Writing an academic essay means fashioning a coherent set of ideas into an argument. Because essays are essentially linear—they offer one idea at a time—they must present their ideas in the order that makes most sense to a reader. Successfully structuring an essay means attending to a reader's logic.
The focus of such an essay predicts its structure. It dictates the information readers need to know and the order in which they need to receive it. Thus your essay's structure is necessarily unique to the main claim you're making. Although there are guidelines for constructing certain classic essay types (e.g., comparative analysis), there are no set formula.
Answering Questions: The Parts of an Essay
A typical essay contains many different kinds of information, often located in specialized parts or sections. Even short essays perform several different operations: introducing the argument, analyzing data, raising counterarguments, concluding. Introductions and conclusions have fixed places, but other parts don't. Counterargument, for example, may appear within a paragraph, as a free-standing section, as part of the beginning, or before the ending. Background material (historical context or biographical information, a summary of relevant theory or criticism, the definition of a key term) often appears at the beginning of the essay, between the introduction and the first analytical section, but might also appear near the beginning of the specific section to which it's relevant.
It's helpful to think of the different essay sections as answering a series of questions your reader might ask when encountering your thesis. (Readers should have questions. If they don't, your thesis is most likely simply an observation of fact, not an arguable claim.)
"What?" The first question to anticipate from a reader is "what": What evidence shows that the phenomenon described by your thesis is true? To answer the question you must examine your evidence, thus demonstrating the truth of your claim. This "what" or "demonstration" section comes early in the essay, often directly after the introduction. Since you're essentially reporting what you've observed, this is the part you might have most to say about when you first start writing. But be forewarned: it shouldn't take up much more than a third (often much less) of your finished essay. If it does, the essay will lack balance and may read as mere summary or description.
"How?" A reader will also want to know whether the claims of the thesis are true in all cases. The corresponding question is "how": How does the thesis stand up to the challenge of a counterargument? How does the introduction of new material—a new way of looking at the evidence, another set of sources—affect the claims you're making? Typically, an essay will include at least one "how" section. (Call it "complication" since you're responding to a reader's complicating questions.) This section usually comes after the "what," but keep in mind that an essay may complicate its argument several times depending on its length, and that counterargument alone may appear just about anywhere in an essay.
"Why?" Your reader will also want to know what's at stake in your claim: Why does your interpretation of a phenomenon matter to anyone beside you? This question addresses the larger implications of your thesis. It allows your readers to understand your essay within a larger context. In answering "why", your essay explains its own significance. Although you might gesture at this question in your introduction, the fullest answer to it properly belongs at your essay's end. If you leave it out, your readers will experience your essay as unfinished—or, worse, as pointless or insular.
Mapping an Essay
Structuring your essay according to a reader's logic means examining your thesis and anticipating what a reader needs to know, and in what sequence, in order to grasp and be convinced by your argument as it unfolds. The easiest way to do this is to map the essay's ideas via a written narrative. Such an account will give you a preliminary record of your ideas, and will allow you to remind yourself at every turn of the reader's needs in understanding your idea.
Essay maps ask you to predict where your reader will expect background information, counterargument, close analysis of a primary source, or a turn to secondary source material. Essay maps are not concerned with paragraphs so much as with sections of an essay. They anticipate the major argumentative moves you expect your essay to make. Try making your map like this:
- State your thesis in a sentence or two, then write another sentence saying why it's important to make that claim. Indicate, in other words, what a reader might learn by exploring the claim with you. Here you're anticipating your answer to the "why" question that you'll eventually flesh out in your conclusion.
- Begin your next sentence like this: "To be convinced by my claim, the first thing a reader needs to know is . . ." Then say why that's the first thing a reader needs to know, and name one or two items of evidence you think will make the case. This will start you off on answering the "what" question. (Alternately, you may find that the first thing your reader needs to know is some background information.)
- Begin each of the following sentences like this: "The next thing my reader needs to know is . . ." Once again, say why, and name some evidence. Continue until you've mapped out your essay.
Your map should naturally take you through some preliminary answers to the basic questions of what, how, and why. It is not a contract, though—the order in which the ideas appear is not a rigid one. Essay maps are flexible; they evolve with your ideas.
Signs of Trouble
A common structural flaw in college essays is the "walk-through" (also labeled "summary" or "description"). Walk-through essays follow the structure of their sources rather than establishing their own. Such essays generally have a descriptive thesis rather than an argumentative one. Be wary of paragraph openers that lead off with "time" words ("first," "next," "after," "then") or "listing" words ("also," "another," "in addition"). Although they don't always signal trouble, these paragraph openers often indicate that an essay's thesis and structure need work: they suggest that the essay simply reproduces the chronology of the source text (in the case of time words: first this happens, then that, and afterwards another thing . . . ) or simply lists example after example ("In addition, the use of color indicates another way that the painting differentiates between good and evil").
Copyright 2000, Elizabeth Abrams, for the Writing Center at Harvard University
While every single person is entitled to an education, not everyone feels that an education is worth having the first place. And it’s terribly unfortunate notion. This may be the case because there is a large portion of people who are unknowing of the benefits and advantages of having an education, or, more specifically, a college degree from a four-year, accredited college or university. Whatever their reasoning may be, this unfortunate group doesn’t understand or know that having an education – a college degree – is the key to living a fulfilling, financially independent life. Not only does having an education generally earn people more money than someone without one, it allows a person to have freedom in choosing their career. A college degree also gives them job security, because they fall back on their education for employment. In turn, having a college degree means having a high quality of life.
HOW TO WRITE AN INFORMATIVE ESSAY
When a person graduates from college and earns a degree in a specialized field, it is an indicator to the working world that they have acquired the practical skills and knowledge necessary to help and grow a business. With an education – and the knowledge, verbal, written and critical-thinking skills that go with it – a person becomes eligible for jobs that pay well, for careers that will gradually pay more and more as that person gains more experience in that field. A person doesn’t need a college degree to be a plumber or a construction worker – occupations that actually pay very well – but a person generally needs a degree to be a journalist, a teacher, or a marketing consultant, just to name a few examples. It’s true that a person with a college degree taking an entry-level job will not be making as much money as even a blue-collar worker who has done their trade for a few years. But over their lifetime that person with the experience to match their education will see more opportunities for mobility and increases in salary than the person without an education. It is a fact.
More about getting a degree:
Another benefit of having a college degree is having job security. Employers, of course, want to hold on to employees with an education because they have a solid set of skills and can learn new skills, too; but, also, people who have a college degree – because an education is valuable in the workplace – have a greater chance of finding another job if they are, for example, fired or if their job position is terminated when compared to someone without a college education. Having an education means a person is quick to learn, intelligent, capable of learning almost anything, highly skilled and can communicate effectively and follow directions closely. A college degree will forever mean they are smart, employable, are hard-working to a degree and can learn things quickly, all things that mean to an employer that someone would be good for a job.
Lastly, because an education is so highly regarded and sought after in the business world, people who have a college degree are not pigeonholed by the job or even the type of career they chose. A person with an English degree, for example, doesn’t have to be a writer, editor or poet; they can be a teacher, a marketing representative, or just about anything they want to be. That’s the point of having an education. And a person with a teaching degree doesn’t have to be a teacher their entire working life. Instead, people with an education – because they do, indeed, have an education – are freer than those with no education, only experience, to choose and develop a career that suits them, one they enjoy and find fulfilling and worthwhile. Whereas the person with no education does not have this luxury, but rather has to develop certain skills just to find employment. Those without a college degree mostly have to fall back on their experience. Others with an education can fall back on their experience and degree for employment.
In conclusion, there are many benefits to having a solid education and a college degree from a reputable academic institution. From having a well-paying and long-lasting job to having job security and the freedom to choose an enjoyable, productive and fulfilling job, there is virtually no limit to the many advantages of an education.
INFORMATIVE ESSAY TOPICS
In general, an education leads to a high quality of life. With financial independence, a career that hardly feels like work because it is fun and enjoyable, and without the stress of worrying about the future, it is safe to say that having an education, at the very least a college degree from a reputable four-year college or university, is perhaps what sets people up for a good life of success and happiness. However, it is unfortunate, all over the world, that some people are ignorant of this fact, that having an education is the key to a better life. It is not their fault – they are only a product of their environment – and educated individuals who understand this should do all they can to help guide such individuals.
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