Essay Structure: How to Avoid Common Mistakes
When asked about essay structure, students immediately recall “a 5-paragraph essay” as an example of how an essay should be structured. And this response misses a lot. It is not only that a 5-paragraph structure is required only when learning essay writing itself (on English 101 or similar courses – on other courses content drives the form, not vice versa). It is also that the appropriateness of essay structure is not limited to the right number of paragraphs.
Have a look at the list of mistakes that lower your essay structure grade and make sure you do not make them in your essay:
Lack of structure
The first common essay structure mistake is the lack of structure as such. Remember, unless your paper has a question/answer format, there should be a formal Introduction finishing with a thesis statement, several body paragraphs, and a Conclusion. Lack of any of these elements means the lack of structure and substantially reduces the grade. It is not necessary to include subheadings for shorter works (up to 5 pages); however, all the structural elements should be separate paragraphs.
Lack of a thesis statement
Although a thesis statement is only one sentence long, its absence is a grave mistake and substantially reduces the grade. Building an essay around a thesis statement is a key to structuring it well. More tips about how to do it can be found in this post.
Lack of topic sentences
All the paragraphs should start with topic sentences – a main proposition, which you further develop in a paragraph. However, in an essay, topic sentences have additional mission – they support your thesis statement. Each of your topic sentences should present a supporting point that explains why your essay makes such claim or why the claim it makes is true. This brings logic and consistency to your argument and makes it more effective.
Length of body paragraphs
The ideal length for a paragraph is half of a page (about 150-200 words). Two or three sentences cannot make a paragraph. Another golden rule is not to have the whole page covered with text with not a single brake. However, if you have such pages, clicking Enter in the middle of it will make the things worse, not better. You have to think carefully about how to spit the long paragraph so that the idea is not interrupted. For example, if you give the opinion of an expert and then several examples supporting it, it would be wrong to give the opinion with one example and then give another example in another paragraph. It is better to devote one paragraph to the views and start the next one with the topic sentence like, “There are several examples, which support/illustrate Wise’s ideas”.
Length of an introduction and a conclusion
Introduction and conclusion are very important elements of the essay structure. However, they guide and summarize your argument and do not substitute it. A good hint is not to make an introduction or a conclusion longer than 10% of the total word count. For example, for a 4-page paper/1200 words, the introduction paragraph should be not longer than 120 words. Of course, if the paper should be 300-word long, this rule does not apply.
No link between the paragraphs
In academic writing, it is recommended to use many varied linking words to show the relationship between your ideas. However, link between the paragraphs is not limited to the use of linking words. It is important to remember all the paragraphs should develop one argument. Therefore, if you include ideas that are not connected to the topic or contradict your thesis, your essay makes no sense. To assure there is a link, try to add a summarizing sentence that will show the relevance of the paragraph to the topic/ thesis statement. Some professors are very strict about concluding sentences and penalize for finishing paragraphs with a citation.
New information/citations in the conclusion
Some professors expect to see not a summary, but a personal opinion or a call to action (the answer to the question “so what?”) in the conclusion. Nevertheless, if such requirements are not specified in the instructions, in the conclusion, you should only restate your thesis and summarize key points mentioned in an essay. No new information should appear here. A common mistake is to include citations in the conclusion. Remember, a citation is a new information that is especially obvious. You have demonstrated your ability to sustain argument with effective citations throughout the essay. In the conclusion, the goal is to show that you can summarize experts’ arguments, not present them once again.
Learn to be critical of your papers and recognize the mistakes, which can be avoided. It is such a pity when really great ideas are shadowed by poor presentation.
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