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Structure How to structure your essay

The general structure of an academic essay is similar to any other academic work, such as a presentation or a lecture . It too has an introduction , a main body , and a conclusion .

The general structure of an academic essay is shown in the diagram below. Each area is discussed in more detail in other sections of the website. Click on a link for more information.

Academic Writing Genres


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  • Essay types


Author: Sheldon Smith    ‖    Last modified: 26 January 2022.

Sheldon Smith is the founder and editor of He has been teaching English for Academic Purposes since 2004. Find out more about him in the about section and connect with him on Twitter , Facebook and LinkedIn .

Compare & contrast essays examine the similarities of two or more objects, and the differences.

Cause & effect essays consider the reasons (or causes) for something, then discuss the results (or effects).

Discussion essays require you to examine both sides of a situation and to conclude by saying which side you favour.

Problem-solution essays are a sub-type of SPSE essays (Situation, Problem, Solution, Evaluation).

Transition signals are useful in achieving good cohesion and coherence in your writing.

Reporting verbs are used to link your in-text citations to the information cited.

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15 Essay Structure

Kathy Boylan and Jenifer Kurtz

You might already be familiar with the five-paragraph essay structure, in which you spend the first paragraph introducing your topic, culminating in a thesis that has three distinct parts. That introduction paragraph is followed by three body paragraphs, each one of those going into some detail about one of the parts of the thesis. Finally, the conclusion paragraph summarizes the main ideas discussed in the essay and states the thesis (or a slightly re-worded version of the thesis) again.

This structure is commonly taught in high schools, and it has some pros and some cons.

  • It helps get your thoughts organized.
  • It is a good introduction to a simple way of structuring an essay that lets students focus on content rather than wrestling with a more complex structure.
  • It familiarizes students with the general shape and components of many essays—a broader introductory conversation giving readers context for this discussion, followed by a more detailed supporting discussion in the body of the essay, and ending with a sense of wrapping up the discussion and refocusing on the main idea.
  • It is an effective structure for in-class essays or timed written exams.
  • It can be formulaic—essays structured this way sound a lot alike.
  • It isn’t very flexible—often, topics don’t lend themselves easily to this structure.
  • It doesn’t encourage research and discussion at the depth college-level work tends to ask for. Quite often, a paragraph is simply not enough space to have a conversation on paper that is thorough enough to support a stance presented in your thesis.

So, if the five-paragraph essay isn’t the golden ticket in college work, what is?

That is a trickier question! There isn’t really one prescribed structure that written college-level work adheres to—audience, purpose, length, and other considerations all help dictate what that structure will be for any given piece of writing you are doing. Instead, this text offers you some guidelines and best practices.

Things to Keep in Mind about Structure in College-Level Writing

Avoid the three-point structure.

Aim for a thesis that addresses a single issue rather than the three-point structure. Take a look at this example:

“Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of The Hunger Games, creates as much danger for herself as she faces from others over the course of the film.”

This thesis allows you to cover your single, narrow topic in greater depth, so you can examine multiple sides of a single angle of the topic rather than having to quickly and briefly address a broader main idea.

There’s No “Right” Number of Supporting Points

There is no prescribed number of supporting points. You don’t have to have three! Maybe you have two in great depth, or maybe four that explore that one element from the most salient angles. Depending on the length of your paper, you may even have more than that.

There’s More than One Good Spot for a Thesis

Depending on the goals of the assignment, your thesis may no longer sit at the end of the first paragraph, so let’s discuss a few places it can commonly be found in college writing.

It may end up at the end of your introductory information—once you’ve introduced your topic, given readers some reasonable context around it, and narrowed your focus to one area of that topic. This might put your thesis in the predictable end-of-the-first-paragraph spot, but it might also put that thesis several paragraphs into the paper

Some college work, particularly work that asks you to consider multiple sides of an issue fully, lends itself well to an end-of-paper thesis (sometimes called a “delayed thesis”). This thesis often appears a paragraph or so before the conclusion, which allows you to have a thorough discussion about multiple sides of a question and let that discussion guide you to your stance rather than having to spend the paper defending a stance you’ve already stated.

These are some common places you may find your thesis landing in your paper, but a thesis truly can be anywhere in a text.

Key Takeaways

  • There is not one prescribed way to write college-level essays.
  • To take your writing to the next level avoid the three-point structure.
  • Thesis statements can be placed in a variety of places within an essay.

Writing Beginnings

Beginnings have a few jobs. These will depend somewhat on the purpose of the writing, but here are some of the things the first couple of paragraphs do for your text:

  • They establish the tone and primary audience of your text—is it casual? Academic? Geared toward a professional audience already versed in the topic? An interested audience that doesn’t know much about this topic yet?
  • They introduce your audience to your topic.
  • They give you an opportunity to provide context around that topic—what current conversations are happening around it? Why is it important? If it’s a topic your audience isn’t likely to know much about, you may find you need to define what the topic itself is.
  • They let you show your audience what piece of that bigger topic you are going to be working with in this text and how you will be working with it.
  • They might introduce a narrative, if appropriate, or a related story that provides an example of the topic being discussed.

Take a look at the thesis about Katniss once more. There are a number of discussions that you could have about this film, and almost as many that you could have about this film and its intersections with the concept of danger (such as corruption in government, the hazards of power, risks of love or other personal attachments, etc.). Your introduction moving toward this thesis will shift our attention to the prevalence of self-imposed danger in this film, which will narrow your reader’s focus in a way that prepares us for your thesis.

The most important thing at this point in the drafting process is to just get started, but when you’re ready, if you want to learn more about formulas and methods for writing introductions, see “Writing Introductions,” presented later in this section of the text.

Writing Middles

Middles tend to have a clearer job—they provide the meat of the discussion! Here are some ways that might happen:

  • If you state a thesis early in the paper, the middle of the paper will likely provide support for that thesis.
  • The middle might explore multiple sides of an issue.
  • It might look at opposing views—ones other than the one you are supporting—and discuss why those don’t address the issue as well as the view you are supporting does.

Let’s think about the “multiple sides of the issue” approach to building support with our Hunger Games example. Perhaps Katniss may not see a particular dangerous situation she ends up in as being one she’s created, but another character or the viewers may disagree. It might be worth exploring both versions of this specific danger to give the most complete, balanced discussion to support your thesis.

Writing Endings

Endings, like beginnings, tend to have more than one job. Here are some things they often need to do for a text to feel complete:

  • Reconnect to the main idea/thesis. However, note that this is different than a simple copy/paste of the thesis from earlier in the text. We’ve likely had a whole conversation in the text since we first encountered that thesis. Simply repeating it, or even replacing a few key words with synonyms, doesn’t acknowledge that bigger conversation. Instead, try pointing us back to the main idea in a new way.
  • Tie up loose ends. If you opened the text with the beginning of a story to demonstrate how the topic applies to average daily life, the end of your text is a good time to share the end of that story with readers. If several ideas in the text tie together in a relevant way that didn’t fit neatly into the original discussion of those ideas, the end may be the place to do that.
  • Keep the focus clear—this is your last chance to leave an impression on the reader. What do you want them to leave this text thinking about? What action do you want them to take? It’s often a good idea to be direct about this in the ending paragraph(s).

How might we reconnect with the main idea in our Hunger Games example? We might say something like, “In many ways, Katniss Everdeen is her own greatest obstacle to the safe and peaceful life she seems to wish for.” It echoes, strongly, the original thesis, but also takes into account the more robust exploration that has happened in the middle parts of the paper.

As mentioned about writing introductions above, the most important thing at this point in the drafting process is to just get started (or in this case, to get started concluding), but when you’re ready, if you want to learn more about formulas and methods for writing conclusions, see “Writing Conclusions,” presented later in this section of the text.

Writing Paragraphs

How to develop and organize paragraphs is a problem that plagues many beginning college writers. How do you start a paragraph? How can you help your reader understand the main idea? How do you know when you’ve included enough details? How do you conclude? You might also wonder when you need to break a paragraph and start a new one or how to help your reader transition from one idea to the next. (For more on methods of development, see “Patterns of Organization and Methods of Development,” later in this “Drafting” section of this text.).

What Is a Paragraph?

Let’s begin by defining this concept of the paragraph. A paragraph is a group of sentences that present, develop, and support a single idea. That’s it. There’s no prescribed length or number of sentences. Paragraphs rarely stand alone, so most often the main topic of the paragraph serves the main concept or purpose of a larger whole; for example, the main idea of a paragraph in an essay should serve to develop and support the thesis of the essay. (For more on thesis statements, see “Developing Strong, Clear Thesis Statements”.)

Similarly, the main idea of a paragraph in a letter serves the overall purpose of the letter, whether that purpose is to thank your Aunt Martha for the thoughtful birthday sweater, or whether the purpose is to inform a local business that you’re dissatisfied with the quality of a product or service that you purchased.

Topic Sentences

The job of the topic sentence is to control the development and flow of the information contained in the paragraph. The topic sentence takes control of the more general topic of the paragraph and shapes it in the way that you choose to present it to your readers. It provides a way through a topic that is likely much broader than what you could ever cover in a paragraph, or even in an essay. This more focused idea, your topic sentence, helps you determine the parts of the topic that you want to illuminate for your readers—whether that’s a college essay or a thank you letter to your Aunt Martha.  The following diagram illustrates how a topic sentence can provide more focus to the general topic at hand.

Think about some places where you might commonly find general topics presented with more focus, perhaps in news stories, textbooks, or speeches. The topic of a news story might be a deadly forest fire that’s burning out of control, while the focus of the topic might be about careless humans. The topic of a chapter from a medical text might be phlebotomy (the practice of drawing blood from a patient), while the focus of a section of that chapter might be about safe disposal of used needles. Maybe the topic of a persuasive speech is organic produce, while the focus of the speech is about the importance of supporting local organic farms.

Most topics are expansive, so they require more focus—whether in a thesis statement or a topic sentence—to provide a narrower view of the broader subject. This narrower and more focused view also often seeks to persuade the reader to see things from the writer’s perspective.

While we’re on the subject of speech class, let’s talk about how the presentation of topics in an academic essay differs from the presentation of topics in a speech. Beginning speech writers often use obvious verbal signposts to announce main ideas, transitional moments, or concluding thoughts.

For example, it would not be uncommon for a student in a college speech class, while delivering a speech, to say, “First, I will explain . . .” or “The first topic I will cover . . .” or “Next, I will tell you about . . .” or “In conclusion, as I have demonstrated . . . .”  And while these methods for announcing a topic may be common and accepted practices in some college speech classes, they do not suit the expectations of your audience for an academic essay. With an oral presentation, the audience can’t see how the speech will unfold, but with written text, readers can see the size and shape of the document that they’re reading, so they don’t need as much help navigating.

So how can you correct this common problem? It’s quite simple actually. Just remove the verbal signpost that announces your position, remove the first person “I,” point of view and simply state the position or topic. Here’s an example:

Speech-like announcement of a topic: First, I will explain that while it’s a common belief that use of cell phones causes lower levels of concentration and focus, cell phone use does have a place in the classroom and smart phones should be considered a valuable educational tool.

Improved presentation of a topic: While it’s a common belief that the use of cell phones causes lower levels of concentration and focus, cell phone use does have a place in the classroom, and smart phones should be considered a valuable educational tool.

Placement of Topic Sentences

What if I told you that the topic sentence doesn’t necessarily need to be at the beginning? This might be contrary to what you’ve learned in previous English or writing classes, and that’s okay. Certainly, placing topic sentences at or near the beginning of paragraphs is a fine strategy, especially for beginning writers. If you announce a topic clearly and early on in a paragraph, your readers are likely to grasp your idea and to make the connections that you want them to make.

Now that you’re writing for a more sophisticated academic audience though—that is an audience of college-educated readers—you can use more sophisticated organizational strategies to build and reveal ideas in your writing. One way to think about a topic sentence is that it presents the broadest view of what you want your readers to understand. This is to say that you’re providing a broad statement that either announces or brings into focus the purpose or the meaning for the details of the paragraph. And if you think of the topic sentence as the broadest view, then you can think about how every supporting detail brings a narrower—or more specific—view of the same topic.

With this in mind, take some time to contemplate the diagrams in the figure below. The widest point of each diagram (the bases of the triangles) represents the topic sentence of the paragraph. As details are presented, the topic becomes narrower and more focused. The topic can precede the details, it can follow them, it can both precede and follow them, or the details can surround the topic. There are surely more alternatives than those that are presented here, but this gives you an idea of some of the possible paragraph structures and possible placements for the topic sentence of a paragraph.

Consider some of the following examples of different topic sentence placements in a paragraph from a review essay of the beloved children’s book, The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss. Paragraph structures are labeled according to the diagrams presented above, and topic sentences are identified by red text.

Topic Sentence-Details-Topic Sentence

A good children’s book requires an exciting plot and a problem with which children can sympathize. In The Cat in the Hat there is plenty of action, depicted in the wild antics of the cat, and later in the amazing but dangerous and messy tricks of Thing 1 and Thing 2. All this excitement and action naturally draws children into the story and keeps the plot moving forward at a pace that maintains their interest. There is also tension to be resolved. The fish senses danger and constantly warns the children not to participate in the cat’s perilous stunts. And later, as the mother’s return becomes more imminent, the children begin to heed the fish’s warning and finally wish to contain the chaos and clean up the mess, but how? While this plot is fantastic enough to fuel any child’s imagination, it also contains a problem with which any child can relate: a mess and the threat of a parent’s disapproval. The careful balance of action, tension, and relatability is what makes this book an enduring childhood favorite.

Topic Sentence-Details

The careful balance of action, tension, and relatability is what makes Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat an enduring childhood favorite. In The Cat in the Hat there is plenty of action, depicted in the wild antics of the cat, and later in the amazing but dangerous and messy tricks of Thing 1 and Thing 2. All this excitement and action naturally draws children into the story and keeps the plot moving forward at a pace that maintains their interest. There is also tension to be resolved. The fish senses danger and constantly warns the children not to participate in the cat’s perilous stunts. And later, as the mother’s return becomes more imminent, the children begin to heed the fish’s warning and finally wish to contain the chaos and clean up the mess, but how? While this plot is fantastic enough to fuel any child’s imagination, it also contains a problem with which any child can relate: a mess and the threat of a parent’s disapproval.

Note: you can relocate the topic sentence to the end here, and you’ll have an example of the Details-Topic Sentence method of organizing the paragraph.

Details-Topic Sentence-Details

In The Cat in the Hat there is plenty of action, depicted in the wild antics of the cat, and later in the amazing but dangerous and messy tricks of Thing 1 and Thing 2. All this excitement and action naturally draws children into the story and keeps the plot moving forward at a pace that maintains their interest. The careful balance of action, tension, and relatability is what makes Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat an enduring childhood favorite. There is definitely tension to be resolved here. The fish senses danger and constantly warns the children not to participate in the cat’s perilous stunts. And later, as the mother’s return becomes more imminent, the children begin to heed the fish’s warning and finally wish to contain the chaos and clean up the mess, but how? While this plot is fantastic enough to fuel any child’s imagination, it also contains a problem with which any child can relate: a mess and the threat of a parent’s disapproval.

Implied Topic Sentences

Now that you’re getting used to the idea that the topic sentence doesn’t necessarily need to be placed at the beginning of the paragraph, what if I told you that, sometimes, the topic sentence doesn’t need to be stated at all? It’s true!  Eliminating the topic sentence isn’t always the best strategy for beginning writers, but it can be effective, and it’s a pretty common strategy among professional writers. It’s also worthwhile to note that many instructors will prefer an explicit topic sentence over an implied one, just as many will prefer an explicit thesis over an implied one. When in doubt, ask your instructors about their preferences in areas such as these.

One area where you’re likely to find implied topic sentences is in narrative essays. In narratives, as in novels or other works of creative writing, readers often prefer to glean the meaning from the text rather than to have it thrust upon them. Writers also often prefer to imply themes and ideas rather than spelling it out for their readers. There are also times when your main idea will be obvious enough without having to come out and state your topic sentence. If you’re not sure about whether or not an implied topic is working in a paragraph, write an explicit topic sentence for the paragraph. Read the paragraph with and without your new explicit topic. Does addition of the explicit topic improve the clarity of the paragraph or essay? Share the essay with a couple of friends or classmates and get some second opinions.

Consider the following paragraph from an essay titled “The Bothersome Beauty of Pigeons,” by author and Boise State writing professor, Bruce Ballenger. It’s important to note that this is a personal narrative essay rather than a more traditional academic essay, but the paragraph provides a good example of an implied topic. In this essay Ballenger takes the time to consider the beauty of pigeons, a bird that’s usually thought of as nothing more than a nuisance. Just prior to this paragraph, Ballenger talks about how he used a fake owl to scare away pigeons on his property. He goes on to explain:

My pigeons moved next door where an elderly couple feed them bird seed and have the time and willingness to clean up after their new charges; so it seems, in this case, things have worked out for everyone. But the large flocks still haunt the piazzas in Florence and Venice, the squares in London, and similar places in nearly every city across the globe. Despite their ability to distinguish between a Van Gogh and a Chagall, pigeons still deposit droppings that deface the great marble statues and facades–the works of art and architecture that are part of our human heritage–and yet people still buy bags of seed for about a dollar and pose for photographs, drenched in doves. Meanwhile, officials in these cities continue, sometimes quietly, to wage war against the birds (“Introduction”).

Here, Ballenger seems to be saying that in spite of the attempts of so many to rid themselves of the pigeons, others are still drawn to them and will feed them and encourage them to come back. His main idea seems to be that the battle against pigeons is a losing proposition, but he doesn’t come out and say so. His message in this paragraph is implied. Do you think this paragraph would be improved with an explicit topic sentence? As you write and revise your own paragraphs, these will be important questions for you to consider about your own writing.

Characteristics of a Good Topic Sentence

If a reader or teacher comments that your paragraph lacks unity, you probably need a better topic sentence (or maybe you don’t have one yet). So, how can you spot a good topic sentence when you’ve written one? A good topic sentence might meet the following criteria:

  • Signals the topic and also the more focused ideas of the paragraph
  • Presents an idea or ideas that are clear and easy to understand
  • Provides unity to the paragraph (so it’s clear how all supporting ideas relate)
  • Omits supporting details
  • Engages the reader

There’s no right order in the writing process for identifying or writing the topic sentence of a paragraph. Some writers begin drafting a paragraph with a main idea already in mind and then decide how to support it. Others begin writing about details, examples, or quotations from sources that they feel somehow relate to what they want to say, writing for a while before deciding what the main idea is. Most writers rely on a variety of strategies that they have developed through trial and error. So don’t let the lack of a main idea hold you back from getting out what you want to say. Write for a while, and a main idea will surely emerge.

Here are some exercises to help you practice identifying and developing topics and topic sentences.

Identify the Topic and Focus

Choose a piece of writing, perhaps an essay or some news articles provided by your instructor, and for each paragraph identify (1) the topic and (2) the more focused idea. Remember, the topic sentence applies more focus to the broader topic to help narrow the scope of the paragraph. For example, the topic of a paragraph might be school lunches. The more focused idea of that same paragraph might be the idea of having students plant school gardens as a way to help incorporate more fresh produce in the menu.

Ask Readers to Find the Topic Sentences

Ask someone to read your essay and for each supporting paragraph, ask your reader to underline the most likely topic sentence. If your reader can’t find a topic sentence, ask him or her to write a topic sentence for that paragraph.

Ask a Readers to Share Their Expectations

Provide a reader with a list of your topic sentences, without the paragraphs that they belong to. Ask the reader what he or she thinks each paragraph is about and what kind of supporting details or discussion he or she would expect to see in the paragraph.

The Paragraph Body: Supporting Your Ideas

Whether the drafting of a paragraph begins with a main idea or whether that idea surfaces in the revision process, once you have that main idea, you’ll want to make sure that the idea has enough support. The job of the paragraph body is to develop and support the topic. Here’s one way that you might think about it:

  • Topic sentence: what is the main claim of your paragraph; what is the most important idea that you want your readers to take away from this paragraph?
  • Support in the form of evidence: how can you prove that your claim or idea is true (or important, or noteworthy, or relevant)?
  • Support in the form of analysis or evaluation: what discussion can you provide that helps your readers see the connection between the evidence and your claim?
  • Transition: how can you help your readers move from the idea you’re currently discussing to the next idea presented?

For more on methods of development that can help you to develop and organize your ideas within paragraphs, see “Patterns of Organization and Methods of Development” later in this section of this text.

Types of support might include

  • Statistics.
  • Quotations.

Now that we have a good idea what it means to develop support for the main ideas of your paragraphs, let’s talk about how to make sure that those supporting details are solid and convincing.

Good vs. Weak Support

What questions will your readers have? What will they need to know? What makes for good supporting details? Why might readers consider some evidence to be weak?

If you’re already developing paragraphs, it’s likely that you already have a plan for your essay, at least at the most basic level. You know what your topic is, you might have a working thesis, and you probably have at least a couple of supporting ideas in mind that will further develop and support your thesis.

So imagine you’re developing a paragraph on one of these supporting ideas and you need to make sure that the support that you develop for this idea is solid. Considering some of the points about understanding and appealing to your audience can also be helpful in determining what your readers will consider good support and what they’ll consider to be weak. Here are some tips on what to strive for and what to avoid when it comes to supporting details.

chart listing strong and weak support

Breaking, Combining, or Beginning New Paragraphs

Like sentence length, paragraph length varies. There is no single ideal length for “the perfect paragraph.”  There are some general guidelines, however. Some writing handbooks or resources suggest that a paragraph should be at least three or four sentences; others suggest that 100 to 200 words is a good target to shoot for. In academic writing, paragraphs tend to be longer while in less formal or less complex writing, such as in a newspaper, paragraphs tend to be much shorter. Two-thirds to three-fourths of a page is usually a good target length for paragraphs at your current level of college writing. If your readers can’t see a paragraph break on the page, they might wonder if the paragraph is ever going to end or they might lose interest.

The most important thing to keep in mind here is that the amount of space needed to develop one idea will likely be different than the amount of space needed to develop another. So when is a paragraph complete? The answer is, when it’s fully developed. The guidelines above for providing good support should help.

Some signals that it’s time to end a paragraph and start a new one include that

  • You’re ready to begin developing a new idea.
  • You want to emphasize a point by setting it apart.
  • You’re getting ready to continue discussing the same idea but in a different way (e.g. shifting from comparison to contrast).
  • You notice that your current paragraph is getting too long (more than three-fourths of a page or so), and you think your writers will need a visual break.

Some signals that you may want to combine paragraphs include that

  • You notice that some of your paragraphs appear to be short and choppy.
  • You have multiple paragraphs on the same topic.
  • You have undeveloped material that needs to be united under a clear topic.

Finally, paragraph number is a lot like paragraph length. You may have been asked in the past to write a five-paragraph essay. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a five-paragraph essay, but just like sentence length and paragraph length, the number of paragraphs in an essay depends upon what’s needed to get the job done. There’s really no way to know that until you start writing. So try not to worry too much about the proper length and number of things. Just start writing and see where the essay and the paragraphs take you. There will be plenty of time to sort out the organization in the revision process. You’re not trying to fit pegs into holes here. You’re letting your ideas unfold. Give yourself—and them—the space to let that happen.

Developing Relationships between Ideas

So you have a main idea, and you have supporting ideas, but how can you be sure that your readers will understand the relationships between them? How are the ideas tied to each other? One way to emphasize these relationships is through the use of clear transitions between ideas. Like every other part of your essay, transitions have a job to do. They form logical connections between the ideas presented in an essay or paragraph, and they give readers clues that reveal how you want them to think about (process, organize, or use) the topics presented.

Why are Transitions Important?

Transitions signal the order of ideas, highlight relationships, unify concepts, and let readers know what’s coming next or remind them about what’s already been covered. When instructors or peers comment that your writing is choppy, abrupt, or needs to “flow better,” those are some signals that you might need to work on building some better transitions into your writing. If a reader comments that she’s not sure how something relates to your thesis or main idea, a transition is probably the right tool for the job.

When Is the Right Time to Build in Transitions?

There’s no right answer to this question. Sometimes transitions occur spontaneously, but just as often (or maybe even more often) good transitions are developed in revision. While drafting, we often write what we think, sometimes without much reflection about how the ideas fit together or relate to one another. If your thought process jumps around a lot (and that’s okay), it’s more likely that you will need to pay careful attention to reorganization and to providing solid transitions as you revise.

When you’re working on building transitions into an essay, consider the essay’s overall organization. Consider using reverse outlining and other organizational strategies presented in this text to identify key ideas in your essay and to get a clearer look at how the ideas can be best organized. See the “Reverse Outlining” section in the “Revision” portion of this text, for a great strategy to help you assess what’s going on in your essay and to help you see what topics and organization are developing. This can help you determine where transitions are needed.

Let’s take some time to consider the importance of transitions at the sentence level and transitions between paragraphs.

Sentence-Level Transitions

Transitions between sentences often use “connecting words” to emphasize relationships between one sentence and another. A friend and coworker suggests the “something old something new” approach, meaning that the idea behind a transition is to introduce something new while connecting it to something old from an earlier point in the essay or paragraph. Here are some examples of ways that writers use connecting words (highlighted with red text and italicized)  to show connections between ideas in adjacent sentences:

To Show Similarity

When I was growing up, my mother taught me to say “please” and “thank you” as one small way that I could show appreciation and respect for others. In the same way, I have tried to impress the importance of manners on my own children.

Other connecting words that show similarity include also, similarly, and likewise.

To Show Contrast

Some scientists take the existence of black holes for granted; however, in 2014, a physicist at the University of North Carolina claimed to have mathematically proven that they do not exist.

Other connecting words that show contrast include in spite of, on the other hand, in contrast, and yet.

To Exemplify

The cost of college tuition is higher than ever, so students are becoming increasingly motivated to keep costs as low as possible. For example, a rising number of students are signing up to spend their first two years at a less costly community college before transferring to a more expensive four-year school to finish their degrees.

Other connecting words that show example include for instance, specifically, and to illustrate.

To Show Cause and Effect

Where previously painters had to grind and mix their own dry pigments with linseed oil inside their studios, in the 1840s, new innovations in pigments allowed paints to be premixed in tubes. Consequently, this new technology facilitated the practice of painting outdoors and was a crucial tool for impressionist painters, such as Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, and Cassatt.

Other connecting words that show cause and effect include therefore, so, and thus.

To Show Additional Support

When choosing a good trail bike, experts recommend 120–140 millimeters of suspension travel; that’s the amount that the frame or fork is able to flex or compress. Additionally, they recommend a 67–69 degree head-tube angle, as a steeper head-tube angle allows for faster turning and climbing.

Other connecting words that show additional support include also, besides, equally important, and in addition.

A Word of Caution

Single-word or short-phrase transitions can be helpful to signal a shift in ideas within a paragraph, rather than between paragraphs (see the discussion below about transitions between paragraphs). But it’s also important to understand that these types of transitions shouldn’t be frequent within a paragraph. As with anything else that happens in your writing, they should be used when they feel natural and feel like the right choice. Here are some examples to help you see the difference between transitions that feel like they occur naturally and transitions that seem forced and make the paragraph awkward to read:

Too Many Transitions:

The Impressionist painters of the late 19th century are well known for their visible brush strokes, for their ability to convey a realistic sense of light, and for their everyday subjects portrayed in outdoor settings. In spite of this fact, many casual admirers of their work are unaware of the scientific innovations that made it possible for this movement in art to take place. Then, in 1841, an American painter named John Rand invented the collapsible paint tube. To illustrate the importance of this invention, pigments previously had to be ground and mixed in a fairly complex process that made it difficult for artists to travel with them. For example, the mixtures were commonly stored in pieces of pig bladder to keep the paint from drying out. In addition, when working with their palettes, painters had to puncture the bladder, squeeze out some paint, and then mend the bladder again to keep the rest of the paint mixture from drying out. Thus, Rand’s collapsible tube freed the painters from these cumbersome and messy processes, allowing artists to be more mobile and to paint in the open air.

Subtle Transitions that Aid Reader Understanding:

The Impressionist painters of the late 19th century are well known for their visible brush strokes, for their ability to convey a realistic sense of light, for their everyday subjects portrayed in outdoor settings. However, many casual admirers of their work are unaware of the scientific innovations that made it possible for this movement in art to take place. In 1841, an American painter named John Rand invented the collapsible paint tube. Before this invention, pigments had to be ground and mixed in a fairly complex process that made it difficult for artists to travel with them. The mixtures were commonly stored in pieces of pig bladder to keep the paint from drying out. When working with their palettes, painters had to puncture the bladder, squeeze out some paint, and then mend the bladder again to keep the rest of the paint mixture from drying out. Rand’s collapsible tube freed the painters from these cumbersome and messy processes, allowing artists to be more mobile and to paint in the open air.

Transitions between Paragraphs and Sections

It’s important to consider how to emphasize the relationships not just between sentences but also between paragraphs in your essay. Here are a few strategies to help you show your readers how the main ideas of your paragraphs relate to each other and also to your thesis.

Use Signposts

Signposts are words or phrases that indicate where you are in the process of organizing an idea; for example, signposts might indicate that you are introducing a new concept, that you are summarizing an idea, or that you are concluding your thoughts. Some of the most common signposts include words and phrases like first, then, next, finally, in sum, and in conclusion. Be careful not to overuse these types of transitions in your writing. Your readers will quickly find them tiring or too obvious. Instead, think of more creative ways to let your readers know where they are situated within the ideas presented in your essay. You might say, “The first problem with this practice is…”  Or you might say, “The next thing to consider is…” Or you might say, “Some final thoughts about this topic are….”

Use Forward-Looking Sentences at the End of Paragraphs

Sometimes, as you conclude a paragraph, you might want to give your readers a hint about what’s coming next. For example, imagine that you’re writing an essay about the benefits of trees to the environment and you’ve just wrapped up a paragraph about how trees absorb pollutants and provide oxygen. You might conclude with a forward-looking sentence like this: “Trees benefits to local air quality are important, but surely they have more to offer our communities than clean air.”  This might conclude a paragraph (or series of paragraphs) and then prepare your readers for additional paragraphs to come that cover the topics of trees’ shade value and ability to slow water evaporation on hot summer days. This transitional strategy can be tricky to employ smoothly. Make sure that the conclusion of your paragraph doesn’t sound like you’re leaving your readers hanging with the introduction of a completely new or unrelated topic.

Use Backward-Looking Sentences at the Beginning of Paragraphs

Rather than concluding a paragraph by looking forward, you might instead begin a paragraph by looking back. Continuing with the example above of an essay about the value of trees, let’s think about how we might begin a new paragraph or section by first taking a moment to look back. Maybe you just concluded a paragraph on the topic of trees’ ability to decrease soil erosion and you’re getting ready to talk about how they provide habitats for urban wildlife. Beginning the opening of a new paragraph or section of the essay with a backward-looking transition might look something like this: “While their benefits to soil and water conservation are great, the value that trees provide to our urban wildlife also cannot be overlooked.”

Evaluate Transitions for Predictability or Conspicuousness

Finally, the most important thing about transitions is that you don’t want them to become repetitive or too obvious. Reading your draft aloud is a great revision strategy for so many reasons, and revising your essay for transitions is no exception to this rule. If you read your essay aloud, you’re likely to hear the areas that sound choppy or abrupt. This can help you make note of areas where transitions need to be added. Repetition is another problem that can be easier to spot if you read your essay aloud. If you notice yourself using the same transitions over and over again, take time to find some alternatives. And if the transitions frequently stand out as you read aloud, you may want to see if you can find some subtler strategies.

Exercise: Try Out Some New Transition Strategies

Choose an essay or piece of writing, either that you’re currently working on, or that you’ve written in the past. Identify your major topics or main ideas. Then, using this chapter, develop at least three examples of sentence-level transitions and at least two examples of paragraph-level transitions. Share and discuss with your classmates in small groups, and choose one example of each type from your group to share with the whole class. If you like the results, you might use them to revise your writing. If not, try some other strategies.

Patterns of Organization and Methods of Development

Patterns of organization can help your readers follow the ideas within your essay and your paragraphs, but they can also work as methods of development to help you recognize and further develop ideas and relationships in your writing. Here are some strategies that can help you with both organization and development in your essays.

Major Patterns of Organization

Read the following sentences:

  • Now take the pie out of the oven and let it cool on the stovetop.
  • Mix the dry ingredients with the liquid ingredients.
  • Set the pie crust aside while you make the filling.

How did it feel to read the above list? A bit confusing, I would guess. That’s because the steps for making a pie were not well organized, and the steps don’t include enough detail for us to know exactly what we should do. (Like what are the dry and liquid ingredients?) We all know that starting instructions from the beginning and giving each detailed step in the order it should happen is vital to having a good outcome, in this case a yummy pie! But it’s not always so simple to know how to organize or develop ideas, and sometimes there’s more than one way, which complicates things even further.

First, let’s take a look at a couple of ways to think about organization.

General to Specific or Specific to General

It might be useful to think about organizing your topic like a triangle:

triangle demonstrating general to specific v. specific to general

The first triangle represents starting with the most general, big picture information first, moving then to more detailed and often more personal information later in the paper. The second triangle represents an organizational structure that starts with the specific, small scale information first and then moves to the more global, big picture stuff.

For example, if your topic is air pollution in Portland, Oregon, an essay that uses the general-to-specific organizational structure might begin this way:

Many people consider Portland, Oregon, to be an environmentally friendly, pollution-free place to live. They would be shocked to know how many pollutants are in the air causing a multitude of health problems in Portland’s citizens.

An essay that uses the specific-to-general structure might start like this:

When Nancy moved to Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids, she expected to find a clean, pollution-free city. She was shocked and angered when her daughter was diagnosed with asthma caused by air pollution.

What’s the difference between these two introductions? And how might they appeal to the intended audience for this essay (Portland voters) in different ways? The first introduction is looking at the big picture of the problem and mentions pollution’s impact on all citizens in Portland, while the second introduction focuses on one specific family. The first helps readers see how vast the problem really is, and the second helps connect readers to a real family, making an emotional appeal from the very beginning. Neither introduction is necessarily better. You’ll choose one over the other based on the kind of tone you’d like to create and how you’d like to affect your audience. It’s completely up to you to make this decision.

Does the Triangle Mean the Essay Keeps Getting More Specific or More Broad until the Very End?

The triangle is kind of a general guide, meaning you’re allowed to move around within it all you want. For example, it’s possible that each of your paragraphs will be its own triangle, starting with the general or specific and moving out or in. However, if you begin very broadly, it might be effective to end your essay in a more specific, personal way. And if you begin with a personal story, consider ending your essay by touching on the global impact and importance of your topic.

Are There Other Ways to Think about Organizing My Ideas?

Yes! Rather than thinking about which of your ideas are most specific or personal or which are more broad or universal, you might consider one of the following ways of organizing your ideas:

  • Most important information first (consider what you want readers to focus on first)
  • Chronological order (the order in time that events take place)
  • Compare and contrast (ideas are organized together because of their relationship to each other)

The section on Methods of Development, below, offers more detail about some of these organizational patterns, along with some others.

Choose one of the following topics, and practice writing a few opening sentences like we did above, once using the general-to-specific format and once using the specific-to-general. Which do you like better? What audience would be attracted to which one? Share with peers to see how others tackled this challenge. How would you rewrite their sentences? Why? Discuss your changes and listen to how your peers have revised your sentences. Taking in other people’s ideas will help you see new ways to approach your own writing and thinking.

  • Facing fears
  • Safety in sports
  • Community policing
  • Educating prisoners
  • Sex education
  • A book or movie that impacted you
  • One thing you would change about your community
  • Beauty standards
  • Toxic masculinity
  • How the media affects identity formation
  • Gender roles
  • Race in America
  • The value of art in society
  • Travel as part of a well-rounded education
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Advice to new parents
  • Advice to teachers
  • The value of making mistakes
  • How you’d spend a million dollars
  • What a tough day at work taught you about yourself or others.

Methods of Development

The methods of development covered here are best used as ways to look at what’s already happening in your draft and to consider how you might emphasize or expand on any existing patterns. You might already be familiar with some of these patterns because teachers will sometimes assign them as the purpose for writing an essay. For example, you might have been asked to write a cause-and-effect essay or a comparison-and-contrast essay.

It’s important to emphasize here that patterns of organization or methods of developing content usually happen naturally as a consequence of the way the writer engages with and organizes information while writing. That is to say, most writers don’t sit down and say, “I think I’ll write a cause-and-effect essay today.”  Instead, a writer might be more likely to be interested in a topic, say, the state of drinking water in the local community, and as the writer begins to explore the topic, certain cause-and-effect relationships between environmental pollutants and the community water supply may begin to emerge.

So if these patterns just occur naturally in writing, what’s the use in knowing about them?  Well, sometimes you might be revising a draft and notice that some of your paragraphs are a bit underdeveloped. Maybe they lack a clear topic, or maybe they lack support. In either case, you can look to these common methods of development to find ways to sharpen those vague topics or to add support where needed. Do you have a clear cause statement somewhere but you haven’t explored the effects?  Are you lacking detail somewhere where a narrative story or historical chronology can help build reader interest and add support?  Are you struggling to define an idea that might benefit from some comparison or contrast?  Read on to consider some of the ways that these strategies can help you in revision.

Cause and Effect (or Effect and Cause)

Do you see a potential cause-and-effect relationship developing in your draft?  The cause-and-effect pattern may be used to identify one or more causes followed by one or more effects or results. Or you may reverse this sequence and describe effects first and then the cause or causes. For example, the causes of water pollution might be followed by its effects on both humans and animals. You may use obvious transitions to clarify cause and effect, such as “What are the results? Here are some of them…” or you might simply use the words cause, effect, and result, to cue the reader about  the relationships that you’re establishing.


At some point does your essay explore a problem or suggest a solution? The problem-solution pattern is commonly used in identifying something that’s wrong and in contemplating what might be done to remedy the situation. There are probably more ways to organize a problem-solution approach, but but here are three possibilities:

  • Describe the problem, followed by the solution.
  • Propose the solution first and then describe the problems that motivated it.
  • Or a problem may be followed by several solutions, one of which is selected as the best.

When the solution is stated at the end of the paper, the pattern is sometimes called the delayed proposal. For a hostile audience, it may be effective to describe the problem, show why other solutions do not work, and finally suggest the favored solution. You can emphasize the words problem and solution to signal these sections of your paper for your reader.

Chronology or Narrative

Do you need to develop support for a topic where telling a story can illustrate some important concept for your readers? Material arranged chronologically is explained as it occurs in time. A chronological or narrative method of development might help you find a way to add both interest and content to your essay. Material arranged chronologically is explained as it occurs in time. This pattern may be used to establish what has happened. Chronology or narrative can be a great way to introduce your essay by providing a background or history behind your topic. Or you may want to tell a story to develop one or more points in the body of your essay. You can use transitional words like then, next, and finally to make the parts of the chronology clear.

Comparison and Contrast

Are you trying to define something? Do you need your readers to understand what something is and what it is not? The comparison-and-contrast method of development is particularly useful in extending a definition, or anywhere you need to show how a subject is like or unlike another subject. For example, the statement is often made that drug abuse is a medical problem instead of a criminal justice issue. An author might attempt to prove this point by comparing drug addiction to AIDS, cancer, or heart disease to redefine the term “addiction” as a medical problem. A statement in opposition to this idea could just as easily establish contrast by explaining all the ways that addiction is different from what we traditionally understand as an illness. In seeking to establish comparison or contrast in your writing, some words or terms that might be useful are by contrast, in comparison, while, some, and others.

Order of Importance

Order of importance is best used for the following purposes:

  • Persuading and convincing
  • Ranking items by their importance, benefit, or significance
  • Illustrating a situation, problem, or solution

Most essays move from the least to the most important point, and the paragraphs are arranged in an effort to build the essay’s strength. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to begin with your most important supporting point, such as in an essay that contains a thesis that is highly debatable. When writing a persuasive essay, it is best to begin with the most important point because it immediately captivates your readers and compels them to continue reading.

For example, if you were supporting your thesis that homework is detrimental to the education of high school students, you would want to present your most convincing argument first, and then move on to the less important points for your case.

Some key transitional words you should use with this method of organization are most importantly, almost as importantly, just as importantly, and finally.

These five methods of development—cause and effect, problem-solution, chronology or narrative, comparison and contrast, and order of importance—are just a few ways to organize and develop ideas and content in your essays. It’s important to note that they should not be a starting point for writers who want to write something authentic—something that they care deeply about. Instead, they can be a great way to help you look for what’s already happening with your topic or in a draft, to help you to write more, or to help you reorganize some parts of an essay that seem to lack connection or feel disjointed. Look for organizational patterns when you’re reading work by professional writers. Notice where they combine strategies (e.g a problem-solution pattern that uses cause-and-effect organization, or a comparison-contrast pattern that uses narrative or chronology to develop similarities or differences). Pay attention to how different writers emphasize and develop their main ideas, and use what you find to inspire you in your own writing. Better yet, work on developing  completely new patterns of your own.


  • The way you organize your body paragraphs ensures you and your readers stay focused on and draw connections to your thesis statement.
  • A strong organizational pattern allows you to articulate, analyze, and clarify your thoughts.
  • Planning the organizational structure for your essay before you begin to search for supporting evidence helps you conduct more effective and directed research.
  • Chronological order is most commonly used in expository writing. It is useful for explaining the history of your subject, for telling a story, or for explaining a process.
  • Order of importance is most appropriate in a persuasive paper as well as for essays in which you rank things, people, or events by their significance.
  • Spatial order describes things as they are arranged in space and is best for helping readers visualize something as you want them to see it; it creates a dominant impression.

“Essay Structure” uses information from:

The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License .

Media Attributions

  • strong weak support
  • general to specific triangles

Let's Keep Writing! Copyright © 2021 by Kathy Boylan and Jenifer Kurtz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Essay writing

  • Introduction

Answering the question

Generating ideas, planning your essay, different planning methods.

  • Writing your essay
  • Developing your essay writing

Useful links for writing essays

  • Study Advice Helping students to achieve study success with guides, video tutorials, seminars and one-to-one advice sessions.
  • Academic writing LibGuide Expert guidance on punctuation, grammar, writing style and proof-reading.
  • Guide to citing references Includes guidance on why, when and how to use references correctly in your academic writing.
  • Reading and notemaking LibGuide Expert guidance on managing your reading and making effective notes.
  • Academic Phrasebank Use this site for examples of linking phrases and ways to refer to sources.
  • Ten stages of assignment success (Prezi) Based upon Burns and Sinfield, Essential Study Skills.
  • Critical Thinking A short video on Critical Thinking that the BBC have prepared in partnership with The Open University

The first thing to do when preparing to write an essay is to make a plan. You could just rush in and write everything that comes into your head, but that would make it difficult for your marker to read and would reduce the effectiveness of your ideas. These will make much stronger arguments if you group them together than they would do on their own.

The guidance on this page will show you how to plan and structure your essay to produce a strong and focused response to the question.

A very common complaint from lecturers and examiners is that students write a lot of information but they just don't answer the question. Don't rush straight into researching – give yourself time to think carefully about the question and understand what it is asking.

essay structure diagram

Underlining key words – This is a good start point for making sure you understand all the terms (some might need defining); identifying the crucial information in the question; and clarifying what the question is asking you to do (compare & contrast, analyse, discuss). But make sure you then consider the question as a whole again, not just as a series of unconnected words.

Re-read the question – Read the question through a few times. Explain it to yourself, so you are sure you know what it is asking you to do.

Try breaking the question down into sub-questions – What is the question asking? Why is this important? How am I going to answer it? What do I need to find out first, second, third in order to answer the question? This is a good way of working out what important points or issues make up the overall question – it can help focus your reading and start giving your essay a structure. However, try not to have too many sub-questions as this can lead to following up minor issues, as opposed to the most important points.

  • Answering the question and planning (video) Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.
  • Answering the question and planning (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.

essay structure diagram

The kinds of things to note briefly are:

  • What you already know about the topic – from lectures, seminars, general knowledge.
  • Things you don't know about the topic, but need to find out in order to answer the question.
  • Initial responses or answers to the question – what you think your conclusion might possibly be.

This helps you start formulating your argument and direction for answering the question. It also helps you focus your reading, as you can pinpoint what you need to find out and go straight to the parts of books, chapters, articles that will be most relevant.

After reading - After your reading, it is often good to summarise all your findings on a page. Again, a spider diagram can help with this.

Bringing together the key points from your reading helps clarify what you have found out, and helps you find a pathway through all the ideas and issues you have encountered. If you include brief details of authors and page nos. for key information, it can act as a quick at-a-glance guide for finding the evidence you need to support your points later.

It also helps you see how your initial response to the question might have changed or become more sophisticated in light of the reading you've done. It leads into planning your essay structure.

essay structure diagram

  • It enables you to work out a logical structure and an end point for your argument before you start writing.
  • It means you don't have to do this type of complex thinking at the same time as trying to find the right words to express your ideas.
  • It helps you to commit yourself to sticking to the point!

You need to work out what to include, and what can be left out. It is impossible to cover everything in an essay, and your markers will be looking for evidence of your ability to choose material and put it in order. Brainstorm all your ideas, then arrange them in three or four groups. Not everything will fit so be prepared to discard some points (you can mention them briefly in your introduction).

Outline what you are going to include in each section:

  • Introduction : Address the question, show why it's interesting and how you will answer it.
  • Main body : Build your argument. Put your groups of ideas in a sequence to make a persuasive argument. One main point in each paragraph.
  • Conclusion : Summarise your arguments and evidence, and show how they answer the original question.

Writing a summary - Some people plan best once they have written something, as this helps clarify their thinking. If you prefer to write first, try summarising the central idea of your essay in a few sentences. This gives you a clear direction for working out how you are going to break it down into points supported by evidence. You can then use one of the methods below to write a more detailed plan.

  • Structuring your essay (video) Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.
  • Structuring your essay (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.

essay structure diagram

Bullet points / linear plans - This type of plan lists the main points using bullet points or numbers. It can be a brief outline of the main point per paragraph, or a more detailed plan with sub-points and a note of the evidence to support each point (e.g. source and page no.).

No plan is perfect, so be prepared for your ideas to change as you write your essay. However, once you have an initial plan it is much easier to adapt it and see where new things fit if your thinking does change.

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Using the "Hamburger Method" to Write an Essay: Overview

  • Planning the Essay
  • Writing Paragraphs

hamburger essay graphic

The diagram to the left can help you easily remember the simple essay structure.

Emma Dunn, Writing and Multimodal Communication Speciliast at the University of Waterloo, explains:

In short, each ingredient of the hamburger represents a different paragraph of the essay. It starts with an introduction paragraph and ends with a conclusion paragraph, represented by the top and bottom buns, respectively. Just like a real burger bun, these paragraphs frame the juicy contents inside – the body paragraphs – which are each represented by a different topping: lettuce, tomato, or patty.

Pay attention to the order of toppings in the hamburger essay. The lettuce comes first; it’s light and flimsy, representing one of the lighter arguments of the paper. The tomato is somewhat more robust (in terms of argument), while the patty at the end is the true “meat” of the essay. Just like the toppings of a hamburger in real-life, the body paragraphs build on one another to fill out the paper, giving it substance and flavour.

Dunn, Emma, "How to Turn the High School "Hamburger" Essay into a University-level Paper." Writing and Communication Centre: September 14, 2020. University of Waterloo. Accessed November 24, 2023. 

  • Next: Planning the Essay >>
  • Last Updated: Nov 25, 2023 12:41 AM
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Essay Mapping Tool


Effective writing at university is a process:

Analyse the task → Gather content → Plan → Draft → Edit

This tool may help you to bridge from planning to drafting by helping you arrange your sentences in a logical order. It also provides tips for each component of an essay – the introduction, body, and conclusion. It can be used to improve your understanding of essay writing in general or as a planning tool for one of your university assignments.

Because this tool is for your personal use only, you may decide to write in bullet points, but we recommend full sentences. Once you have filled in each section, a complete essay overview will be generated which can be printed.

1. Introduction

Three paragraphs planning spaces have been provided for you. You can add or delete as necessary.

The purpose of the body is to logically develop the points made in your thesis and outline statements. There are no rules about the number of paragraphs required in assignment, but in general, you are advised to develop one idea per paragraph. This is done with a clear and coherent structure which introduces the topic in a topic sentence, defines or clarifies which aspect of the topic you are going to discuss, develops and supports your discussion and (optionally) concludes your discussion.

A topic sentence generally has two parts. You may refer to the overall essay topic and also introduce the specific aspect you plan to discuss in this paragraph. This is referred to as topic + controlling idea . You can also use a topic sentence to link to or contrast with the previous paragraph. This is an effective strategy to use with the second body paragraph onwards. You may choose to conclude the paragraph with a summary sentence; however, you are advised not to overuse this type of sentence as it may seem repetitious.

Cohesion and coherence refer to how effectively sentences are connected and how smoothly the writing flows. This is not simply achieved by following a logical paragraph structure, but also by using linking words (e.g. however/furthermore/consequently ) and referring words (e.g. this/that/these/those )

When you develop your argument, remember to use a range of support. You can use examples, logical reasoning, speculation, statistics and citations

Paragraph 1

Write the topic and controlling idea (one sentence).

Support your controlling idea using evidence, examples, elaboration or explanations. Do not go off topic. Do use in-text references.

Sum up the paragraph and link to your thesis OR link to the next paragraph (one sentence).

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3, 3. conclusion.

The purpose of the conclusion is to summarize the key points you have discussed; however, it often contains a paraphrase of the thesis statement. This helps link the whole essay together. A conclusion may also contain a statement which links the essay to the broader topic or suggests a future action.

You can begin with the phrase ' In conclusion, ' but there are other phrases you could consider: In summary/This assignment has…/In this essay, I have… . Avoid Finally/Briefly/

Remember to reference any sources you have used. Refer to CDU Library for more information on referencing.


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Using Graphic Organizers for Writing Essays, Summaries and Research


Ask any student – essay writing is one of the most despised tasks of their educational career. Perhaps there is so much displeasure associated with the task because it’s perceived as too linear – there isn’t enough visual and creative appeal. But if you use graphic organizer for writing essays then you can make writing enjoyable – or at least less terrible.

Not only enjoyable but graphic organizers (or diagrams) can make the writing process a snap. They’ll help you think outside the box, draw conclusions you wouldn’t normally observe, and make the entire process faster and more efficient.

Why Use Graphic Organizers for Writing

The phrase “graphic organizer” is just a fancy way of saying “diagram” or “visual aid.” Basically, they are a visual representation of the information you’ve acquired in the research process. There are quite a few reasons why you should use them when writing essays or summaries.

  • Helps you visualize your research and how elements connect with each other
  • Enhance your essays, summaries and research papers with visual elements
  • Track correlations between your thoughts, observations, facts or general ideas

When it comes to essay writing, the most common graphic organizers are webs, mind maps, and concept maps .

Using Webs for Brainstorming

Webbing is a great way to see how various topics are interrelated. This graphic organizer is particularly useful during the brainstorming step of the writing process.

A web can sometimes get a bit messy. Usually, there are lots of arrows to connect overlapping ideas. However, even with lines crisscrossing every which way, it is still a great way to visualize your thoughts. If you’re using an online diagramming software like Creately you can overcome some of this because we automatically arrange the object for you.

Once you’ve created a map to document all your ideas and establish connections, you can easily transition to other forms of diagramming to better organize the information.

For example if you’re writing a research paper about the food web of the Australian bushes you can start creating a food web diagram similar to the one below. This way you can easily visualize the web while writing the paper. This is a simple example but graphic organizers become even more important when the subject gets complex.

Food Web - Graphic Organizers for Writing

Although simple this example shows the importance of using graphic organizers for writing summaries. A comprehensive diagram pretty much does the summation for you.

Using Mind Maps as Graphic Organizers

Mind maps are a great way to depict a hierarchy. What is hierarchical organization ? The concept is simple: a singular topic dominates with each subsequent idea decreasing in importance.

Usually, the mind map starts with the thesis (or main idea) at the center.  From there, you can branch out with your supporting evidence.

Use this process to replace your traditional note taking technique – note cards, outlines, whatever. You’ll quickly realize a mind map is a great way to formulate the structure of your essay. The thing to note here is that the nature of the mind maps force you think about sub topics and how to organize your ideas. And once the ideas are organized writing the essay become very easy.

A mind map is a useful graphic organizer for writing - Graphic Organizers for Writing

Above is a mind map of a research proposal. Click on it to see the full image or you can see the fully editable template via this link . As you can see in this mind map the difference areas of the research proposal is highlighted. Similarly when your writing the research paper you can use a mind map to break it down to sub topics. We have more mind map templates for you to get started.

Concept Maps

A concept map will help you visualize the connection between ideas. You can easily see cause and effect – how one concept leads to another. Often times, concept mapping includes the use of short words or phrases to depict the budding relationship between these concepts.

If you look closely you can see that its very similar to a mind map. But a concept maps gives more of a free reign compares to the rigid topic structure of a mind map. I’d say it’s the perfect graphic organizer for writing research papers where you have the license to explore.

By creating a concept map , you can also see how a broad subject can be narrowed down into specific ideas.  This is a great way to counter writers block.  Often, we look at the big picture and fail to see the specifics that lead to it.  Identifying contributing factors and supporting evidence is difficult. But with a concept map, you can easily see how the smaller parts add up to the whole.

Concept map as a graphic organizer - Graphic Organizers for Writing

Why Bother With Graphic Organizers?

If you already detest the writing process, adding another step might seem insane. However, there really are several advantages of using them.  If you haven’t already accepted the benefits of each individual diagram style, here are some more perks of graphic organizers in general:

  • Quality essays are based on detail. No one is going to accept your opinions and reasoning just because you say so. You’ll need proof. And organizing that proof will require attention to detail. Graphic organizers can help you see that detail and how it contributes to the overall concept.
  • Graphic organizers are flexible. You don’t need one of those giant pink erasers. You don’t need to restructure your outline. All you have to do is draw a few arrows and bam – the relationship has totally changed.
  • No matter what you are writing about, a graphic organizer can help. They can be used to structure an essay on the Great Wall, theoretical physics, or Spanish speaking countries.
  • If you write an outline, can you easily see how point A influences point X? Probably not. But if little thought bubble A is sitting out there all by itself, you can visualize the way it ties into point R, T and X.
  • Some of us find it difficult to put our opinions, thoughts, and ideas into writing. However, communicating our feelings with little doodles and sketches is far less threatening.
  • As a writer, our brain often feels like a 2-year-old’s toy box – a big jumbled mess. Taking that mess and putting it onto paper with some semblance of organization is challenging. Rather than trying to take your thoughts from total chaos to a perfectly structured list, just try to get them out of your brain and onto paper in the form of a diagram.
  • A graphic organizer helps you establish validity and relevance. You can easily nix the ideas that don’t support or enhance your thesis.

The next time you are faced with a writing project, take a few minutes to explore the efficiency of graphic organizers. You can find a wealth of templates here.

Have you ever used a graphic organizer to structure an essay? How did it go? Do you have a diagram suggestion for the writing process that wasn’t mentioned here? Let us know!

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How To Write an IELTS Process Diagram Essay

An IELTS process diagram question can contain a wide variety of different types of graphics. It could be a natural process such as the water cycle, a manufacturing process or a diagram of a system.

Using these 5 steps will help you to write a high-scoring process diagram essay:

1)  Analyse the question

2)  Identify the main features

3)  Write an introduction

4)  Write an overview

5)  Write the details paragraphs

In this lesson, we’re going to work through the 5 stages step-by-step as we answer a practice question.

Before we begin, here’s a model essay structure that you can use as a guideline for all IELTS Academic Task 1 questions.

Ideally, your essay should have 4 paragraphs:

Paragraph 1  – Introduction

Paragraph 2  – Overview

Paragraph 3  – 1 st  main feature

Paragraph 4  – 2 nd  main feature

We now have everything we need to begin planning and writing our IELTS process diagram essay.

Here’s our practice question:

The diagrams below show a structure that is used to generate electricity from wave power.

Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.

Write at least 150 words.

Generating Electricity From The Sea

essay structure diagram

Source: Official website IELTS Essentials

Step 1 –  Analyse the question

The format of every Academic Task 1 question is the same, with the instruction sentence (highlighted below) identical in every question. Here is our practice question again.

Every question consists of:

  • Sentence 1 – A brief description of the graphic
  • Sentence 2 – The instructions
  • The graphic – diagram, chart, graph, table, etc.

Sentence 2 tells you what you have to do.

You must do 3 things:

1.     Select the main features.

2.     Write about the main features.

3.     Compare the main features.

All three tasks refer to the ‘ main features ’ of the graphic. You  do not  have to write about everything. Just pick out 2 or 3 key features and you’ll have plenty to write about.

Step 2 – Identify the Main Features

The graphic in IELTS process diagram questions should not be difficult to understand. There are not usually any numbers to analyse as in other types of question, just a diagram to interpret or, as in our practice question, two diagrams which each show part of the process.

All you are looking for are the main features. These should be the easiest things to spot. There will be lots of information in the graphic to help you identify them, especially, titles, labels and captions.

Here are some useful questions to ask?

1) Is it a linear or a cyclical process?

A linear process starts and finishes at different places. It will often involve the manufacture or creation of something, starting with the raw materials going in at one end and the finished product coming out the other end. An example of this can be seen in this diagram from a past IELTS process diagram question about the manufacture of bricks.

Linear process

essay structure diagram

A cyclical process, on the other hand, is a process that goes back to the beginning and repeats over and over again, such as the life cycle of a frog or a butterfly.

Cyclical process

essay structure diagram

2) Where does the process start and end?

For a linear process this will usually be obvious. It may be harder to determine for a cyclical process so it’s important that you examine the graphic carefully to find out.

3) How many steps are there to the process?

If there are a lot, it can be helpful to number them from 1 to whatever number the final stage is.

4) Can the process be easily broken down into stages?

In the brick-making graphic, for example, there are three stages:

a) Creating the bricks from clay

b) Manufacturing the finished product by drying and firing

c) Packaging and delivery

In the life cycle graphic above, there are also three distinct stages as the frog passes through different stages of development – egg, juvenile, adult.

5) What are the raw materials? What is produced at the end of the process?

These questions obviously apply only to manufacturing processes.

For other types of process, it might be more appropriate to ask the following question.

6) What is the end result of the process?

This question is relevant for our practice IELTS process diagram question which shows a process that creates something using a particular structure. The end result is the production of electricity.

So, what main features stand out in our practice graphic? Here it is again.

essay structure diagram

This graphic doesn’t contain very much detail. There are only two stages to the process:

Stage 1:  Electricity is generated as the wave flows into the structure (Diagram A).

Stage 2:  Electricity is also created as the receding wave draws air back down the column (Diagram B).

Other diagrams are more complex and you have to go through them stage by stage to work out what’s happening and then pick out just 2 or 3 main feature to write about.

The key features you select will be the starting point for your essay. You will then go on to add more detail later. However, with just 20 minutes allowed for Task 1, and a requirement of only 150 words, you won't be able to include many details.

We’re now ready to begin writing our essay. Here’s a reminder of the 4 part structure we’re going to use.

Step 3 – Write an Introduction 

In the introduction, you should simply paraphrase the question, that is, say the same thing in a different way. You can do this by using synonyms and changing the sentence structure. For example:

Introduction (Paragraph 1): 

The two diagrams illustrate a method of creating electricity from the force of waves using a specifically designed man-made construction.

This is all you need to do for the introduction.

Step 4 – Write an Overview (Paragraph 2)

In the second paragraph, you should give a general description of the diagram/s or process. The detail comes later in the essay.

State the information simply using synonyms where possible. No elaborate vocabulary or grammar structures are required, just the appropriate words and correct verb tenses.

For example:

Overview  (Paragraph 2): 

The structure, consisting of a wave chamber and a tall column containing a turbine, is erected on a steeply sloping coastal cliff or sea wall where it is subject to the movement of the ocean waves.

Step 5  – Write the 1st Detail Paragraph

Paragraphs 3 and 4 of your IELTS process diagram essay are where you include more detailed information. In paragraph 3, you should explain the first key feature in more detail.

For this question, we will expand on the first stage of the process. Here it is again:

Stage 1: Electricity is generated as the wave flows into the structure (Diagram A).

And this is an example of what you could write:

Paragraph 3 :

The first diagram shows how the incoming wave fills a large chamber and forces the air inside this space up the column and through the turbine. The pressure of the air rotates the turbine which generates a current of electricity. The process does not end there for the structure is able to continue producing power as the sea recedes as can be seen in the second diagram.

Step 6  – Write the 2nd Detail Paragraph

For the fourth and final paragraph, you do the same thing for your remaining key features or, for this question, the second stage of the process.

Here it is again:

Stage 2: Electricity is also created as the receding wave draws air back down the column (Diagram B).

Here’s an example of what you could write:

Paragraph 4 :

As the water now flows away from the structure, it draws air back down the column and downwards through the turbine in the same direction as the previous upward flow of air. The turbine continues to turn thus generating even more electricity. 

Here are the four paragraphs brought together to create our finished essay.

Finished IELTS Process Diagram Essay

essay structure diagram

This sample IELTS process diagram essay is just over the minimum word limit so you can see that you don’t have space to include very much detail at all. That’s why it is essential to select just a couple of main features to write about.

Now use what you’ve learnt in this lesson to practice answering other IELTS process diagram questions. Start slowly at first and keep practicing until you can plan and write a complete essay in around 20 minutes.

Want  to watch and listen to this lesson?

Click on this video.

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Ielts academic writing task 1 – all lessons.

IELTS Academic Writing  –  A summary of the test including important facts, test format & assessment.

Academic Writing Task 1  – The format, the 7 question types & sample questions, assessment & marking criteria.  All the key information you need to know.

Understanding Task 1 Questions  – How to quickly and easily analyse and understand IELTS Writing Task 2 questions.

How To Plan a Task 1 Essay  –  Discover  3 reasons why you must plan, the 4 simple steps of essay planning and learn a simple 4 part essay structure.

Vocabulary for Task 1 Essays  –  Learn key vocabulary for a high-scoring essay. Word lists & a downloadable PDF.

Grammar for Task 1 Essays   – Essential grammar for Task 1 Academic essays including, verb tenses, key sentence structures, articles & prepositions.

The 7 Question Types:

Click the links below for a step-by-step lesson on each type of Task 1 question.

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