Essay Organization

An essay is a short piece of writing that tells a story (a narrative essay), argues for or against something (a persuasive essay) or gives information.

They all share the basic forms of essay organization, but each type of essay has a different purpose. Informative essays can 

The parts of an essay (how it's organized): introduction, body paragraphs with supporting ideas and evidence, transitions, and conclusion.

• explain a process (the steps to do something) or an idea,

• describe a place, experience, or feeling so that the reader can imagine experiencing it too, 

• compare and contrast two or more groups or things, showing the ways they are similar and different, 

• or analyze the causes and effects of an historical event or natural process: what happened and why, what consequences or results followed, and the significance (why it matters.)

Cause and effect essays can be organized in two main ways. Authors can discuss all the consequences that follow from one cause, or they can identify the multiple causes behind an event.

Authors of persuasive essays especially need to provide clear evidence to support (back up) each claim they make. They also need to consider the arguments the opposing side will make, so that they can point out any faults in the reasoning or show why their own arguments are better. 

Essay Structure

All English essays are organized into paragraphs-- groups of sentences with one main idea. In handwritten essays, paragraphs are usually indented: each new paragraph is started several spaces in from the left margin.

Typed or printed essays, articles, and books are often not indented, but there is an extra blank line between paragraphs, to make the essay or article easier to read.

The first (introductory) paragraph states the thesis, or central idea, of the essay. The beginning of an essay will often have a ‘hook’ as well-- a question, story, or example to introduce the topic, show its significance, and arouse reader interest. (In long essays there may be several paragraphs in the introduction.)

The next paragraphs offer evidence and examples to support the main idea, and the last paragraph is a conclusion, summarizing the evidence and restating the thesis.

Every paragraph has a topic sentence which states the main idea of the paragraph. (It is often the first sentence.) The rest of the sentences offer specific details and examples to explain, illustrate, and support the main idea.

Transition words like and, but, or, however, although, because, since, next, then, and finally connect ideas and show the relationships between thoughts in a paragraph and between paragraphs.

The final paragraph of an essay summarizes its ideas or arguments and states a conclusion. It should emphasize the points the author most wants the reader to remember.

Almost all English essays (and other persuasive or informative writing) follow this basic format. It's the proper  IELTS or TOEFL essay structure as well as the way editorials, business proposals, magazine or newspaper articles, and school or university essays are organized.

More on Essay Organization

Do you understand what these essay prompt words mean?

Writing Test Vocabulary explains the exact meanings of most of the important words for understanding essays and their parts. It explains essay prompts (the instructions that tell you what to write about.)

If you are unsure about the differences between 'explain,' 'illustrate,' and 'demonstrate,' or any of the other words above, check it out. It's important to understand what the test examiners expect!

See Academic Writing for the process of researching and writing an essay, and TOEFL or IELTS Essay Sample or the end of Transition Words for essay examples.

English Essay Writing Practice has practical suggestions on expectations for English essays, plus inexpensive step-by-step help if you need to practice for an important test that includes an essay.

Once the first draft of the essay is written, see the Revision and Proofreading Checklist for help in revising it to make it clearer and better and then proofreading it to find and correct mistakes.

Related Pages

Transition word examples (Additive: also, and..., Sequencing: first, finally +,  Cause & Effect: because +,  Contrast: although, but, etc.) 'Connect your writing with the right transition words!'

Examples of the main types of transition words, plus a sample essay with gaps to practice  common transition words like also, although, because, and but.

Picture of a clock with suggestions for essay success on timed tests: 1. Know what the examiners are looking for (their criteria); 2. Plan your main points & examples

Tips for TOEFL or IELTS essays and a sample essay to demonstrate best practices.

A desk with papers & a computer screen: Basics of Essay Writing & Essay Prompt Vocabulary. What you need to know about organizing and writing essays for English classes & exams: examples & practice +

Key points to consider for English essay writing practice + inexpensive packets of essay practice materials for individual or classroom use.

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