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Elements of Essay Writing

Essays can be written many different ways, but the traditional five-paragraph essay has essential elements that transcend all essay writing. Proper planning and organization is required when writing an essay, particularly when developing a thesis statement, which sets the focus and tone of an essay. The introduction, body paragraph and conclusion are the other primary elements of an essay. It is customary to prepare an outline before writing to give your essay structure and effective flow.

The thesis is the statement of an essay that determines the primary focus. A thesis statement should be one coherent, concise sentence that clearly states the point of your essay. If you are writing a persuasive essay, the thesis statement is where you make your primary argument. A strong thesis statement is essential for an effective and cohesive essay. Traditionally, your thesis statement should be the last sentence in your introductory paragraph, but more relaxed styles of essays may have the thesis elsewhere in the introduction.

One of the main steps in writing an essay is creating an outline of material to create the most effective structure. Traditionally, outlines use a system of Roman numerals, upper- and lower-case letters, and numbers to classify points. Create one heading for each paragraph, including your introduction and conclusion. For each supporting paragraph in the body of your essay, list the most essential points you want to cover.


An essay introduction consists of one paragraph that introduces your reader to your essay. Mention any background information or general information that is pertinent to the topic in the introduction before your thesis statement. The introduction should summarize the point you intend to make in the body of your essay.

The supporting paragraphs that back up your thesis make up the body of an essay. Each paragraph should contain at least one point to confirm your thesis with any necessary supporting information. A five-paragraph essay, for example, has three body paragraphs. Depending on the style of your essay, you may have more body paragraphs. Write one body paragraph for each point that supports your thesis.

The conclusion of an essay is one paragraph that summarizes the principal points made throughout the body. Contrary to the introductory paragraph, which summarizes the overall idea of the essay, the conclusion should specifically confirm why your thesis is correct using the points from your supporting body paragraphs.

  • Purdue University: Purdue Online Writing Lab: Developing an Outline

Sophie Southern has been a freelance writer since 2004. Her writing has been featured in "JPG" magazine and on Zlio.com. Southern holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from the School of Visual Arts.

7 Essential Elements Of A Perfect Essay

  • Essay Writing

a girl is writing in a notebook

No matter what level of education you are currently completing, chances are you will need to write more than a few essays to pass your class and earn a degree.

An essay is a piece of writing that analyzes a prompt by comparing and contrasting ideas, looking at different angles or perspectives, and using evidence to make an argument or point.

Essays are used for a number of reasons by different people. For example, college instructors use essays as part of the class curriculum, while businesses hire freelance writers to write persuasive documents to market their products or promote the company.

There are essential elements that make an excellent essay. These elements will ensure that you receive a good grade and help you advance further in your education.

So, to get the grade you need to pass your class and earn your degree, follow these seven essential elements that will help you organize, write, and edit a perfect essay every time.

# 1 – Do your Research

To write a perfect essay, you will need to know exactly what point you are trying to prove and have enough background knowledge of the topic to convince the reader of your point, argument, or idea.

You can access this information from several different sources, including:

  • The Internet
  • Book, video, or audio lectures
  • Class notes and lecture slides created by the instructor
  • Resources from the library

Once you have all of the information you need, make sure that you put together an outline so that your essay logically flows from one point to another.

# 2 – Outline Your Essay

The next essential element to writing the perfect essay will be to create an outline. Outlines help writers make sure they cover all of the necessary points for their essay and that each point flows into one another.

Though every professor will have different guidelines for formatting, an outline should typically include:

  • An introduction with a thesis statement
  • Body paragraphs with topic sentences and supporting details
  • A conclusion with a restatement of the thesis statement

The outline does not have to be detail-heavy, but it should include critical ideas that will be covered and the order they will be covered in. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to organize your strongest points first and your weaker points at the end.

Once you have your outline complete, it’s time to start writing the first draft of your essay, starting with the introduction.

# 3 – The Introduction

The intro is considered the most challenging part of an entire essay by many students.

The first paragraph should be short and direct in its explanation of the topic being discussed. The intro sets the tone for the rest of the essay, so you must make it a strong one that will hook your reader’s attention and interest.

Begin with an interesting first sentence that states the main idea of your essay to intrigue readers immediately. For example, suppose you were writing an essay on global warming. In that case, a good first sentence might be: “The topic of global warming is one that everyone should be concerned about and taking steps to ensure doesn’t adversely affect our planet.”

Then, continue the idea of global warming into the second sentence, starting with a transition word such as “in addition.”

A good introduction also includes background information on the topic, such as historical context or information on the current climate that relates to your topic. However, be careful not to put too much information into this part of the introduction, as you will want to save that for the body paragraphs, which follow the intro.

Once you have written an intro and are satisfied with its results, you can write the actual body of your essay.

# 4 – The Body

A key element of writing a successful essay is to have strong body paragraphs that support your thesis and provide in-depth analysis. The body of an essay is the longest part, typically taking up three-quarters or more of the overall writing.

A well-formulated body paragraph contains an introductory sentence with a transition word at the beginning, three clear and logical points that support the previous sentence (and provides evidence to back up the argument), and a concluding sentence that restates the main idea of the paragraph.

Some examples of introductory sentences for body paragraphs include:

  • For example,
  • In addition,

The first logical point should be your strongest argument to support the opening sentence of the paragraph. The first point should be followed by two other lesser points that add to the discussion or enhance the point of your essay. These should also begin with a transition word and contain clear information and examples of how you came to your decision, thought, or idea.

If you are writing an informal or persuasive essay, you can choose to write in the first person or use the third person. Either way, you will want to vary your sentence structure and keep your paragraphs short and precise.

Proofread your work to check for grammar and spelling errors, an essential component of an overall well-written essay.

# 5 – The Conclusion

Just like the intro, writing a strong conclusion paragraph can be challenging at times. However, a good conclusion leaves readers with something to think about or feel inspired by after they have finished reading.

An excellent conclusion should consist of a sentence that is direct and to the point. It can also include a quote from a notable person or reference to another source you used in your essay, such as an article or book on the topic.

This section should be brief, as it is the last thing readers read before moving on to another essay or document.

Finish with a solid final sentence that states your main point to leave a lasting impression on the reader. There are many different ways to end an essay, so keep your audience in mind when deciding which one is best for your project.

The conclusion might be the last paragraph you write, but it is not your last chance to impress readers with a well-written essay! When you finally finish writing, many different things need to be done before submitting your final draft.

# 6 – Proofreading & Editing

Writing an essay free of grammatical errors or spelling mistakes may seem complicated but should be an essential part of the writing process. This is because any errors in writing will make it difficult for the reader to focus on the actual essay and its content.

Proofreading should always be done after writing the first draft before rewriting, revising, or editing. Before proofreading, read your work out loud to hear how it sounds. This will give you a better understanding of grammar, word choice, or sentence structure issues that make your essay difficult to read or follow.

After finishing your first draft is an excellent time to utilize spell check and grammar check with any one of many online editing tools. These tools are helpful in catching mistakes that may slip through the cracks while reading over your work, but they aren’t perfect! Make sure to proofread twice for each issue before moving on to other documents or essays.

Once you feel as though you have made all necessary changes and proofreading marks are correct, it is time to move on to the final steps of your essay writing process.

# 7 – Read It One More Time!

After making all the necessary changes, sitting back and reading your essay may seem like a waste of time, but it is actually an essential part of improving your writing. You can check for any minor errors that were missed the first time around due to being overwhelmed after completing your first draft, such as:

  • Spacing errors
  • Contextual inaccuracies
  • Incorrect or missing punctuation
  • Inconsistencies in diction

Now is also the time when you can bring in a friend or family member who isn’t familiar with the topic of your essay and have them read it over for mistakes.

This will help to give you a more unbiased opinion of the quality of your work and spot any typos, errors, or tonal issues that slipped through the cracks during editing.

After you are confident with how your final draft reads and looks, be sure to format the essay according to any guidelines given by your professor. These guidelines can include:

  • where to place a title or header
  • placement of any citations
  • line spacing
  • margin size

Write The Perfect Essay Every Time!

Writing the perfect essay doesn’t have to be a challenge with the right tools and preparation. However, knowing what needs to happen before, during, and after writing is essential for creating a final quality product that impresses your readers.

In conclusion, all of the elements mentioned above are essential in crafting and writing a successful essay. Be sure to include them each time you need to write an essay or research paper for a class or publication. By following these seven steps, your writing will be clear and compelling so that it can entice readers from start to finish!

Karen Palmer

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Gordon Harvey’s Elements of the Academic Essay

The “Elements of the Academic Essay” is a taxonomy of academic writing by Gordon Harvey. It identifies the key components of academic writing across the disciplines and has been widely influential. Below is a complete list (with descriptions).

Elements of an Essay

“Your main insight or idea about a text or topic, and the main proposition that your essay demonstrates. It should be true but arguable (not obviously or patently true, but one alternative among several), be limited enough in scope to be argued in a short composition and with available evidence, and get to the heart of the text or topic being analyzed (not be peripheral). It should be stated early in some form and at some point recast sharply (not just be implied), and it should govern the whole essay (not disappear in places).”  — Gordon Harvey, “Elements of the Academic Essay”

  • See this fuller discussion of some of the scholarly debates about the thesis statement:  The Thesis Statement
  • See this piece on the pros and cons of having a thesis statement:  Pros and Cons of Thesis Statements
  • See this piece on working with students without a thesis:  What To Do When There’s No Thesis
  • And see this piece for working with students with varied levels of thesis development:  A Pseudo-Thesis

“The intellectual context that you establish for your topic and thesis at the start of your essay, in order to suggest why someone, besides your instructor, might want to read an essay on this topic or need to hear your particular thesis argued—why your thesis isn’t just obvious to all, why other people might hold other theses (that you think are wrong). Your motive should be aimed at your audience: it won’t necessarily be the reason you first got interested in the topic (which could be private and idiosyncratic) or the personal motivation behind your engagement with the topic. Indeed it’s where you suggest that your argument isn’t idiosyncratic, but rather is generally interesting. The motive you set up should be genuine: a misapprehension or puzzle that an intelligent reader (not a straw dummy) would really have, a point that such a reader would really overlook. Defining motive should be the main business of your introductory paragraphs, where it is usually introduced by a form of the complicating word ‘But.'”  — Gordon Harvey, “The Elements of the Academic Essay”

“The data—facts, examples, or details—that you refer to, quote, or summarize to support your thesis. There needs to be enough evidence to be persuasive; it needs to be the right kind of evidence to support the thesis (with no obvious pieces of evidence overlooked); it needs to be sufficiently concrete for the reader to trust it (e.g. in textual analysis, it often helps to find one or two key or representative passages to quote and focus on); and if summarized, it needs to be summarized accurately and fairly.”  –Gordon Harvey, “The Elements of the Academic Essay

“The work of breaking down, interpreting, and commenting upon the data, of saying what can be inferred from the data such that it supports a thesis (is evidence for something). Analysis is what you do with data when you go beyond observing or summarizing it: you show how its parts contribute to a whole or how causes contribute to an effect; you draw out the significance or implication not apparent to a superficial view. Analysis is what makes the writer feel present, as a reasoning individual; so your essay should do more analyzing than summarizing or quoting.”  — Gordon Harvey, “The Elements of the Academic Essay”

“The recurring terms or basic oppositions that an argument rests upon, usually literal but sometimes a ruling metaphor. These terms usually imply certain assumptions—unstated beliefs about life, history, literature, reasoning, etc. that the essayist doesn’t argue for but simply assumes to be true. An essay’s keyterms should be clear in their meaning and appear throughout (not be abandoned half-way); they should be appropriate for the subject at hand (not unfair or too simple—a false or constraining opposition); and they should not be inert clichés or abstractions (e.g. “the evils of society”). The attendant assumptions should bear logical inspection, and if arguable they should be explicitly acknowledged.”  — Gordon Harvey, “The Elements of the Academic Essay”

One of the most common issues we address in the writing center is the issue of structure. Many students never consciously address structure in the way that they consciously formulate a thesis. This is ironic because the two are inseparable – that is, the way you formulate an argument (structure) is essential to the argument itself (thesis). Thus, when emphasizing the importance of structure to students, it is important to remind them that structure cannot be developed in the absence of a strong thesis: you have to know what you’re arguing before you decide how to argue it.

As a writing tutor, your first task in addressing issues of structure will be to try and gauge if the student writer has an idea of what good structure looks like. Some students understand good structure, even if it’s just at an intuitive level, while others do not. If comprehension seems lacking, it may be useful to actually stop and explain what good structure looks like.

Some Ways of Thinking about Structure:

The structure of the paper should be progressive; the paper should “build” throughout. That is, there should be a logical order to the paper; each successive paragraph should build on the ideas presented in the last. In the writing center we are familiar with the scattershot essay in which the student throws out ten arguments to see what sticks. Such essays are characterized by weak or nonexistent transitions such as “My next point…” or “Another example of this…”.

Some students will understand structure better with the help of a metaphor. One particularly nice metaphor (courtesy of Dara) is to view the structure of an academic paper as a set of stairs. The paper begins with a small step; the first paragraph gives the most simple assumption or support for the argument. The paper then builds, slowly and gradually towards the top of the staircase. When the paper reaches its conclusion, it has brought the reader up to the top of the staircase to a point of new insight. From the balcony the reader can gaze out upon the original statement or question from higher ground.

How Gordon Harvey describes structure in his “Elements of the Academic Essay”:

“The sections should follow a logical order, and the links in that order should be apparent to the reader (see “stitching”). But it should also be a progressive order—there should have a direction of development or complication, not be simply a list or a series of restatements of the thesis (“Macbeth is ambitious: he’s ambitious here; and he’s ambitious here; and he’s ambitions here, too; thus, Macbeth is ambitious”). And the order should be supple enough to allow the writer to explore the topic, not just hammer home a thesis.”

“Words that tie together the parts of an argument, most commonly (a) by using transition (linking or turning) words as signposts to indicate how a new section, paragraph, or sentence follows from the one immediately previous; but also (b) by recollection of an earlier idea or part of the essay, referring back to it either by explicit statement or by echoing key words or resonant phrases quoted or stated earlier. The repeating of key or thesis concepts is especially helpful at points of transition from one section to another, to show how the new section fits in.”  — Gordon Harvey, “The Elements of the Academic Essay”

Persons or documents, referred to, summarized, or quoted, that help a writer demonstrate the truth of his or her argument. They are typically sources of (a) factual information or data, (b) opinions or interpretation on your topic, (c) comparable versions of the thing you are discussing, or (d) applicable general concepts. Your sources need to be efficiently integrated and fairly acknowledged by citation.”  — Gordon Harvey, “The Elements of the Academic Essay”

When you pause in your demonstration to reflect on it, to raise or answer a question about it—as when you (1) consider a counter-argument—a possible objection, alternative, or problem that a skeptical or resistant reader might raise; (2) define your terms or assumptions (what do I mean by this term? or, what am I assuming here?); (3) handle a newly emergent concern (but if this is so, then how can X be?); (4) draw out an implication (so what? what might be the wider significance of the argument I have made? what might it lead to if I’m right? or, what does my argument about a single aspect of this suggest about the whole thing? or about the way people live and think?), and (5) consider a possible explanation for the phenomenon that has been demonstrated (why might this be so? what might cause or have caused it?); (6) offer a qualification or limitation to the case you have made (what you’re not saying). The first of these reflections can come anywhere in an essay; the second usually comes early; the last four often come late (they’re common moves of conclusion).”  — Gordon Harvey, “The Elements of the Academic Essay”

“Bits of information, explanation, and summary that orient the reader who isn’t expert in the subject, enabling such a reader to follow the argument. The orienting question is, what does my reader need here? The answer can take many forms: necessary information about the text, author, or event (e.g. given in your introduction); a summary of a text or passage about to be analyzed; pieces of information given along the way about passages, people, or events mentioned (including announcing or “set-up” phrases for quotations and sources). The trick is to orient briefly and gracefully.”  — Gordon Harvey, “The Elements of the Academic Essay”

“The implied relationship of you, the writer, to your readers and subject: how and where you implicitly position yourself as an analyst. Stance is defined by such features as style and tone (e.g. familiar or formal); the presence or absence of specialized language and knowledge; the amount of time spent orienting a general, non-expert reader; the use of scholarly conventions of form and style. Your stance should be established within the first few paragraphs of your essay, and it should remain consistent.”  — Gordon Harvey, “The Elements of the Academic Essay”

“The choices you make of words and sentence structure. Your style should be exact and clear (should bring out main idea and action of each sentence, not bury it) and plain without being flat (should be graceful and a little interesting, not stuffy).”  — Gordon Harvey, “The Elements of the Academic Essay”

“It should both interest and inform. To inform—i.e. inform a general reader who might be browsing in an essay collection or bibliography—your title should give the subject and focus of the essay. To interest, your title might include a linguistic twist, paradox, sound pattern, or striking phrase taken from one of your sources (the aptness of which phrase the reader comes gradually to see). You can combine the interesting and informing functions in a single title or split them into title and subtitle. The interesting element shouldn’t be too cute; the informing element shouldn’t go so far as to state a thesis. Don’t underline your own title, except where it contains the title of another text.”  — Gordon Harvey, “The Elements of the Academic Essay”

A student’s argument serves as the backbone to a piece of writing. Often expressed in the form of a one-sentence thesis statement, an argument forms the basis for a paper, defines the writer’s feelings toward a particular topic, and engages the reader in a discussion about a particular topic. Because an argument bears so much weight on the success of a paper, students may spend hours searching for that one, arguable claim that will carry them through to the assigned page limit. Formulating a decent argument about a text is tricky, especially when a professor does not distribute essay prompts—prompting students to come to the Writing Center asking that eternal question: “ What  am I going to write about?!”

Formulating the Idea of an Argument (Pre-Writing Stage)

Before a student can begin drafting a paper, he or she must have a solid argument. Begin this process by looking at the writing assignment rubric and/or prompt assigned by the professor. If no particular prompt was assigned, ask the student what interests him or her in the class? Was there a reading assignment that was particularly compelling and/or interesting? Engage the student in a conversation about the class or the paper assignment with a pen and paper in their hand. When an interesting idea is conveyed, ask them to jot it down on a paper. Look for similarities or connections in their written list of ideas.

If a student is still lost, it’s helpful to remind them to remember to have a  motive  for writing. Besides working to pass a class or getting a good grade, what could inspire a student to write an eight page paper and enjoy the process? Relating the assigned class readings to incidents in a student’s own life often helps create a sense of urgency and need to write an argument. In an essay entitled “The Great Conversation (of the Dining Hall): One Student’s Experience of College-Level Writing,” student Kimberly Nelson remembers her passion for Tolkien fueled her to write a lengthy research paper and engage her friends in discussions concerning her topic (290).

Additional ideas for consultations during the pre-writing stage .

Formulating the Argument

The pre-writing stage is essential because arguments must “be limited enough in scope to be argued in a short composition” according to Harvey’s  Elements of the Academic Essay . Narrow down the range of ideas so the student may write a more succinct paper with efficient language. When composing an argument (and later, a thesis), avoid definitive statements—arguments are  arguable , and a great paper builds on a successive chain of ideas grounded in evidence to support an argument. It is of paramount importance to remind your student that the argument will govern the entire paper and not “disappear in places” (Harvey). When composing an actual paper, it’s helpful to Post-It note a summary of your argument on your computer screen to serve as a constant reminder of  why  you are writing.

Difficulties with Arguments and International Students

When international students arrive at Pomona College, they are often unsure of what the standard academic writing expectations are. If a student submits a draft to you devoid of any argument, it’s important to remember that the conventions of their home country may not match up to the standards we expect to see here. Some countries place more of an emphasis on a summary of ideas of others rather than generating entirely new arguments. If this is the case for your student, (gently) remind him or her that most Pomona College professors expect to see new arguments generated from the students and that “summary” papers are frowned upon. Don’t disparage their previous work—use the ideas present in their paragraphs as a launching point for crafting a new, creative argument.

“Students, like all writers, must fictionalize their audience.”

– Fred Pfister and Joanne Petrik, “A Heuristic Model for Creating a Writer’s Audience” (1980)

The main purpose of imagining or fictionalizing an audience is to allow the student to position his/her paper within the discourse and in conversation with other academics. By helping the student acknowledge the fact that both the writer (the student) and the reader (the audience) play a role in the writing process, the student will be better able to clarify and strengthen his/her argument.

Moreover, the practice of fictionalizing the audience should eventually help the student learn how to become his/her own reader. By adopting the role of both the writer and the reader, the student will be able to further develop his ability to locate his/her text in a discourse community.

During a consultation, you may notice that a student’s argument does not actually engage in a conversation with the members of its respective discourse community. If his/her paper does not refer to other texts or ask questions that are relevant to this particular discourse, you may need to ask the student to imagine who his/her audience is as well as what the audience’s reaction to the paper may look like.

Although the student’s immediate answer will most likely be his/her professor, you should advise the student to attempt imagining an audience beyond his/her class—an audience composed of people who are invested in this discourse or this specific topic.

If your student cannot imagine or fictionalize such an audience, it may be because the student may not believe that he/she know enough about the topic to address such a knowledgeable audience. In this case, you should advise the student to pretend that he/she is an expert on the topic or that the student’s paper will be published and read by other members of the discourse community.

The student, however, should not pander to the audience and “undervalue the responsibility that [he/she] has to [the] subject” (Ede and Lunsford, 1984). Advise him/her to avoid re-shaping the paper so that it merely caters to or appeases the audience.

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Writing about literature, elements of the essay.

As you move from reading literary works to writing essays about them, remember that the essay—like the short story, poem, or play—is a distinctive subgenre with unique elements and conventions. Just as you come to a poem or play with a certain set of expectations, so will readers approach your essay. They will be looking for particular elements, anticipating that the work will unfold in a specific way. This chapter explains and explores those elements so that you can develop a clear sense of what makes a piece of writing an essay and why some essays are more effective than others.

An essay has particular elements and a particular form because it serves a specific purpose. Keeping this in mind, consider what an essay is and what it does. An essay is a relatively short written composition that articulates, supports, and develops an idea or claim. Like any work of expository prose, it aims to explain something complex. Explaining in this case entails both analysis (breaking the complex "thing" down into its constituent parts and showing how they work together to form a meaningful whole) and argument (working to convince someone that the analysis is valid). In an essay about literature, the literary work is the complex thing that you are helping a reader to better understand. The essay needs to show the reader a particular way to understand the work, to interpret or read it. That interpretation or reading starts with the essayist's own personal response. But an essay also needs to persuade the reader that this interpretation is reasonable and enlightening—that it is, though it is distinctive and new, it is more than merely idiosyncratic or subjective.

To achieve these ends, an essay must incorporate four elements: an appropriate tone , a clear thesis , a coherent structure , and ample, appropriate evidence .

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Writing Help

  • Writing Process

Starting an Essay

Essay structure, writing a thesis statement, introduction paragraphs, body paragraphs, conclusions.

  • Paragraph Structure
  • Paraphrase, Summarize, and Synthesize
  • Writing Genres
  • Sentence Structure
  • Punctuation and Grammar
  • Using Bias-Free Language
  • Revision, Editing, and Proofreading
  • Mastering the Literature Review This link opens in a new window
  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Help This link opens in a new window

Note: This guide was used/adapted with the permission of Baker College. For more information please visit the Baker College Writing Guide . 

Almost every course you will encounter in college will include writing assignments. One of the most common writing assignments is known as an essay. While the content and style of essay projects will vary across the disciplines, there are several key components that all good essays include. This section of the guide walks you through some of the basic components of the essay genre.  Here are some general thoughts before you get started.  

  • A good essay is well-organized and structured. Good essays have a clear introduction, thesis, and conclusion. Body paragraphs in the essay connect back to the thesis. 
  • Essays should be cohesive and have a good flow. We can create this flow by using transition words and phrases to connect one point to the next. 
  • Remember to review the directions before you start. One can produce a wonderfully written essay, but if it does not meet the project's parameters, it will not usually receive a passing grade.
  • Tips for Writing Your Thesis Drafting a thesis statement can be intimidating, but there are a variety of resources to help.
  • Strong Introduction Paragraphs Review tips on starting your paper strong.
  • Creating Body Paragraphs This resource walks you through paragraph creation including how to implement good topic sentences, proper organization, and excellent development.
  • Crafting a Strong Conclusion We often focus on creating a strong introduction, but crafting a well-written conclusion is just as important.
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  • Last Updated: Nov 30, 2023 1:00 PM
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How to build an essay

  • Introduction
  • Body paragraphs

Preparing an outline

You are ready to write an essay after you have done these steps:

  • Identified all the components that you must cover so that you address the essay question or prompt
  • Conducted your initial research and decided on your tentative position and line of argument
  • Created a preliminary outline for your essay that presents the information logically.

Most essays follow a similar structure, including an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion, as shown in the diagram below.

Click on the plus icons for more information.

Writing an introduction

The purpose of the introduction is to give your reader a clear idea of what your essay will cover. It should provide some background information on the specific problem or issue you are addressing, and should clearly outline your answer. Depending on your faculty or school, ‘your answer’ may be referred to as your position, contention, thesis or main argument . Whatever term is used, this is essentially your response to the essay question, which is based on the research that you have undertaken or the readings you have analysed.

An essay is not like a mystery novel which keeps the reader in suspense; it should not slowly reveal the argument to the reader. Instead, the contention and supporting arguments are usually stated in the introduction.

When writing an introduction, you should typically use a general to specific structure. This means that you introduce the particular problem or topic the essay will address in a general sense to provide the context   before you narrow down to your particular position and line of argument.

elements of writing an essay

Key elements of an introduction

Click on each of the elements to reveal more.

Content Container

Provide some background information and context.

The introduction usually starts by providing some background information about your particular topic, so the reader understands the key problem being addressed and why it is an issue worth writing about. However, it is important that this is brief and that you only include information that is directly relevant to the topic.

This might also be an appropriate place to introduce the reader to key terms and provide definitions, if required.

Don’t be tempted to start your essay with a grand generalisation, for instance: ‘War has always been a problem for humanity….’, or ‘Since the beginning of time…’. Instead, make sure that your initial sentence relates directly to the problem, question or issue highlighted by the essay topic.

Limit the scope of your discussion

Setting the parameters of the essay is important. You can’t possibly cover everything on a topic - and you are not expected to - so you need to tell your reader how you have chosen to narrow the focus of your essay.

State your position / contention

State your position on the topic (also referred to as your main argument , or contention , or thesis statement ). Make sure that you are directly answering the question (and the whole essay question if there is more than one part to it).

"Stating your position" can be a single sentence answer to the essay question but will often include 2-3 sentences explaining the answer in more detail.

Outline the structure or main supporting points of your essay

This usually involves providing details of the most important points you are going to make which support your argument.

Sample introduction

[1] Business leadership has been described as the ‘ability to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute to the effectiveness and success of the organisations of which they are members’ (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman & Gupta, 2004, p. 63). Whether this ability is something a person is born with, or whether it is something that a person can learn, has been the subject of considerable debate. Kambil (2010) has outlined two categories of leadership attributes that help to frame the discussion: 'traits' (mostly innate) and 'skills' which can be developed through experience or training. [2] This essay will draw on the trait theory of leadership to argue that that leaders are first born, but then must be made. [3] While good business leaders share certain traits that are essential to success, including ‘curiosity, courage, perseverance, personal ethics and confidence’ (Kambil, 2010, p.43), they also need learnable skills, such as communication, negotiation and conflict resolution, that are only developed through practice. A potential leader should develop their natural traits as well as learn and practise skills which will help them to persuade, equip and inspire others to realise their vision.

Legend: [1] Background / Context ; [2] Position / Contention ; [3] Structure or main point of essay

Check your understanding View

Key features of an introduction.

Read the paragraph in the accordion below and see if you can identify the key features of an introduction. This is an introduction written in response to the essay question: 'Can Rome's actions towards Carthage be described as defensive imperialism?'

Writing a body paragraph

The body of the essay is where you fully develop your argument. Each body paragraph should contain one key idea or claim, which is supported by relevant examples and evidence from the body of scholarly work on your topic (i.e. academic books and journal articles).

Together, the body paragraphs form the building blocks of your argument.

How do I structure paragraphs?

The TEECL structure provides an effective way of organising a paragraph. TEECL stands for Topic sentence, Explanation, Evidence, Comment, and Link. You may find it helpful to add C for Comment before Link. A paragraph structured this way would contain the following:

  • Topic sentence – the first sentence in a body paragraph that tells the reader what the main idea or claim of the paragraph will be.
  • Explanation – Explain what you mean in greater detail.
  • Evidence – Provide evidence to support your idea or claim. To do this, refer to your research. This may include: case studies, statistics, documentary evidence, academic books or journal articles. Remember that all evidence will require appropriate citation.
  • Comment – Consider the strengths and limitations of the evidence and examples that you have presented. Explain how your evidence supports your claim (i.e. how does it ‘prove’ your topic sentence?).
  • Link – Summarise the main idea of the paragraph, and make clear how this paragraph supports your overall argument.

Sample paragraph

[1] One of the main obstacles to reaching international consensus on climate change action is the ongoing debate over which countries should shoulder the burden. [2] Because the developed world has historically been responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, it has been argued that they should reduce emissions and allow developed nations to prioritise development over environmental concerns (Vinuales, 2011). [3] The notion of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ (CBDR) was formalised in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (UNFCCC, 1992). Article 3.1 explicitly states 'Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof' (p. 4). [4] However, because CBDR outlines a principle and not an actionable plan it has remained problematic. For example, it does not stipulate the extent to which, under the principle of CBDR, developing nations should be exempt from specific emissions targets. This has continued to be a point of contention in global negotiations on climate change, with developed countries such as the USA arguing that developed nations should do more to reduce emissions (Klein et. al., 2017). [5] Fairness and equity need to be pursued in reaching a global agreement on climate change, but transforming this into an actionable strategy is problematic.

Legend : [1] Topic sentence [2] Explanation [3] Evidence / Example [4] Comment [5] Link

What is missing?

The paragraph below was written in response to the essay question: '"Leaders are made rather than born." Do you agree or disagree? Provide reasons for your opinion.'

Read the paragraph then answer the question that follows.

The function of a conclusion is to draw together the main ideas discussed in the body of the essay. However, a good conclusion does more than that.

You may choose to also:

  • reflect on the broader significance of the topic
  • discuss why it is difficult to arrive at a definitive answer to the question posed
  • raise other questions that could be considered in a subsequent essay
  • make a prediction or a caution or a recommendation about what will happen to the phenomenon under investigation

When writing a conclusion, a specific to general structure is usually recommended. Yes, this is opposite to the introduction! Begin by re-stating or re-emphasising your position on the topic, then summarise your line of argument and key points. Finish off by commenting on the significance of the issue, making a prediction about the future of the issue, or a recommendation to deal with the problem at hand.

Diagram of conclusion structure

Sample conclusion

[1]   No single theory can adequately explain the relationship between age and crime, and the debate over their correlation is ongoing. Instead, each theory provides valuable insight into a particular dimension of age and crime. [2] The emergence of the criminal propensity versus criminal career debate in the 1980s demonstrated the importance of both arguments. It is now believed that the age-crime curve created by Gottfredson and Hirschi is a good basic indicator for the age-crime relationship. However, the criminal career position has stood up to stringent empirical testing, and has formed an integral part of developmental theories such as Thornberry’s interactional theory. [3] These theories provide important insight into the complex relationship between age and crime, but, more than this, are useful for developing strategies for delinquency and crime prevention.

Legend : [1] Specific contention ; [2]   Specific summary of main points ; [3] Broader and general significance

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Essay elements and structure.


As stated in The Nature, History, and Types of Essay , a n essay is a prose non-fiction piece of writing with a varying length that addresses a thing, a person, a problem, or an issue from the author's personal point of view. To make the discussion effective, the elements that build the description, narration, exposition, or arguments in an essay should be well-organized. Structurally, the basic elements of an essay are organized into three main sections (introduction, body, and conclusion), as illustrated by the following figure.

Figure 1. Basic essay Structure

 (credit:   https://peachyessay.com/blogs/how-to-structure-essay/ ).

The followings are a brief description of each essay element. To make the description effective, the essay titled How Reading Empowers EFL Learners is referred to as an illustration. Thus, you are suggested to read it first before continuing reading the next section.


  • The general statement or orientation to the topic is one or two sentences that introduce the topic. The general statement must be interesting so that the readers are motivated to read the essay up to the end. Scarry & Scarry (2010, pp. 507-508) offer 9 patterns from which an author can select and use to attract the readers, like definitions of the subject to discuss, anecdotes, a startling statement, a famous quotation, and soon. 
  • The thesis  statement tells what the writer intends to prove, defend, or explain about the topic. It gives the main idea of an essay and is usually placed at the end of the introductory paragraph. A thesis statement is built up by a topic + controlling idea .
  • Outline of the main points (or strategy of development ) describes the organization of the essay, i.e. what will be discussed first, second, etc. It is often preceded by the essay’s purpose statement. However, not all essays include this information. The topic discussed in every body paragraph should be presented in line with the order in the outline. Look how How Reading Empowers EFL Learners in Figure 2 states the purpose and outline, and how the body paragraphs are presented in the sequence determined in the outline.

elements of writing an essay

Figure 2: A Sample of Analysis of Essay Elements

  • Topic Sentence in a body paragraph is usually the first sentence and states the main  idea.
  • Supporting sentence provides details , i.e. facts, explanations, arguments, analysis, and  citations of someone else’s ideas employed to back up the main idea of the paragraph.
  • Concluding Sentence recaps the main point developed by the supporting sentences  and indicates to the reader that this is the end of the paragraph. Concluding sentence is  rarely included in the body paragraphs of an essay. 
  • Thesis restatement is one or more sentence used to repeat or reaffirm the thesis  presented in the introductory paragraph.
  • Summary of main points recapitulates the key points discussed in t he whole body  paragraphs. The summary can be written in one to three sentences, depending on the amount of the key points. The first sentence of the concluding paragraph   of How Reading Empowers EFL Learners summarizes the main points. 
  • Final comment can be one or more of: (1) a conclusion drawn from the discussion in  the body paragraph, (2) final observation about the controlling idea, (3) relevant suggestion, solution or warning, or (4) a prediction based on the details of the body  paragraphs. How Reading Empowers EFL Learners incl udes an implication and a warning.

elements of writing an essay

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