The dreaded essay: You sit before a blank piece of paper and must fill it with ideas and facts. Your professor assigned you an impossibly broad topic, but making an outline can help considerably. A short essay contains only three parts. Knowing and following them can allay that sense of dread.
Although some variants on the basic short essay formula exist, most follow a similar format: introduction, body and conclusion. You only need to ask yourself how many body paragraphs you need, though the nature of the topic often dictates this. Complex topics need many paragraphs; specific ones may need only two.
You need to begin with a commanding opening line. This draws the reader in and announces your topic in an interesting way. You'll play off this line throughout your essay, so pick a great one. Secondly, the introduction serves as a kind of outline for the rest of the paper. Introduce your central points, but don't explain them too much -- you don't want to take too much away from the body paragraphs.
The whole paper turns on the axis of the body. All of your facts, arguments and opinions should flow through this section, tying everything together. In doing your research, you accumulated various dates, names, quotes and so on. You'll put them to good use in the body, either illustrating the topic you're writing about or fleshing out the argument you want to make. Make sure each paragraph flows into the next; if they don't, consider making an outline.
Stagger your arguments or points over the course of two or three paragraphs. Make sure they are specific by themselves, and that they convey the overarching notion of the essay. Place your best or strongest point in the first paragraph, your next strongest points afterwards and finally your weakest at the end. This hooks the reader into your central thesis early on, and then convinces her with further arguments.
After you've completed the body (which should take up the largest amount of your paper) you'll need to finalize your thoughts into a conclusion paragraph. Restate your central thesis, allude to your opening sentence and give your audience notice that your discussion has wrapped up. This statement will task them with taking the knowledge they've gained from your paper and turning it into a tangible response. If you've done your job effectively, your audience will leave your essay more illuminated than when they started it.