An Essay in Three Parts: The Game Rules

An Essay in Three Parts: The Game Rules
  • What does it mean to say an essay is well structured?
  • What are the basic rules of essay structure?
  • Why is it essential to have a micro-essay paragraph structure?

Each academic detective has her or his own style in going about the search for clues to answer an essay question. However, there are some rules that all good academic detectives follow. An essay is like a game which has certain rules you have to play by if you want to have a chance of winning. Once you have learned the rules, you have a good chance of success.

An essay is made up of three parts: a beginning, a middle and an end. In its simplest form, an essay is meant to:

  • tell your audience what you intend to tell them—the introduction
  • tell them—the body of the essay
  • tell them what you have told them—the conclusion.

Most people know this, but the skill is in writing these sections well and linking them together.

Tell them what you intend to tell them: Introducing the topic

Some people write their introduction last, while others can’t start an essay until they have written the introduction. Either method is fine, but because your essay will change from one draft to the next, your introduction will need to reflect this. So, leave the final version of your introduction until last. Avoid only restating the essay question in your introduction; instead, interpret the topic and outline the major issues and explanations or theories to be discussed. Introductions are usually between half a page and one page long, depending on the essay length and the complexity of the topic.

Introductions are meant to clarify the topic so that the reader can anticipate and understand what lies ahead in the rest of the essay. Introductions should do four things:

  1. Tell the reader what the essay is about by interpreting the question or topic.
  2. State what the essay will cover.
  3. Outline what the essay will argue — that is, answer the question in a nutshell.
  4. Provide definitions of keywords or concepts contained in the essay question (where appropriate).

Tell them: The body of your essay

The body of an essay has two features: description and analysis (sometimes called explanation). This is where you present your case; the evidence you have amassed from your detective work based on your reading, as well as the explanations of the issues you are dealing with. It is important to show how your information is relevant to the essay topic.

Tell them what you’ve told them: The conclusion

The conclusion summarises what you have told your reader, emphasising the key points of your argument. Resist the temptation to introduce new information in the conclusion as it will read like an afterthought and will cause the marker to wonder why you didn’t mention it in the body of the essay.