One of the most common weaknesses in essays is their structure. A student will often have thoughtful observations and good ideas but are let down by not being able to lay out these thoughts out in a cohesive manner.
A lot of focus in essay writing is based on guiding students through the different elements of the essay: the introduction, the body, the conclusion in order to achieve a good structure. However, this approach, whilst useful, often didn’t help me in the practical application of– to put it simply – knowing how to be able to lay out what I wanted to say.
Over the years, and particularly during university, I developed a couple of steps and techniques that really helped me crack the approach on how to structure an essay well. Although it may seem obvious, I realised that a good structure ultimately relied upon and fell into place when both more and earlier attention was paid to identifying and defining the argument.
To what extent does the burning of fossil fuels effect environmental change in coastal areas in the United Kingdom?
What am I actually supposed to be arguing?
Step One: Isolating the ‘crux’ of the question
So, what is the question actually asking you to explore and argue? Yes, you have to address the burning of fossil fuels and their effect on coastal areas in the U.K but what you have to define and argue is ‘to what extent’ these fossil fuels are having an effect.
Again, this may seem obvious, but often students fall at this first hurdle because it seems so obvious that it is not given enough attention, which in turn doesn’t set the essay off to a good start.
But how am I actually going to structure this?
Now that you’ve identified the ‘crux’ of the question, which will drive the argumentation of your essay. It’s time to look at how you are actually going to lay your argument out.
a) Structure within paragraphs
During essay writing, it is very easy to forget to keep referring back to the question at hand. A good tip to ensure that this is achieved throughout the essay is to re-write the question after or before each new paragraph in your essay. It is a simple technique but a very effective reminder to keep the focus on the question. Specifically, it is actually the crux that is worth re-writing. In each paragraph, whilst there is no need to make it explicit every time, the evidence you are presenting and the thought processes ultimately must be always be laying out how much x is having an effect on y.
b) Overall Structure
Once enough research has been completed so that you feel comfortable in defining exactly to what extent x has an effect on y, it is now a case of laying out the overall structure.
In this case, like the argument, the structure can found by paying extra attention to the question. To what extent suggests that you need to address evidence to show how fossil fuels do effect coastal areas and also evidence or lack of evidence that show how they do not, or how it is left undetermined in order to identify how much/ to what extent they have an effect.
c) Top and tail
There are various different opinions on how best to approach the introduction and conclusion of an essay. From my experience, writing the introduction first became a good discipline as it was another driver that pushed me to address and define my argument from the outset as opposed to ‘coming to it’ halfway through essay writing.
I would agree with most guides that the conclusion should be left until the end and in this case, should be used as the opportunity to summarise the ‘does effect’ and ‘doesn’t effect’ with a final reinstation of the argument where the student explicitly lays out the extent to which x has had an effect on y.
By Daria C, private English and modern languages tutor in London, who studied at Francis Holland School and St Andrews University. Interested in arranging 1 to 1 tuition? Contact Us today.