Writing an academic essay relies upon fashioning a coherent set of ideas into a succinct argument. Since essays are fundamentally linear (i.e. they offer one core idea at a time) they must present their key points in the order that makes most logical sense to a reader. The focus therefore of an academic essay should in turn dictate its structure.
In essence, the question of how to write a good academic essay comes down to structure. The snazziest prose style or topic in the world cannot gain you top marks if the essay structure is poor. On the other hand, a relatively plain prose style can carry an essay to the highest grades – if the structure is watertight. A prime example of the latter is George Orwell. Perhaps the most celebrated essayist in the English language, Orwell had a notably sober prose style. Indeed, he famously avowed that good writing was ‘like a window pane' – transparent. What put Orwell above the ordinary run of writers was his excellent ability to structure a thought and thus a sentence, paragraphs an argument and so an essay. This is because an essay, at base, is a form of argument and an argumentative text necessarily depends upon structure, on the order in which evidence is presented and scrutinised. Of course, good analytical abilities are also requisite: the ability effectively to deploy critical tools and methods such that thought may be arranged in the most compelling manner; though, this of course is still, in a significant sense, a matter of structure. Luckily, there are some simple guidelines we can follow in order effectively to structure an essay. First and foremost, one needs to plan their work out thoroughly. This will involve in-depth scholarly research and making comprehensive notes. When one has all the information they need laid out before them, it is easier to see how all the pieces of the puzzle will come together. The next stage is a process of refinement. Composing early drafts, playing around with the flow and order of information – the structure – will enable you to get a feel for what works best. Do not hesitate to rewrite extensively in the early stages. It is essential you get your structure correct before you progress to the finer details.
In attaining good essay structure, you do not want to worry too much about how to start a composition, not to say that an introduction should be overlooked however. Rather, focus on gathering a wide range of relevant facts and information. Think about the ways in which the various insights and ideas unveiled by your research might be related, and consequently how they might fit together. Indeed, it might even be useful to write down key points on post-it notes and rearrange these until you find an order that is logical. This will form the basis of your essay, providing a kind of scaffolding. Now, try and explain why this order is logical (identifying the cause and effect connections between the main points). If you can do this, the chances are you are well on your way to achieving a solid essay structure. The additional advantage of getting your structure down is that the succeeding composition in the main body will be so much easier if you know precisely where you are going and why. On top of this, your prose will flow more naturally because it will be oriented around a clear sense of main purpose and direction, qualities which will shine through in the final work through to its conclusion.
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