How to Structure an Essay

Updated August 31, 2017
Essay structure is perhaps one of the most difficult components of writing an academic essay. Always have the structure of your paper in the back of your mind. More often than not you will have to go back and alter sentences and sometimes even change paragraphs from one place to another to adhere to the logical flow of your claim, which brings us to the main idea of essay structure: logical flow. The structure of your essay relies on coherence. In other words, logic is the spine of your essay, and your claim, ideas, and supporting evidence rely on the spine to properly function. Without the alignment of logical flow throughout your essay, your readers would be confused as to what you are analyzing, explaining, or arguing and would be unable to grasp the overall message of your paper. Whether the reader is a teacher, a student, or the world of academia, you want them to be able to read your paper and understand it.

So, here are a few ways to make sure that you stay on track. First, make an outline. It never hurts to have an idea of where you want to go as long as you are willing to make changes along the way. Start with your thesis and continue with the topic sentences for each paragraph ensuring that they are in logical order. Make sure to add in any supporting evidence that you think goes well with each idea, and of course, finish with a conclusion. If you get confused during the writing process, check back with your outline. Most importantly, if you feel that your paper is going in a different direction that you had initially planned or if you feel that your second paragraph would go better after the third paragraph, make those changes. For a full explanation of this step see How to Begin Writing an Essay.

The second step is one that requires a little more knowledge on what you are going to write. After you have written your first draft, tear your paper apart. Yes, you read that correctly. If you write by hand like I do, make a copy (take a picture or type it out on a computer). If you already typed it out, then just print out a copy, grab a pair of scissors, and cut each paragraph of your essay (if your essay is really long you might want to write out the topic sentence and last sentence of the paragraph instead.) Now that your essay is literally in pieces, have some fun with it. Try putting paragraphs in different places to see if they make more sense there. Chances are that once you are finished you will have a better idea not only of where each piece should go but also of the purpose that each piece serves for the writing as a whole.

The last step to staying on track is the most simple one. Have a friend or classmate read your paper. There is nothing better than getting a second pair of eyes on your paper because they can give you a fresh outlook that you might have never considered. Maybe have them read it aloud so that you can both listen to your writing. If something sounds off, there is probably a clearer way to say it that will make more sense for your reader. Remember that even if something makes sense to you, you always want to think about whether it makes sense on the page. Essays are informing, analytical, or argumentative in nature and are written to be read, so always strive for the reader’s utmost understanding.

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