To write an essay you must compose a thesis statement, which is one sentence that expresses your opinion about an idea or controversy. The thesis, usually the last sentence in the introductory paragraph, often contains a plan of development or thesis subtopics that will serve as the supporting body paragraphs in the essay. Essayists take several approaches to presenting thesis subtopics or subproblems.
Write the thesis sentence, and compose the subtopics into separate sentences, listing them from least important to most important. An example of this format: "The death penalty should be abolished. First, it costs taxpayers more money than confining prisoners to life in prison. Second, the death penalty does not deter criminals from committing heinous acts. Finally, murder remains a criminal act, even when the state does it." Since these complex ideas do not lend themselves to a simple list, write them in complete sentences, and make the body paragraphs unfold in the same order.
Write the thesis sentence, and use a colon to signal subtopics to follow. A sample format looks like this: "The death penalty should be abolished because: (1) It remains more costly than imprisoning criminals for life; (2) It does not deter criminals; (3) It is state-sponsored murder." Parallelism in grammar demands that each item in the list start with the same type of word, in this case a noun and verb combination. Use semicolons without conjunctions to divide a sequence of sentences.
Write the thesis sentence, and use a dash to set off the subtopics. This format appears as follows: "The death penalty should be abolished for three reasons --- it remains financially more costly than imprisoning for life, it does not deter heinous criminal behavior and it becomes state-sponsored murder." Formal academic writing forbids the use of the dash, an informal mark of punctuation. Steps 1 and 2 contain the punctuation that satisfies most instructors.