Essay structure: How to structure an essay
(Last updated: 25 March 2019)
Essay writing is a fundamental part of academic learning at every level. However, many students lose valuable marks by failing to structure their essays clearly and concisely in order to make the best of their ideas. So how do you structure an essay correctly? What is the best essay format? This simple guide will show you how to structure an essay by clearly introducing and concluding your argument, and laying out your paragraphs coherently in between. Your essay writing can be dramatically improved overnight simply by using the correct essay structure.
How to start an essay
Always begin writing essays with an introduction that clearly sets out the aims of what you are about to write and references the title of the piece of work. State what the essay will try to achieve and briefly mention some of the main points you will consider. The idea is to give the marker an overview of your argument, to show that your thought process is logical and coherent and that you have carefully thought the question through. Don’t try to go into any of your key points in depth in your introduction – they will each be covered by a full paragraph later on. If the question is an ‘either or’ or a ‘how far do you agree’ question, it is useful to set out both sides of the argument briefly in the introduction in preparation for exploring the two sides later in the essay.
For example, if the essay title is “The main purpose of Gothic fiction is to break normal moral and social codes. Discuss.”
Essay introduction example: “It is certainly true that many works of Gothic fiction manifest the transgression of normal moral and social codes as their major theme. Their emphasis on female sexuality, their breaking of the boundaries between life and death and their shocking displays of immoral religious characters would all suggest that this is indeed the case. However, it is also important to consider other major aspects of the genre that might be considered equally important in purpose, such as its fascination with the supernatural, its portrayal of artificial humanity and its satirical social attacks. This essay will explore these conflicting purposes with reference to several different Gothic texts to discover what might be best described as the ‘main’ purpose of the genre.
Paragraph structure in essay writing
You should start a new paragraph for each major new idea within your essay, to clearly show the examiner the structure of your argument. Each paragraph should begin with a signpost sentence that sets out the main point you are going to explore in that section. It is sometimes helpful to refer back to the title of the essay in the signpost sentence, to remind the examiner of the relevance of your point. Essay writing becomes much easier for you too this way, as you remind yourself exactly what you are focusing on each step of the way.
Signpost sentence example: One important way in which Gothic fiction transgresses normal moral and social codes is in its portrayal of the female heroine.
Further sentences in this paragraph then go on to expand and back up your point in greater detail and with relevant examples. The paragraph should not contain any sentences not directly related to the issue set out in the signpost sentence. So you are writing an essay that clearly separates its ideas into structured sections.
How to finish your essay
Every well-structured essay ends with a conclusion. Its purpose is to summarise the main points of your argument and, if appropriate, to draw a final decision or judgement about the issues you have been discussing. It is important not to introduce any new ideas in the conclusion – it is simply a reminder of what your essay has already covered. It may be useful again to refer back to the title in the conclusion to make it very clear to the examiner that you have thoroughly answered the question at hand. Make sure you remind them of your argument by very concisely touching on each key point.
Essay conclusion example: “Overall, whilst it is certainly true that the characters, plots and settings of Gothic fiction seem firmly intended to break normal moral and social codes, the great incidence within the genre of the depiction of the supernatural, and in particular its insistent reference to social injustice and hypocrisy might suggest that in fact its main purpose was the criticism and reform of society.”
Final essay structure top tip:
To check over the structure of your finished essay, see if you can write a summary of it where you state in one sentence what each paragraph is about. If you need to write more than one sentence for a paragraph your structure isn’t clear enough, you need to split that paragraph into two to separate the key points out. Your essay writing should come on in leaps and bounds if you follow these top tips to good essay structure.
Get one step closer to achieving top class marks with the help of an editor to ensure that your essay is structured and formatted to the utmost quality. Many students choose to ask their course colleagues to help with this or from professional editors who can check for any errors and omissions so that your essay is ready for its submission deadline.