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
• 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Tips for TOEFL or IELTS essays and a sample essay to demonstrate best practices.
Key points to consider for English essay writing practice (+ inexpensive packets of essay practice materials for individuals or classrooms.)