Organizing Principles for Writing an Essay

Everyone has to write essays. High school teachers require them. College professors assign them. So nearly everyone should be an expert at essay writing, but that's not always the case. Even though writing an essay is essentially a universal experience, it can be a daunting task if you jump into it without a plan. However, a little forethought can take some of the agony out of the process.

Choosing a Topic

The first step in writing an essay is to choose a topic. Depending on the purpose of the essay, the choice of topics may be limited or limitless. A teacher may choose the topic for you. An editor may allow you the creative freedom of topic selection. If you have this freedom, choose something that is of interest to you. Regardless of the essay’s purpose, choosing a topic is a crucial first step.

Writing a Thesis Statement

After selecting the topic, it must then be narrowed down to a specific thought. You narrow the topic by asking the question: “What is the main thing I want people to know about my topic?” Answering this question should lead you to the controlling thought or the thesis of the essay. A thesis generally consists of one or two statements that convey the focus of the essay to the reader. Developing a thesis may require research, interviews, analysis, brainstorming and other activities that help you to decide what the focus will be. The entire paper rests on the thesis statement.

Writing the Introduction

Once you have decided on the thesis, you are ready to write the introduction. The introduction, along with the conclusion, provides a frame for the essay. An introduction is a paragraph or two that catches the reader’s attention and builds into the thesis statement. Suppose you decided to write a paper on the topic of recycling. Your research reveals the environmental and economic benefits of recycling. You might begin the paper with a statement such as, “Throwing away an aluminum can is like pouring out 6 gallons of gasoline” or “It takes as much energy to make a new aluminum can as it does to make 20 out of recycled material.” This type of statement catches the reader’s eye. Follow this statement with a very brief explanation and progress to the thesis statement, which might be something like, “Recycling protects the environment, saves energy and saves money.”

Constructing the Body

Following the introduction is the body of the essay, which should fall within the frame created by the introduction and conclusion. The body generally consists of three to five paragraphs that support the thesis statement. In the example cited previously, the body would answer the questions of how and why recycling protects and saves. If the statements in the essay do not address these questions, they should probably be removed. Many people make the mistake of including information unrelated to the thesis in the paper. For instance, the statement, “Recycling creates jobs,” may not fit in the essay because it does not support the thesis. It is good, important information, but it is extraneous to the thesis statement. Unless you can tie it into the thesis, leave it out. Each paragraph in the body should reflect some aspect of the thesis.

Writing the Conclusion

When the body is complete, it is time for the conclusion. The conclusion completes the frame of the essay. A good conclusion may summarize or reiterate the major points of the paper. There should be no new information in the conclusion. If you did not mention it in the paper, do not mention it in the conclusion. The only exception would be if you developed a concept or a new thought as a result of the information in the paper. If the new thought does not follow reason based on the body of the paper, then do not include it in the conclusion. If the new thought needs further discussion, do not include it in the conclusion.

About the Author

Teresa Leonard, a retired professor of nursing, writes and edits educational, health care, and religious documents. She is published in “Imprint,” “Journal of Cultural Diversity,” “AORN,” “Journal of Nursing Education,” and “Health Care Supervisor.” She holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism and a PhD in nursing education.

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