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Essay Form and Structure: How to Write an Essay

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How to write an essay.

How to write an essay.

Getting Started

Do you have an essay to write and do not know where or how to begin? Before you get started, there are a few things you must know about writing an essay. Forming and structuring an essay are necessary for a well-developed essay. Here are the steps to do this.

Step I: Subject and Topic

1. Decide on a subject and topic.

2. Narrow the subject into a workable topic. Subject vs.Topic. For example, you could have a broad subject such as politics or dogs. The topic has a narrow focus within the subject, such as the cost of running a campaign or the training of a police dog. You will need to find a subject.

3. You can find a subject in many ways. You can do so by,

  • Freewriting (brainstorming)
  • Looking in a dictionary
  • Reading a newspaper or magazine
  • Looking in a journal or notebook
  • Searching the internet

4. When choosing a topic, think about the impact you will have on the reader and allow yourself time for consideration.

5. Things to consider when shaping a topic:

  • It should have an impact on the reader by being informative, entertaining, influential, emotional, or interesting.
  • You’ll want to know about the topic. That means that you’ll have to do research and read about the topic.
  • You will want to shape the topic to the appropriate length for your essay.

6. Narrowing a Topic. Some ways to narrow a topic are by:

  • Freewriting
  • Making a list
  • Examine the subject from different angles
  • Clustering

7. Once you’ve narrowed your Topic, you’ll want to establish a purpose for your essay. A few of the purposes are:

  • To express feelings or ideas with the reader and/or relate experiences.
  • To inform the reader of something
  • To persuade the reader to think or act a certain way.
  • You may want to think about entertaining the reader.

8. Next you want to think about developing your topic. You can do the following:

  • Freewriting
  • List Write. Jot down everything you know about the topic in a short list.
  • Questions. Ask yourself questions, and answer those questions.
  • Cluster. Start with the essential ideas and then connect ideas in a cluster.
  • Write a letter to yourself or someone else explaining exactly what you know about a particular idea or topic.
  • Keep a journal. Jot down things during the day that pertain to your topic as you are thinking about developing your essay.
  • Collaborate. Talk with other people about your topic to see if they know anything that you may want to use in your essay.
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Step II: The Thesis Statement

1. Thesis Statement

  • The thesis tells what an essay is going to be about.
  • It is a brief opinion on a limited subject, and it usually appears at the end of the introduction.
  • The purpose of the Thesis Statement is to let the readers know the writer’s topic, and what opinion the writer has about the topic.

2. Purpose of Thesis Statement

  • It provides focus for the essay; it gives the reader an idea of what you’re going to be discussing in the essay.
  • It guides the reader; it tells the reader exactly how you are going to be developing this particular topic.
  • It presents the main idea of the essay.

3. Working Thesis Statement

  • You should always begin your writing with a working thesis statement. This helps you to organize your ideas and set up the structure of the essay.

4. The Essay Map

  • Once you have your thesis, you may want to start with an essay map.
  • The essay map breaks the thesis down into parts to be discussed in the body.
  • The essay map is generally one or two sentences that follow the thesis statement.
  • The essay must be grammatically parallel.

5. The thesis must express an attitude or opinion towards the topic.

  • For example, this is a poor thesis statement:

There are many differences between a Lexus and a Lincoln.

  • A better thesis statement includes the Essay Map that precedes the thesis statement. For example, this thesis statement is brief and specific:

Its aerodynamic design, its V-6 engine, and its luxury appointments make the Lexus a mechanically and aesthetically superior car to the Lincoln.

6. Essay Map Example:

Apartment living is preferable to dorm living because it’s cheaper, quieter, and more luxurious.

Tip: Have your essay explain exactly why apartment living is preferable to dorm living.


7. A Good Thesis Statement avoids:

  • Broad statements will lead to vague and undeveloped essays
  • Factual statements deal with facts, there’s nothing to explain or develop as when you have a specific opinion on a brief subject.
  • Announcements

8. Shaping The Thesis

  • Avoid broad statements. A thesis that is too broad will cause the writer to present a superficial discussion that will never get beyond the obvious.

For example:

The role of women in state politics has changed drastically in the last ten years.

  • Improved Thesis. Be specific and concise.

For example:

The leadership role of women in state politics has changed drastically in the past ten years.

9. Avoid factual statements.

  • Factual statements leave the writer with nothing to say, with no way to develop it.

For example, a poor statement:

The water department is considering a rate increase

A better statement would be:

The water department’s proposed rate increase is not needed.

10. Avoid the Announcement

  • Poor announcement example:

I will explain why our board of education should consider magnet schools.

This essay will describe the best way to choose a major.

  • Better announcement:

Our board of education should consider magnet schools.

Students who are unsure of how to choose a major should follow my advice.

11, Avoid VagueTerms (stay concise and specific)

  • Vague term:

It is interesting to consider the various meanings of love.

  • Improved:

We apply the work love to a broad spectrum of emotions.

12. Evaluating Thesis Statement

Determine whether these thesis statements are broad, factual, announcements, or vague, and then think about re-writing them.

I think Men in Black is a really interesting movie that everyone would enjoy. This is a vague statement.

My essay will tell you how to apply for a college loan with the least amount of trouble. This is an announcement.

Having a close friend to talk to is very important. This is a broad statement.



Step III: Setting Up the Essay

1. Essay Form and Structure

  • Generally, all essays have:




2. In the Introduction you want to:

  • Catch the reader's attention
  • Lead into the topic
  • Present your thesis (main idea)

3. Creating Interest in Your Topic means:

Providing background information on your thesis statement, some ways to do that is by:

  • Tell a relevant story
  • Explain why the topic is important to your reader
  • Present interesting images or use descriptions that will keep readers interested.
  • Present an exciting problem or raise a provocative question.
  • Present an opposing viewpoint.

4. Body Paragraphs (besides the introduction)

  • Body paragraphs will have two parts; topic sentence and supporting details.
  • Develop by examples, contrast, definition, classification
  • Body paragraphs must relate to the thesis.
  • It must present facts and details to validate the thesis.
  • It will also present detail that supports, explains, etc. the idea given in your thesis.
  • It will present the material to convince your reader of the validity of your thesis.
  • This is important because the body paragraphs are the core of the essay. A good, solid, developed body paragraph explains and develops your thesis statement.

5. Topic Sentence

  • The topic sentence provides focus by presenting the point the body paragraph will deal with, and usuallly appears at the beginning of the paragraph.
  • This point will be something to support the thesis.
  • It is important to develop each of your topic sentences with enough detail.

6. Supporting Detail

  • Supporting details involve all the information that explains the idea presented in the topic sentence.
  • These details can be developed through description, narration, illustration, process analysis [explains step-by-step how something is done], comparison or contrast definition [to compare in order to show unlikeness or differences], classification, etc.

Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Avoid one- or two-sentence paragraphs. These are seen in business writing; however in academic essays an average length of body paragraph ranges from 7 to 12 sentences, you want to have fully developed body paragraphs.
  • Avoid ending a paragraph with a new idea.
  • Avoid repeating the same idea in different ways.
  • Avoid including more than one idea in a body paragraph.

7. Conclusion (asides from your body paragraph, you will also have a conclusion)

  • This is the last paragraph of your essay.
  • It leaves the reader with an overall reaction.
  • It summarizes the main ideas of the essay.
  • Gives the reader something to think about.
  • It looks back or looks ahead.
  • You’ll want to move the reader to action.
  • The conclusion influence’s the reader’s final impression.
  • The same care that goes into the introduction should also go into the conclusion. It is the last impression the reader has of your essay.

Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Avoid a conclusion that is out of proportion to the rest of your essay. The conclusion paragraph should be the same approximate length as your body paragraph.
  • Avoid a conclusion that is not suited to your audience, purpose, or thesis.
  • Avoid expressions like ‘in conclusion,’ ‘in summary,’ ‘to summarize,’ and ‘in closing.’ These are completely unnecessary for the conclusion.

Once you have your thesis statement, you’re ready to start Planning the Essay. You are going to Outline and Draft your paper.

8. Outlining

  • Outlining helps organize ideas before drafting.
  • Outlines can be detailed or sketchy, formal, or scratch.
  • Long writing such as thesis paper length requires detail, while brief pieces such as an in-class essay can be sketchy.
Example of formal outline.

Example of formal outline.

9. Types of Outlines

Formal Outline

  • The formal outline is the most detailed and structured outline.
  • It allows you to plot main points and major supporting details. Generally is written in full complete sentences.
  • Main ideas are designated with Roman numerals.
  • Supporting details are designated by capital letters.
  • Points to develop further are designated by Arabic numbers.

Scratch Outline

  • Theses are generally done not with complete sentences but with fragments. Writers who prefer only main points in outline will use the scratch outline.
  • Writers who prefer not to use much detail will use the scratch outline.
  • Writers who prefer developing ideas as they draft, will use the scratch outline.
  • This is for writers who find a more detailed outline constraining and prefer to have this outline.

Outline Tree

  • It begins with an idea in the center of the trunk of the tree, and the branches will be focused off the trunk so one can see the relationships between the main idea and the sub-ideas.
  • Write the central idea; Main points= First branches. Add additional branches as sub-points.

10. Rough Draft

  • Once you have your outline, you’re now ready to start your draft. The first draft of your essay is referred to as a rough draft.
  • It forms a base that can be shaped into the final product.
  • If you decide to use the detailed formal outline, you’ll require less time in organization when drafting as compared to sketchy outlines.
  • If you get stuck in writing the draft, skip the troublesome section and move on.

11. Guidelines for Drafting

  • If trouble arises, skip the introduction and go back to it later. The important thing is to complete the draft of the essay.
  • Select an idea you are comfortable with and start with that topic.
  • You may reshape your topic to something easier to write about.
  • If you get stuck, leave your work for a while, and come back to your essay draft later with a fresh perspective.


Evie Lopez (author) from Sunny Florida on April 30, 2012:

Ahh, a philosophy major? I enjoyed my one philosophy class back in the school days. I participated in a few debates myself. My most famous one was the right to bear arms.

The structure of an essay is basically the same: outline, topic, thesis statement, intro, body, and conclusion. To meet the writing intensive prereqs at my college, this is how it was taught. The different types of essays varied. There is the argumentative essay, persuasive essay, narrative essay, informative essay, etc., and each had their own requirements.

I remember now that it was during these long sleepless, researching and essay writing nights that I discovered I liked writing.

I wish you the best in your philosophy paper and would like to read it if and when you post it.

PhiMaths ATB from Charlotte, NC, USA on April 30, 2012:

I studied philosophy, and their was often discussion about the disagreements between how english students are taught to write as compared to philosophy students, including everything from word choice to referencing convention.

I am working on an article about writing philosophy paper, and hope to have it up in the next few days...

Evie Lopez (author) from Sunny Florida on April 30, 2012:

PhiMaths ATB,

Thanks for your visit. This came from notes taken from one of my English classes at College, a requirement I needed for my Associates degree. It helped me greatly in all my essay writing, which earned me all A's :)

PhiMaths ATB from Charlotte, NC, USA on April 30, 2012:

Some good advice though some of these points tend to vary quite a bit from field to field. I can't say that I write this way at all, though my method is not standard.

A good start for anyone with little experience.

Evie Lopez (author) from Sunny Florida on February 26, 2012:


Thank you for the compliment. Glad you stopped by.

htodd from United States on February 26, 2012:

That is great post...That is nice article on how to write an essay

Evie Lopez (author) from Sunny Florida on July 11, 2011:


Thank you for your visit and comment.

Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on July 11, 2011:

What a great tutorial. Very well done indeed Faithful Daughter.

Evie Lopez (author) from Sunny Florida on July 11, 2011:


I am glad to hear that this has helped you. Thank you for your comment.

MsDonna48 on July 10, 2011:

Faithful Daughter,

This is a very helpful hub. I am currently working on my Bachelor's degree and I have to write a thesis statement on a paper that is due at the end of the session. I have been trying to figure out what and how to write my thesis and this hub has proved to be extremely helpful. Thank you.

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