Lucero’s Key Elements of the Essay
There's a lot that can be said about writing essays but, at its most basic level, essay
writing is fairly simple. The ten elements listed below are the most important to
consider when writing an essay. Master these ten things and you'll find that
composing essays on any topic is a snap. The items below are listed more-or-less in
the order they appear in an essay; you may, however, want to compose them in a
different order. For example, many people write the introduction last.
The first thing to consider when writing an essay is the topic. Even if you are
assigned a topic, you will probably need to tailor it to fit the length of the essay or
your own specific interests. An essay on "computer games and education" will need
a narrower focus for a 500-word essay than for a 2000-word essay. You may choose
to focus on a single game, for example, or you may select different examples to use.
2) Three-Part Structure
Everything in an essay, from the paragraph level up, is based on the three-part
structure of introduction, body, and conclusion. Another way to phrase this is that
you tell your reader what you're about to say, then you say it, then you sum up what
you've just told them. The introduction, whether it's the first sentence of a paragraph
or the first paragraph of the essay, states the topic. The body fleshes out the topic,
and the conclusion says how it is significant.
The Three-Part Essay Structure
All essays, and even all research papers, have the same underlying structure. Once
you've got that down, the layout out of essays, not matter what the topic, will no
longer be a problem. Luckily, it's easy to remember: introduction, body, and
conclusion. In the next few parts of this guide, I'll cover each of these in detail, but
for now I'll go over the basic three-part shape.
Easy As 1-2-3
The three-part structure of essays -- introduction, body, conclusion -- goes like this:
• Tell the reader what you're going to say
• Say it
• Summarize what you've said
And that's it. The hard part, of course, is figuring out how to write the introduction
so it introduces the topic, and the conclusion so it summarizes, because you don't
want to write exactly the same thing three times in a row.
One key is to make both the introduction and the conclusion concise -- that is, say
things in as few words as possible, saving the elaboration of ideas for the body of the
essay. One way to use the three-part structure would be to ask a question in the
introduction, explore the possibilities in the body, and answer the question in the
conclusion. There are lots of other ways this structure can be used; just make sure
that most of the content goes in the body.
Here's what the three-part essay structure looks like in layout form:
◦ paragraph about x
◦ paragraph about y
◦ paragraph about z
You can, of course, have more than three paragraphs in the body, though I
wouldn't recommend fewer than three (there wouldn't be much content).
Incidentally, three body paragraphs works well for a 500-word essay (and divides
neatly into 100 words per paragraph, if the introduction and conclusion are each
one paragraph; but be flexible about paragraph length).
There's no rule saying that the introduction and conclusion must only be one
paragraph long; in longer essays, these two parts might also be longer. Generally,
though, you should be able to distil your topic into a single paragraph (especially if
the essay is to be short).
The introduction, obviously, introduces the essay. It should contain three things: an
attention-getter to attract a reader's interest (a quote or startling statistics often
work well any background information that is essential to understanding the topic,
but not central to the topic (things like biographical detail about the author, if your
topic is a literary work; in a long essay this material might be in a separate section);
and a thesis statement (described above)
Although the introduction is the first part of an essay, it's usually the part that gets
written last. The reason is that the introduction has to say exactly what is to follow
in the body of the essay, and you can't know for sure what's in the body until you've
written it. Saving the introduction for last is one strategy for writing, another is to
write a draft of the introduction first, to give you direction when writing the rest of
the essay. You'd then revise the introduction once the rest of the essay is complete.
So let's look at what an introduction does, and what it should contain.
What an Introduction Does
Essentially, an introduction introduces the topic of the essay (no surprise there, I
hope). Consider what a reader needs to know in order to understand what you are
Are there details of time and place that are important? For example, if your essay is
a biographical study of your favorite writer, you probably want to include the
writer's name; what country (and even what state/province and city) they are from;
what period they were/are writing in; and how many books, stories, or poems
they've written, all in the introduction. If there is a lot of background material, it
can be a good idea to put it in a separate paragraph, with only the very basic
information in the introduction itself.
Another function of the introduction is to capture the reader's attention, so they
will want to continue reading. There are a number of ways to do this; some of the
most effective devices are a quote from a famous person that relates to your topic, a
compelling description or scene, startling statistics, or a question. Anything that will
interest a reader and involve them in the topic is good. For example, in an essay
about William Shakespeare's The Tempest, you could open your essay with a quote
from the play, or you describe a scene from the play, or you could ask, "Why is
Shakespeare's wizardly character Prospero surrounded by so many vivid symbols?"
Finally, the introduction states the thesis of the essay; that is, the core idea or
essence that you are trying to get across. I'll explain the thesis statement in more
What an Introduction Contains
To do all those things I described above, an introduction needs the following things
(more or less in this order):
• An attention-getter (such as a question, quote, or scene)
• Essential background information about the topic
• A thesis statement
Just like the basic essay structure, that's only three things to remember.
4) Attention-Getter (hook)
The attention-getter is the part of the introduction that makes the reader want to
start reading in the first place, so it's the first sentence (or couple of sentences). If
your topic is a literary work or author, a quote from the work or author is usually a
good choice--but you want to find one that can be read as an interesting comment on
the topic. Quotes can also be good attention-getters for other kinds of essays.
Statistics or startling facts can work well, too.
5) Thesis Statement
The thesis statement states, as concisely as possible, exactly what the essay will
cover, in the order it is going to appear. It is the sentence that is the center of your
paper even though it’s found in the beginning. Everything in the paper must relate
The body is the real substance of the essay. This is where you expand on the things
you said in your thesis statement. If your essay is arguing for (or against) something,
the body is where you present your arguments. If your intent is to outline a
hypothesis, you present your evidence (and refute any possible evidence against you)
in the body.
Transitions are essential when moving from one thing to another in an essay. You
need transitions between subjects, between paragraphs, and between sections. You
need a transition to get from the introduction to the body, and from the body to the
conclusion. Essentially, a transition is a sentence, or part of a sentence, that
smoothes the gap between paragraphs or sections so the reader makes the jump
The conclusion sums up what you've just spent the whole essay telling the reader,
and brings it to a neat finish. In other words, the conclusion concludes. Like the
introduction, the conclusion should contain three things: a summary of the main
points of the essay and/or a restatement of the thesis; any answers, solutions, or
results you've come up with (and/or any further questions you discovered and a
clincher or thought-provoker to keep your essay on the reader's mind.
The thought-provoker, or clincher, is a sentence (or couple of sentences) at the very
end of your essay that leaves the reader something to think about (and keeps your
essay in their thoughts). As with the attention-getter at the beginning of the essay, an
apt quote often works well as a thought-provoker. A well-phrased question is also a
good choice, if you pose one that reminds the reader of the points you made and
shows that there is more to consider on the topic.
If you used anyone else's work for facts or ideas while working on your essay (and
it's almost impossible not to, unless you are writing an entirely personal essay), you
need to acknowledge those sources. This can be as simple as mentioning in the text
where you found a piece of information, or it can be as complex as footnotes and a
full bibliography. How you do it will depend on the formality or the essay, the kind
of essay, and the specific assignment you were given.