example: "John Maynard Keynes revolutionized economics with the publication of his General Theory in 1936. Among the most controversial of his ideas is the view that full-employment is impossible without extensive government intervention in the economy."
- After one to three introductory sentences, introduce the second most important point to be made in the essay. This will be the second issue discussed at length in the body of the essay. The last point mentioned in the introductory paragraph should be the most important point, and the first point discussed in the body of the essay. Thus, the last sentence of the introductory paragraph introduces the topic of the next paragraph in a general way. In the introductory paragraph, one, or, at most, two sentences are needed to introduce an issue. Furthermore, no more than three or four important points can be discussed adequately in an essay -- even in a very long essay.
- On occasion it is useful to include two introductory paragraphs. The first should discuss why the essay topic is important; the second should introduce the three important issues to be discussed at length in the body of the essay.
II. The Body of the Essay -- A few paragraphs for each important issue.
- The first several paragraphs after the introduction should discuss the most important point of the essay. In an argumentative essay, it should be the strongest argument supporting the writer's viewpoint. In a more narrative type of essay, this might be the most important factor influencing a particular event, or the key issue over which economists (for example) differ. Please keep in mind that there is no such thing as a "neutral" or "objective" report.
- The next several paragraphs after those making the most important point, should take up the second most important point. After that, the third most important point should be discussed. One of these might be a refutation of a viewpoint at odds with that of the writer; or an explanation of why some apparently important factors are of only secondary importance.
- Each and every paragraph in the body (and conclusion) of the essay must begin with a "topic" sentence. It should state the topic of the paragraph -- one topic per paragraph please!
III. The Conclusion -- The Last Several Paragraphs.
- The conclusion should summarize what has been said in the body of the essay. It should tie together the three (or four) important points made.
- It is often a good idea to mention one or two important implications or unanswered questions that follow from the essay.
- Above all, there should be no surprises for the reader in the conclusion. Introduce no new points. If there is something that hasn't been mentioned already, it should follow logically and clearly from something in the body of the essay.
IV. THE OUTLINE
Always make an outline of an essay before writing it. An essay can be written by making successively more detailed outlines. Identify the three important points, and break each of them down into several parts (A.,B., and C.). These will become topic sentences for paragraphs. Then "flesh-out" each paragraph. The reader should be able to reconstruct your initial outline easily.
I. Introduction -- first paragraph.
II. Most important point -- next several paragraphs.
A. Paragraph Topic Sentence (first sentence)
1. Second sentence.
2. Third sentence.
III. Next most important point.
IV. Third most important point.
V. Some general writing tips for academic papers.
Always reread what you have written several times.
Can the same thing be said in fewer words?
Does anything need more explanation?
Is the body of your essay overly repetitious?
Do you give too much detail in the introduction?
Would the outline of the essay be clear to the reader?
Is the grammar correct? Is the spelling correct?
Does each of your paragraphs have a topic sentence? Are any paragraphs too long, or too short (less than two sentences)?
Is the argument logical and clear? Does it say what you want it to say?
Always write in the third person (he, she, it). Never write in the first (I, we) or second (you) person. The subject of a sentence should never be "I" or "you."
Use gender-neutral pronouns when referring to people in general, or "the human race". "He" must have a masculine antecedent, and "she" must have a feminine antecedent. Otherwise, use "he or she", "s/he", "they", or "people" or "a person".