Whether you've written a hundred essays or this is your first time, anyone who writes a thesis or argument using the written word must learn the skill of organizing an essay. In order to write a clear and powerful essay, you will need to think carefully, sketch it out, and take a good look at the sentence structure. The thesis statement establishes the direction that the rest of the essay will take, therefore it constitutes a fundamental part. Here are some important strategies for organizing an essay.
Part 1 of 4: Doing the Groundwork
Step 1. Determine what type of essay you will write
The essays tend to have the same basic components in general. These are the introduction, which sets the stage for the essay; the body paragraphs, in which you will discuss your ideas and arguments; and a conclusion, by which you will round everything. However, the organization scheme may need to be different depending on the type of trial:
- For example, if your essay is for school, the structure should be very clear, including first the introduction and the thesis statement, 3 or 4 body paragraphs where you advance the argument and a conclusion that summarizes everything.
- On the other hand, if you are writing a non-fiction essay, you could wait until the end to present the thesis and develop the essay until you get there.
- If you are writing a comparative essay, the organization could be done so that both elements can be compared in a single paragraph and then include a paragraph contrasting them. Another way to organize it is to include both the comparisons and the contrasts of the same elements in the same paragraph.
- Another organizational option is the chronological order, by which you start at the beginning of the work or the historical period about which you are going to write and continue until the end. If chronology is an important element of your essay's plot (such as in history essays or lab reports), or if your essay includes storytelling, this could be a useful method.
- In persuasive essays, organizational structures can be diverse:
- For the "supporting" structure, you start by laying out the thesis clearly at the beginning and then supporting it throughout the rest of the essay.
- For the "discovery" structure, you build the essay down to the thesis, scrolling through various discussion points so that the thesis remains the unavoidable and correct point of view.
- For the "exploratory" structure, you consider the pros and cons of the topic you have chosen, presenting various aspects of it and posing the thesis as the conclusion.
Step 2. Read the assignment carefully
If the essay was assigned as homework or if you were given an assignment for it, you should read them carefully. Before you can organize and write your essay, it is essential that you understand what is being asked of you.
- In case you haven't been assigned a task, you can present various ideas to your teacher or advisor so that they can tell you if you are on the right track.
- Ask for everything you do not understand. Before dedicating hours of work to your essay, it is better to ask than to have to start all over again because something was not clear. Most teachers will be happy to answer your questions as long as you are courteous.
Step 3. Determine what the task is
The type of writing assignment will also influence how you organize your essay. Usually this is found in the task or in the locker. Check it out for keywords like "describe," "analyze," "discuss," or "compare." These words will indicate the type of task that you will have to do when writing, that is, what you must achieve with the essay.
Step 4. Consider the target audience
If the essay is for school, this won't be too difficult, as your audience is likely to be your teacher. However, it is still important to consider who you will direct what you write to, especially if there is nothing that specifies who the audience is.
For example, if your essay is an opinion piece to be published in the school newspaper, your audience will probably be other students. On the other hand, if it is an opinion essay for a local newspaper, the audience would be made up of people who live in your city, people who agree and disagree with you, people who are affected by the subject or any other group in the which you want to focus on
Step 5. Get started early
The worst thing you can do is leave the rehearsal organization until the last minute. Writing your essay will be easier if you master the organization sooner. Make sure you have enough time to devote to the various stages of planning.
Part 2 of 4: Mastering the Basics
Step 1. Write a thesis statement
This should be a single observation, a powerful argument, an interpretation of a particular event or work, or some other relevant statement whereby you are not just simply stating something obvious or summarizing some larger work.
- Your thesis statement will serve as the "roadmap" for your essay, telling the audience what to expect from the rest of the essay.
- When a thesis statement is good, it should generally be debatable, which means that someone may question or oppose your idea. This might sound scary to you, but actually having a debatable thesis statement is critical. Otherwise, what you're discussing is likely so obvious that it's not worth your time arguing.
- The thesis statement should include the most salient points. For example, if your essay thesis is about similarities between two literary works, you should describe them in more general terms in your thesis statement.
- Consider "So what?" Questions. In a good thesis statement, the importance of an idea or argument is explained. Consider whether you could respond if someone asked you a "So what?" about your thesis.
- School essays commonly employ the three-pronged theses. However, these are generally not acceptable in advanced writing assignments or in colleges. Don't feel restricted to this very limited style.
- Review your thesis statement. Keep in mind that you can edit it if, when writing the essay itself, you discover certain important points that you have not covered in the thesis.
Step 2. Do your research if necessary
Only after you know a little about the subject can you start organizing the essay. Make sure to do outside research before you start organizing your essay in case it is necessary to formulate your argument or analysis.
Feel free to ask a librarian if you have one at your disposal. These professionals are trained to help you identify credible sources of research and get you started in the right direction
Step 3. Brainstorm
Starting an essay outline before even brainstorming is one of the common mistakes of beginning writers. This could lead to frustration, as you still won't know what you want to say. In order to have enough material for your essay, you can try some brainstorming techniques.
- Consider free writing. This is a type of writing where you don't do any editing or pause, you just write about everything that comes to mind in relation to your topic for, say, 15 minutes at a time.
- Try mind maps. To start, write down the central idea or theme and enclose it in a box. Then, write down other ideas and start putting them together to visualize the relationships between them.
- Try the cube technique. With this method, you consider the topic you have chosen from six different perspectives: 1) describing it, 2) comparing it, 3) associating it, 4) analyzing it, 5) applying it, 6) arguing for and against it.
Step 4. Review your thesis again
After doing your research and brainstorming, it might be that you've gained a fresh perspective that makes your argument more informed. You can go back to the thesis and modify it accordingly.
You can take this opportunity to narrow the scope of your thesis if it was originally too broad. For example, if your thesis is about "slavery in the American civil war," it could become too broad and therefore unmanageable (not even for a Ph. D. thesis). So focus on more specific terms to help you organize your essay outline when the time comes
Part 3 of 4: Organize the essay
Step 1. Make an outline that includes all the points from your essay
To determine which direction your essay outline will take, you must use the thesis statement. For example, sketch the similarities and differences for a comparison and contrast essay between two different topics.
State in what order you will discuss the points. If your plan is to discuss three of the challenges associated with a particular management strategy, one way to get the reader's attention might be to discuss them in such a way that you go from most to least problematic or choose to discuss the smallest problem first in order to increase the intensity of the test
Step 2. Don't let the sources determine the organization of the essay
You do not need to exactly reproduce the structure of a source that you are going to discuss or from which you have obtained information. For example, literary essays by beginners make the common mistake of painstakingly repeating the plot of the book and developing the argument of the essay in tandem. Instead, you should focus on the main idea of each paragraph. In this way, all the paragraphs will flow better even if the evidence must be presented in a different order from the source it came from.
For example, you can write a good paragraph about Hamlet's madness based on various scenes in which his behavior appears to be that of a madman. These scenes will not all be together in the original work, but if you discuss them in the same place in your essay, it will make a lot more sense than if you try to discuss the work in its entirety from beginning to end
Step 3. Write topic sentences for each paragraph
Clear topic sentences will help you organize your essay. In each paragraph, you should only discuss the point of the topic sentence, since discussing tangential information as well will result in a disorganized essay.
- The topic sentence should have a direct relationship to the main argument. Therefore, you should not include statements related to the more general topic, but not entirely to the thesis.
- Using the topic sentence, be sure to provide a "preview" of the argument or discussion that will take place in the paragraph. Beginning writers in many cases tend not to use the first sentence of a paragraph for this purpose, so in the long run, their sentences do not indicate a clear direction for the paragraph.
- For example, consider these two sentences: "Thomas Jefferson was born in the year 1743" and "Thomas Jefferson, born in 1743, became one of the most important people in America by the end of the 18th century."
- In the first sentence, the direction of the paragraph is not very clear, as it is simply stating a fact, but the reader has no idea as to its relevance. On the other hand, the second sentence provides context for that fact and informs the reader as to what will be discussed in the rest of the paragraph.
Step 4. Use transition words and sentences
You can use transition words that connect each paragraph to the previous one so that your essay has more coherence. For example, you can get the reader to follow the thread of your argument by using words like "likewise" and "in contrast" at the beginning of paragraphs.
- Through transitions, you can highlight the general logic of organizing your essay. For example, if a paragraph begins with the sentence "Despite all the points in its favor, several elements prevent La Pizza Mística from being the best pizza in town", the reader will be able to understand the relationship between this paragraph and the previous ones.
- You can also use transitions within each paragraph, as these help to fluently link ideas within the same paragraph and allow the reader to follow them.
- If you have a lot of difficulty linking paragraphs, this could be due to poor organization. In this case, you can apply the review strategies mentioned in this article to determine if the order of your paragraphs is the most appropriate.
- For example, you can use the list of transition words and phrases from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center, which also lists the type of transition that each indicates.
Step 5. Create an effective conclusion
In it, you must reformulate the thesis with other words, as well as summarize the most important points that you have covered in the essay. Present insights into the implications of your argument or your findings for furthering further thought or research. This way, your conclusion will be more captivating.
- One option is to go back to the original idea or theme and include another layer of complexity. In the conclusion, you could show how your essay is necessary to understand some aspect of the topic that readers would not have been prepared to understand previously.
- In the conclusion of some types of essays, you may find it helpful to use a call to action or appeal to emotions, a technique often used in persuasive essays.
- You should not use hackneyed phrases like "in conclusion" or "in summary", as they will give the impression of being stiff or clichéd.
Part 4 of 4: Review your plan
Step 1. Make an outline in reverse of the essay
Your argument could evolve as you write it, which is quite common and there is nothing wrong with it, as it allows you to acquire depth and richness. However, this could also make your essay appear disorganized. After you've written a draft of your essay, it helps to do a reverse sketch so you can determine how your essay looks and how it should look.
- You can do it on the computer or in a hard copy of the draft depending on what is easiest for you.
- As you read through the essay, summarize the main idea (s) in each paragraph using a few keywords. You can write them down on a separate sheet of paper or in the hard copy of the draft, or include them as comments in the word processor document.
- Check the keywords. Do the ideas have a logical progression? Does the plot tend to jump back and forth?
- You will be able to detect that you have included too much information in your paragraphs if you find it difficult to summarize the main idea of each one. In this case, you can try to divide them.
Step 2. Divide the essay
If you have difficulty organizing your paragraphs, you can print your essay and cut out each paragraph. Then try to physically order the paragraphs differently to determine if they make more sense with a different structure.
This technique could also help you determine if topic sentences and transitions are really as powerful as they could be. Ideally, to make your paragraphs as effective as possible, you should only be able to organize them one way. If your essay makes some sense regardless of the order in which you place the paragraphs, your argument may not be developed effectively
Step 3. Move some things around
You should not stick to the original outline, as the reverse outline could reveal that it makes more sense to place certain paragraphs differently. So you can move a few things around and modify topic sentences and transitions where necessary.
For example, if you put the least important argument at the beginning, you might find that this detracts from the vitality of the essay. So you can experiment with the order of the sentences and the paragraphs to intensify the effect
Step 4. Eliminate things where necessary
Sometimes, as painful as it may be, it can be the case that a beautiful paragraph that you've tried really hard doesn't get a place in an essay after you rearrange it. Therefore, you should not get too attached to your ideas to the point of not being able to get rid of elements that need to be eliminated to preserve the logic, flow and argument of the essay.
Step 5. Read the essay aloud to determine if there are any inconsistencies or lack of fluency
For example, you may find that the essay suddenly changes direction or that there are certain sentences or information in a paragraph that are not necessary. Mark the spots that don't seem right to you with a highlighter or pencil, then go back to them to correct them.