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. 1) Topic 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: 1. Introduction 2. Body ◦ paragraph about x ◦ paragraph about y ◦ paragraph about z 3. Conclusion 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). 3) Introduction 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) The Introduction 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 writing about. 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 detail below. 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 to it. 6) Body 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. 7) Transitions 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 without confusion. 8) Conclusion 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. 9) Thought-Provoker 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. 10) References 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.
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