How to Organize an Essay

  • 0:13 Introduction
  • 0:30 What is an Essay?
  • 1:17 Parts of an Essay
  • 6:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Doresa Jennings

Doresa holds a Ph.D. in Communication Studies.

In this video, we will cover the steps involved in organizing an essay. We'll talk about titles, introductory paragraphs, concluding paragraphs, main points, transition statements and editing.

Introduction

One of the most common writing assignments a person may be asked to complete is an essay. In this video, we will discuss: 1) What is an essay? 2) What are the parts that make up an essay? 3) How to put it all together to make a good final product.

What is an Essay?

According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab, an essay is a shorter piece of writing that often requires students to hone skills, such as close reading, analysis, comparison and contrast, persuasion, conciseness, clarity and exposition. Students will often be asked to write about something they read, something they studied or something they experienced.

Now that we know what an essay is, let's discuss the parts of an essay and how to put it all together. To take the journey, let's think of an essay as a sandwich being made in one of the best sandwich shops in the world. How does one make a world-class sandwich?

Parts of an Essay

The Title

While this may not be the first step you complete, it's a step that's often missed by many students. Imagine we have created the best sandwich in the world in our sandwich shop, and on the menu is nothing but a blank line followed by a price. Who's going to order that? Even worse, we wouldn't want to call it something that was misleading. Why call it a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if it doesn't have peanut butter or jelly? Just like item names in delis and sandwich and sub shops found all over the world, the title of our essay should be either descriptive of the contents of our essay or engaging to the point where the curiosity of individuals will compel them to read more. Go for the compelling title only when you have an audience that can choose to read your essay or not. An assigned essay that will be read only by a professor should use a descriptive title, while one being published in a magazine may best benefit from a compelling title.

Introductory Paragraph

Like all great sandwiches, the bread, while often neglected, is really the main star of the dish. Our top piece of bread is the introductory paragraph. The introductory paragraph should start with your thesis statement. Along with your thesis statement, you will be giving people a sneak peek at the main points you are going to cover in your essay.

Main Points

Main points are the supporting materials that make up the substance of your essay. Consider this: the main ingredients within your sandwich. Like all good sandwiches, we want some very good, complementing flavors inside. When deciding on ingredients for a sandwich, we don't want it bland with too little flavor. However, we also don't want to go crazy with ingredients, making the taste too confusing for discriminating palates. A good rule of thumb for main points is to have between two and five total. Anything less than that is going to leave your audience without enough information to come to an informed conclusion. Any more than that and your audience may leave confused as to what your main thesis was really all about.

Concluding Paragraph

Just as important as our top piece of bread, our bottom piece needs to be as strong and well thought-out. Imagine picking up a sandwich and noticing the person used a slice of sourdough bread on the top and a slice of pumpernickel bread on the bottom - would you be confused? Just as the top and bottom pieces of bread complement each other and almost mimic each other in taste and texture, this should also be the case with your concluding paragraph. It should read similar to your introductory paragraph, reiterating your thesis statement and main points.

Transition Statements

Okay, while what we have so far might look like a sandwich, the taste isn't there without some wonderful background notes of condiments and accenting flavors. Like mayo and cheese, transition statements are the notes that hold the sandwich together, ensuring it doesn't get too dry and that it has enough background flavor to guide the reader through. There should be transition statements following your introductory paragraph, between your main points, and before your concluding paragraph. Again, consider them the wonderful accents that give your essay the flavor that sets it apart, that makes it more than just a summation of the big parts. Like mustard on bread, transition statements are easy to forget to add, but the reader will always know if they are missing. Make sure to flavor your essay sandwich accordingly.

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