what is the typical structure of an academic essay

  • November 30, 2022
  • Academic Advice

How To Write an Academic Essay: A Beginner’s Guide

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During college, you must participate in many writing assessments, one of the most important being academic essays. Unfortunately, only a few are well-informed about the process of academic writing. 

If you’re reading this, you probably want to learn how to write an academic essay. Follow our guide! Here we’ll introduce the concept of the academic essay, the five components of an academic essay, the format of an academic essay, and more.

Ready to master your academic essay writing? Let’s go!

What Is an Academic Essay?

An academic essay is writing created to initiate debate, defend an idea, or present a new point of view by supporting it with evidence. 

One of the most important components that differentiate it from typical essays you have written in high school is supporting ideas with evidence. If you claim that, for example, “divorces have a negative impact on young children,” you need to find sources that support your argument to make it more convincing.

Interpreting facts is another essential element of a successful academic piece of writing. Academic essays should be written in a formal tone, with a set structure, and have a critical, based, and objective viewpoint. You should be able to understand and transmit different points of view to your readers in a simple but formal manner. 

Are you still trying to figure out what steps you should take to start writing? Keep scrolling!  

How To Write an Academic Essay

what is the typical structure of an academic essay

Writing an academic essay can initially seem intimidating, especially if you are unfamiliar with the rules and requirements. 

The time and effort spent on the writing task might differ depending on the topic, word limit, deadline, and other factors. However, the key steps, including preparing for the writing, creating a thesis statement, introduction, conclusion, and editing process, must be included in every academic writing style. 

By following the detailed list of actions below, you can start and finish your essay in no time.

Prepare to write your essay

Before going into the technical part of the writing process, one piece of advice you should keep in mind is planning. Planning is as important as the writing process. If you plan correctly, you will have sufficient time to perform every step successfully. Failure to plan will lead to a messy essay and, worst-case scenario, an unfinished writing piece. 

Understand your assignment

First and foremost, before you take any action regarding writing your essay, you must ensure you have clearly understood every tiny detail that your instructor has provided you—this step will determine your academic essay’s effectiveness. But why is that? Understanding the assignment in detail will leave no space for any irrelevant information that would lead to wasted time and, ultimately, a lower grade. 

Develop your essay topic

If your instructor doesn’t give you a specific topic, you should spend some time finding a topic that fits the requirements. Finding a topic sounds easy, but finding the right one requires more than just a simple google search.

So, ensure you develop an original topic, as it adds more value to your academic writing. However, ensure that there is enough evidence from other sources to help you back up your arguments. You can do this by researching similar topics from trusted sources.

Do your research and take notes

Once you determine the topic, go on and do some research. This part takes a lot of effort since there are countless sources online, and obviously, you have to choose some of the best. 

Depending on your topic, there might be cases where online sources are not available, and you’ll also have to visit local libraries. Whatever the case, you need to take notes and highlight the components you want to include in your essay. 

A quick tip: Go back to your topic often to avoid getting swayed or influenced by other less relevant ideas. 

Come up with a clear thesis statement

An excellent academic essay contains a strong thesis statement. A strong thesis statement successfully narrows your topic into a specific area of investigation. It should also intrigue your readers and initiate debate. 

A good thesis statement is:

  • NOT a question  
  • NOT a personal opinion

Create a structure

After gathering all the necessary information, you can begin outlining your main ideas. The primary academic essay structure is classified into the following 

  • Introduction

Failure to maintain these three components in your academic essay will result in a poorly written assignment. Luckily, you can easily avoid that by following our guide.

Writing the introduction

what-is-the-format-of-academic-essay

Your essay will be divided into paragraphs of equal importance, but the introductory part should always stand out. You must make your introduction as presentable as possible and get the reader’s attention. Work on it as if you were to get graded only by the evaluation of that first paragraph. 

The purpose of the introduction is to demonstrate that your thoughts and ideas are logical and coherent. Also, depending on the word limit, you can use more than one paragraph.  

Hook the reader

All forms of writing benefit from an attractive hook. If you have no idea of how to hook the reader, you can go the safe way and choose a recent fact or statistic. Statistics will give your essay credibility, surprise the readers, and make them want to keep reading.  

Give background on the topic

Now that you have the reader’s attention, you should strive to expand the essay’s key points but to a limit since the introduction is only one part of the whole essay. You should generally explain what gaps from previous sources you will cover and what others have covered so far. 

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Present your thesis statement

When introducing your thesis statement, you can present it as a statement of fact or controversial. If you decide to give a statement fact, it will be challenging to keep your audience engaged since facts can be easily proven. But presenting it more controversially will keep your audience awake and can even result in a better grade overall.

Writing the body of your essay

how-do-you-write-an-effective-academic-essay

The body part of your essay is where you’ll expand all of your ideas presented in the introduction. It’s essential to stay consistent and not include irrelevant information. Since it is the longest part of your essay, you can easily get lost, and to prevent that, it would be best to map an internal outline specific to each paragraph. This way, you know what to include and where. 

Paragraph structure

Each paragraph should follow a specific structure. It should begin with an introductory sentence that tells the reader the main ideas you will discuss in the paragraph. It’s advisable to point back to your thesis statement to identify the relationship between it and the existing idea. Also, ensure that each paragraph demonstrates new ideas.  

Length of the body paragraphs

Depending on the topic and the arguments you’ve gathered, it’s advisable not to exceed 200 words per paragraph in academic writing. If your paragraphs are too long and contain unnecessary wording, it will become difficult for the reader to follow your point. So keep them clear and concise.

Writing the conclusion

Congratulation, now you’ve made it to the last paragraph of your essay. The conclusion’s primary purpose is to summarize the ideas presented throughout your essay. Writing a good conclusion should take little time since you know what the essay contains. However, be aware of what points you should or shouldn’t include.

What to include in your conclusion 

A strong conclusion needs to have an introductory sentence. In some cases, if your instructor approves, it can include other areas that need to be investigated in the future. But at its core, it should only remind the reader about the main arguments discussed.

What not to include in your conclusion 

You should at all times refrain from including new ideas. Since the essay ends with the conclusion, don’t go into details or support new points. Doing that will confuse the reader and result in a poor grade. 

Editing your essay

how-to-write-an-academic-essay

Without a doubt, editing is just as important as writing. No matter how careful you are during writing, there’s a high possibility that there will be some slip-ups. These can range from spelling mistakes to grammar, punctuation, and so on. We suggest you spend time doing other things and return to the essay again. This will help you notice errors that you otherwise wouldn’t. 

Tips for Writing a Great College Essay

Now that you have a clear idea of the process of writing an academic essay, we have a few more tips: 

  • Always cite your sources
  • Gather enough sources to support your thesis statement
  • Keep your sentences short and comprehensive
  • Start the research as early as possible 
  • Do not skip revising 

The Bottom Line

Writing an academic essay is a complex task. But with the right tools, guidance, and willingness to learn from your mistakes, you will master academic writing in no time. Make sure to follow each of the abovementioned steps and practice as much as possible. And don’t forget to edit!

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  • Writing Tips

The Structure of an Academic Paper

2-minute read

  • 5th January 2014

Most academic papers have a five-part structure. This can vary depending on what you are writing (a full-length dissertation or thesis will include dedicated literature review, methodology and results chapters, for example).

Nevertheless, a shorter essay will always require the following parts:

  • Introduction
  • References or bibliography

These parts can be characterized as follows:

1.    Title

The title of your paper should clearly indicate the subject matter and the argument you are going to put forward.

2.    Introduction

The introduction should outline the topic of the essay, the rationale for your research (i.e., why the topic is worth studying and your motivations for doing so) and the general structure of your argument.

3.    Main Body

This is the core of your paper. In the main body, set out each point of your argument in turn and discuss how they contribute to your overall point. Each point should be supported by evidence, such as examples, quotations or data.

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4.    Conclusion

The conclusion should be a concise review of the main points explored and your final thoughts on the matter. No new material should be introduced at this stage, but nor should you simply summarize what you have written so far.

Instead, focus on how each part of your argument contributes to your final position. Try to write something that leaves an impression on the reader.

5.    References

At the end of your document, make sure to include a list of the sources you used to write your paper. If you’re not sure, remember to check with your institution about which referencing style to use. Commonly used referencing styles include Harvard, MLA, and APA.

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what is the typical structure of an academic essay

Academic Essay: From Basics to Practical Tips

what is the typical structure of an academic essay

Has it ever occurred to you that over the span of a solitary academic term, a typical university student can produce sufficient words to compose an entire 500-page novel? To provide context, this equates to approximately 125,000 to 150,000 words, encompassing essays, research papers, and various written tasks. This content volume is truly remarkable, emphasizing the importance of honing the skill of crafting scholarly essays. Whether you're a seasoned academic or embarking on the initial stages of your educational expedition, grasping the nuances of constructing a meticulously organized and thoroughly researched essay is paramount.

Welcome to our guide on writing an academic essay! Whether you're a seasoned student or just starting your academic journey, the prospect of written homework can be exciting and overwhelming. In this guide, we'll break down the process step by step, offering tips, strategies, and examples to help you navigate the complexities of scholarly writing. By the end, you'll have the tools and confidence to tackle any essay assignment with ease. Let's dive in!

Types of Academic Writing

The process of writing an essay usually encompasses various types of papers, each serving distinct purposes and adhering to specific conventions. Here are some common types of academic writing:

types of academic writing

  • Essays: Essays are versatile expressions of ideas. Descriptive essays vividly portray subjects, narratives share personal stories, expository essays convey information, and persuasive essays aim to influence opinions.
  • Research Papers: Research papers are analytical powerhouses. Analytical papers dissect data or topics, while argumentative papers assert a stance backed by evidence and logical reasoning.
  • Reports: Reports serve as narratives in specialized fields. Technical reports document scientific or technical research, while business reports distill complex information into actionable insights for organizational decision-making.
  • Reviews: Literature reviews provide comprehensive summaries and evaluations of existing research, while critical analyses delve into the intricacies of books or movies, dissecting themes and artistic elements.
  • Dissertations and Theses: Dissertations represent extensive research endeavors, often at the doctoral level, exploring profound subjects. Theses, common in master's programs, showcase mastery over specific topics within defined scopes.
  • Summaries and Abstracts: Summaries and abstracts condense larger works. Abstracts provide concise overviews, offering glimpses into key points and findings.
  • Case Studies: Case studies immerse readers in detailed analyses of specific instances, bridging theoretical concepts with practical applications in real-world scenarios.
  • Reflective Journals: Reflective journals serve as personal platforms for articulating thoughts and insights based on one's academic journey, fostering self-expression and intellectual growth.
  • Academic Articles: Scholarly articles, published in academic journals, constitute the backbone of disseminating original research, contributing to the collective knowledge within specific fields.
  • Literary Analyses: Literary analyses unravel the complexities of written works, decoding themes, linguistic nuances, and artistic elements, fostering a deeper appreciation for literature.

Our essay writer service can cater to all types of academic writings that you might encounter on your educational path. Use it to gain the upper hand in school or college and save precious free time.

academic essay order

Essay Writing Process Explained

The process of how to write an academic essay involves a series of important steps. To start, you'll want to do some pre-writing, where you brainstorm essay topics , gather information, and get a good grasp of your topic. This lays the groundwork for your essay.

Once you have a clear understanding, it's time to draft your essay. Begin with an introduction that grabs the reader's attention, gives some context, and states your main argument or thesis. The body of your essay follows, where each paragraph focuses on a specific point supported by examples or evidence. Make sure your ideas flow smoothly from one paragraph to the next, creating a coherent and engaging narrative.

After the drafting phase, take time to revise and refine your essay. Check for clarity, coherence, and consistency. Ensure your ideas are well-organized and that your writing effectively communicates your message. Finally, wrap up your essay with a strong conclusion that summarizes your main points and leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

How to Prepare for Essay Writing 

Before you start writing an academic essay, there are a few things to sort out. First, make sure you totally get what the assignment is asking for. Break down the instructions and note any specific rules from your teacher. This sets the groundwork.

Then, do some good research. Check out books, articles, or trustworthy websites to gather solid info about your topic. Knowing your stuff makes your essay way stronger. Take a bit of time to brainstorm ideas and sketch out an outline. It helps you organize your thoughts and plan how your essay will flow. Think about the main points you want to get across.

Lastly, be super clear about your main argument or thesis. This is like the main point of your essay, so make it strong. Considering who's going to read your essay is also smart. Use language and tone that suits your academic audience. By ticking off these steps, you'll be in great shape to tackle your essay with confidence.

Academic Essay Example

In academic essays, examples act like guiding stars, showing the way to excellence. Let's check out some good examples to help you on your journey to doing well in your studies.

Academic Essay Format

The academic essay format typically follows a structured approach to convey ideas and arguments effectively. Here's an academic essay format example with a breakdown of the key elements:

academic essay format

Introduction

  • Hook: Begin with an attention-grabbing opening to engage the reader.
  • Background/Context: Provide the necessary background information to set the stage.
  • Thesis Statement: Clearly state the main argument or purpose of the essay.

Body Paragraphs

  • Topic Sentence: Start each paragraph with a clear topic sentence that relates to the thesis.
  • Supporting Evidence: Include evidence, examples, or data to back up your points.
  • Analysis: Analyze and interpret the evidence, explaining its significance in relation to your argument.
  • Transition Sentences: Use these to guide the reader smoothly from one point to the next.

Counterargument (if applicable)

  • Address Counterpoints: Acknowledge opposing views or potential objections.
  • Rebuttal: Refute counterarguments and reinforce your position.

Conclusion:

  • Restate Thesis: Summarize the main argument without introducing new points.
  • Summary of Key Points: Recap the main supporting points made in the body.
  • Closing Statement: End with a strong concluding thought or call to action.

References/Bibliography

  • Cite Sources: Include proper citations for all external information used in the essay.
  • Follow Citation Style: Use the required citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) specified by your instructor.
  • Font and Size: Use a standard font (e.g., Times New Roman, Arial) and size (12-point).
  • Margins and Spacing: Follow specified margin and spacing guidelines.
  • Page Numbers: Include page numbers if required.

Adhering to this structure helps create a well-organized and coherent academic essay that effectively communicates your ideas and arguments.

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How to Write an Academic Essay Step by Step

Start with an introduction.

The introduction of an essay serves as the reader's initial encounter with the topic, setting the tone for the entire piece. It aims to capture attention, generate interest, and establish a clear pathway for the reader to follow. A well-crafted introduction provides a brief overview of the subject matter, hinting at the forthcoming discussion, and compels the reader to delve further into the essay. Consult our detailed guide on how to write an essay introduction for extra details.

Captivate Your Reader

Engaging the reader within the introduction is crucial for sustaining interest throughout the essay. This involves incorporating an engaging hook, such as a thought-provoking question, a compelling anecdote, or a relevant quote. By presenting an intriguing opening, the writer can entice the reader to continue exploring the essay, fostering a sense of curiosity and investment in the upcoming content. To learn more about how to write a hook for an essay , please consult our guide,

Provide Context for a Chosen Topic

In essay writing, providing context for the chosen topic is essential to ensure that readers, regardless of their prior knowledge, can comprehend the subject matter. This involves offering background information, defining key terms, and establishing the broader context within which the essay unfolds. Contextualization sets the stage, enabling readers to grasp the significance of the topic and its relevance within a particular framework. If you buy a dissertation or essay, or any other type of academic writing, our writers will produce an introduction that follows all the mentioned quality criteria.

Make a Thesis Statement

The thesis statement is the central anchor of the essay, encapsulating its main argument or purpose. It typically appears towards the end of the introduction, providing a concise and clear declaration of the writer's stance on the chosen topic. A strong thesis guides the reader on what to expect, serving as a roadmap for the essay's subsequent development.

Outline the Structure of Your Essay

Clearly outlining the structure of the essay in the introduction provides readers with a roadmap for navigating the content. This involves briefly highlighting the main points or arguments that will be explored in the body paragraphs. By offering a structural overview, the writer enhances the essay's coherence, making it easier for the reader to follow the logical progression of ideas and supporting evidence throughout the text.

Continue with the Main Body

The main body is the most important aspect of how to write an academic essay where the in-depth exploration and development of the chosen topic occur. Each paragraph within this section should focus on a specific aspect of the argument or present supporting evidence. It is essential to maintain a logical flow between paragraphs, using clear transitions to guide the reader seamlessly from one point to the next. The main body is an opportunity to delve into the nuances of the topic, providing thorough analysis and interpretation to substantiate the thesis statement.

Choose the Right Length

Determining the appropriate length for an essay is a critical aspect of effective communication. The length should align with the depth and complexity of the chosen topic, ensuring that the essay adequately explores key points without unnecessary repetition or omission of essential information. Striking a balance is key – a well-developed essay neither overextends nor underrepresents the subject matter. Adhering to any specified word count or page limit set by the assignment guidelines is crucial to meet academic requirements while maintaining clarity and coherence.

Write Compelling Paragraphs

In academic essay writing, thought-provoking paragraphs form the backbone of the main body, each contributing to the overall argument or analysis. Each paragraph should begin with a clear topic sentence that encapsulates the main point, followed by supporting evidence or examples. Thoroughly analyzing the evidence and providing insightful commentary demonstrates the depth of understanding and contributes to the overall persuasiveness of the essay. Cohesion between paragraphs is crucial, achieved through effective transitions that ensure a smooth and logical progression of ideas, enhancing the overall readability and impact of the essay.

Finish by Writing a Conclusion

The conclusion serves as the essay's final impression, providing closure and reinforcing the key insights. It involves restating the thesis without introducing new information, summarizing the main points addressed in the body, and offering a compelling closing thought. The goal is to leave a lasting impact on the reader, emphasizing the significance of the discussed topic and the validity of the thesis statement. A well-crafted conclusion brings the essay full circle, leaving the reader with a sense of resolution and understanding. Have you already seen our collection of new persuasive essay topics ? If not, we suggest you do it right after finishing this article to boost your creativity!

Proofread and Edit the Document

After completing the essay, a critical step is meticulous proofreading and editing. This process involves reviewing the document for grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and punctuation issues. Additionally, assess the overall coherence and flow of ideas, ensuring that each paragraph contributes effectively to the essay's purpose. Consider the clarity of expression, the appropriateness of language, and the overall organization of the content. Taking the time to proofread and edit enhances the overall quality of the essay, presenting a polished and professional piece of writing. It is advisable to seek feedback from peers or instructors to gain additional perspectives on the essay's strengths and areas for improvement. For more insightful tips, feel free to check out our guide on how to write a descriptive essay .

Alright, let's wrap it up. Knowing how to write academic essays is a big deal. It's not just about passing assignments – it's a skill that sets you up for effective communication and deep thinking. These essays teach us to explain our ideas clearly, build strong arguments, and be part of important conversations, both in school and out in the real world. Whether you're studying or working, being able to put your thoughts into words is super valuable. So, take the time to master this skill – it's a game-changer!

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What Is An Academic Essay?

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what is the typical structure of an academic essay

The purpose of this resource is to:

  • Explain why the structure of your essay is important
  • Provide a basic, standard structure for academic essays
  • Suggest a practical strategy for creating a structure for your particular essay
  • Give you an opportunity to test your learning

Why does structure matter?

University writing consists of multiple genres (types of writing). These include reports, presentations, case studies, annotated bibliographies, reflective assignments, essays, and many others. In each case, a particular structure is used to achieve a specific purpose.

For academic essays, a simple, flexible structure is used to present an academic argument (or series of arguments).

Usually, your tutors will set a question or series of questions in the assignment brief, and your essay’s argument(s) will be a response to these. However, in some assignments, you may be given the option of developing your own question.

In either case, a well-organised essay structure will help you to:

  • Guide your reader through your argument
  • Make all your ideas clear
  • Be more persuasive
  • Demonstrate to your marker that you are answering the question
  • Discuss similar or related ideas together
  • Avoid including irrelevant or repetitive information

The basic structure of an essay

Academic essays have the same basic structure:

Introduction

  • List of references

In the diagram below, the top triangle indicates a progression from general to specific information, while the bottom one indicates the reverse.

diagram of stages of structuring an essay

Introduction, Main Body, and Conclusion

An introduction is usually approximately 10% of the word count. Unless your introduction is over 250 words, it is usually best to present your introduction as one paragraph. This strategy helps signal the transition from your introduction into your main body.

Your introduction needs two primary elements:

  • Background information , i.e. context for the essay 
  • Preview of your essay

Background information orientates your reader ahead of reading your essay. Start with broader information and then narrow your focus.

You will need to include:

  • Key context, definitions
  • Reasons why the topic is important, relevant or interesting (to ‘hook’ your reader’s interest)
  • References for any definitions, statistics, ideas of other writers, etc.

Providing a preview of your essay , helps set the reader’s expectations. Choose one or more of the following options to best suit your essay:

  • A purpose statement summarising the aim(s) of the essay.

e.g. ‘This essay will discuss/examine/consider…’

  • An indication of your approach to answering the question.

e.g. ‘To do so, the [theory/model/approach] will be used.’

  • A thesis statement summarising your main conclusion for the essay.

e.g. ‘This essay argues that…’

  • A roadmap or outline of the sections of your essay.

e.g. First, [item one] will be presented; second, [item two] will be analysed…

  • A thesis statement is often a good choice because it presents your main claim upfront. This means your argument will be clearer to the reader.
  • Including keywords from the assignment brief will give your marker

The main body is where you present your answer to the essay question. In other words, this is where you provide your argument.

What is the main argument?

At a minimum, an academic argument is made up of two components:

  • A claim , i.e. your answer to a question in the brief
  • Support for the claim , i.e. logical reasons and evidence to convince your reader of your answer to the question(s) in the brief

Note: In many cases, an essay question requires more than one argument, or a series of sub-arguments. You may also have more than one question to respond to in the assignment brief.

A good academic argument often recognises complexity. For example, a simple “Yes” to the question “Does exercise benefit mental health?” is unlikely to get you a good grade, even if it is well-evidenced.

An argument can be strengthened by including critical thinking. For example, by considering:

  • Implications
  • Limitations
  • Potential objections
  • Counter arguments
  • The quality and/or relevance of your evidence
  • Alternative interpretations of your evidence

Organising your argument

Your argument will need to be organised into a series of main points. Each point has its own paragraph. Your main body will be organised like this:

  • Main point 1
  • Main point 2
  • Main point 3

There are various models of paragraph structure which can help you organise the sentences within your paragraph. There are some resources in the reference list you may want to use. However, whichever model you use, each paragraph will need at least:

  • A topic sentence: This summarises the main point of the paragraph.
  • Evidence and/or examples: This is where you convince your reader.

In addition, your markers are also likely to expect your paragraph to end with:

  • Criticality: Evaluation or analysis of your point and/or evidence. You may also link your point back to your wider argument here.

When moving onto a new point, it can be hel ful to use signal phrases such as ‘first’, ‘secondly’, ‘similarly’, ‘in contrast’, ‘next’ or ‘finally’ at the start of the next paragraph.

Conclusions remind the reader of what you have argued. This is your chance to ensure your reader takes away the main points you want them to remember.

Orgnaise your conclusion in the following way:

  • Restate your claim
  • Avoid adding new points or information here
  • e.g. general recommendations, ideas for future research, etc.

Referencing

Your references should usually be on a separate page and laid out according to the referencing style required by your department.

Creating the structure of an essay

Writing your plan.

Attempting to develop a structure for your essay can feel daunting, and we all plan differently.  Before writing your plan , ensure you fully understand the question(s) in the brief. This may require background reading. Then undertake focused, critical reading that allows you to develop an answer to the questions in the brief and to provide evidence your argument.

You may want to use this step-by-step strategy to develop a robust essay plan that presents your argument clearly.

Diagram of a writing plan

Step 1. Express your claim concisely

Write an answer to the question(s) in the brief in one or two sentences. You can use these sentences as a basis for your thesis statement in the introduction and your conclusion.

Step 2. Identify your main points

These are the points that will make up your main body and together add up to constitute your argument. You can use these key points to write your paragraph’s topic sentences within the body of your essay.

Step 3. Organise your points

Arrange your points in a logical sequence. For example, you could organise your points in the following ways:

  • Thematically (i.e. theme #1, theme #2…)
  • Problem then solution(s)
  • Most important factor to least important factor

Step 4. Identify support for your points

This may be from your reading (e.g. data, evidence, theory, examples) and/or from your case study, if you have been given one. You may need to do additional research at this stage if you don’t feel your points are well-supported.

Step 5. Add any counter-arguments

You can include two types of counter-arguments:

A counter-argument in response to your wider argument . This will require at least one paragraph to:

  • Explain and evidence this alternative viewpoint
  • Present a well-developed rebuttal (i.e. to what extent this counter argument should be rejected and why)
  • Come to a conclusion (e.g. entirely reject the alternative viewpoint, or modify your original claim)

A counter-argument in response to individual points in the main body . These can be located within the paragraph about the relevant point or as a separate paragraph. These counter-arguments will still require a rebuttal and a conclusion, but this may be less in-depth.

Revising the structure

Once you have drafted your essay, you may need to revise your structure. For example, you may need to reorder your paragraphs, add a new paragraph, or delete a paragraph. This is a normal part of the writing process.

Why not test your knowledge from this resource by completing an exercise in Appendix One in pdf download of this resource.

Monash University. (2023a). How to build an essay: Body paragraphs. https://www.monash.edu/learnhq/write-like-a-pro/how-to-write.../essay/how-to-build-an-essay#tabs__2725037-03

Monash University. (2023b). How to build an essay: Outline.   https://www.monash.edu/learnhq/write-like-a-pro/how-to-write.../essay/how-to-build-an-essay#tabs__2725037-01  

The University of Adelaide. (2014). Writing essays: Writing centre learning guide. https://www.adelaide.edu.au/writingcentre/sites/default/files/docs/learningguide-writingessays.pdf   

The University of Birmingham. (2015). A short guide to paragraph structure. https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/as/libraryservices/library/asc/documents/public/Short-Guide-Paragraph-Structure.pdf

The University of Birmingham. (2017). A short guide to essay planning and structure. https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/as/libraryservices/library/asc/documents/public/short-guide-essay-planning.pdf   

The University of Melbourne. (n.d.). Six top tips for writing a great essay. https://students.unimelb.edu.au/academic-skills/resources/essay-writing/six-top-tips-for-writing-a-great-essay  

The University of New South Wales. (2022). Write your essay. https://www.student.unsw.edu.au/writing-your-essay

Further Support

CAW offers writing development workshops across all genres of academic writing.  In order to build on your learning, you may find the following workshops useful:

  • Reading Critically to Support Your Writing
  • Critical Thinking 1
  • Critical Thinking 2
  • Using Sources Effectively – Avoiding Plagiarism

To view available workshops and book online, visit:    https://libcal.coventry.ac.uk/calendar/caw    

To book a one-to-one tutorial with the Centre for Academic Writing: https://libguides.coventry.ac.uk/cawlibcalhome    

Guide to Referencing: https://libguides.coventry.ac.uk/referencing

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Basic essay structure

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Improve your writing

Organise your essays to demonstrate your knowledge, show your research and support your arguments

Essays are usually written in continuous, flowing, paragraphed text and don’t use section headings. This may seem unstructured at first, but good essays are carefully structured.

How your assignment content is structured is your choice. Use the basic pattern below to get started.

Essay structure

An essay consists of three basic parts:, introduction.

The essay itself usually has no section headings. Only the title page, author declaration and reference list are written as headings, along with, for example, appendices. Check any task instructions, and your course or unit handbook, for further details.

Content in assignment introductions can vary widely. In some disciplines you may need to provide a full background and context, whereas other essays may need only a little context, and others may need none.

An introduction to an essay usually has three primary purposes:

  • To set the scene
  • To tell readers what is important, and why
  • To tell the reader what the essay is going to do (signposting)

A standard introduction includes the following five elements:

  • A statement that sets out the topic and engages the reader.
  • The background and context of the topic.
  • Any important definitions, integrated into your text as appropriate.
  • An outline of the key points, topic, issues, evidence, ideas, arguments, models, theories, or other information, as appropriate. This may include distinctions or contrasts between different ideas or evidence.
  • A final sentence or two which tells the reader your focal points and aims.

You should aim to restrict your introduction to information needed for the topic and only include background and contextual information which helps the reader understand it, or sets the scene for your chosen focal points.

In most essays you will have a considerable range of options for your focus. You will be expected to demonstrate your ability to select the most relevant content to address your focal points.

There are some exceptions. For example, if an assignment brief specifically directs the essay focus or requires you to write broadly about a topic. These are relatively rare or are discipline-specific so you should check your task instructions and discipline and subject area conventions.

Below are examples of an opening statement, a summary of the selected content, and a statement at the end of the introduction which tells the reader what the essay will focus on and how it will be addressed. We've use a fictional essay.

The title of our essay is: 'Cats are better than dogs. Discuss.'

To submit this essay you also would need to add citations as appropriate.

Example of opening statements:

People have shared their lives with cats and dogs for millenia. Which is better depends partly on each animal’s characteristics and partly on the owner’s preferences.

Here is a summary of five specific topics selected for the essay, which would be covered in a little more detail in the introduction:

  • In ancient Egypt, cats were treated as sacred and were pampered companions.
  • Dogs have for centuries been used for hunting and to guard property. There are many types of working dog, and both dogs and cats are now kept purely as pets.
  • They are very different animals, with different care needs, traits and abilities.
  • It is a common perception that people are either “cat-lovers” or “dog-lovers”.
  • It is a common perception that people tend to have preferences for one, and negative beliefs about and attitudes towards, the other.

Example of closing statements at the end of the introduction:

This essay will examine both cats’ and dogs’ behaviour and abilities, the benefits of keeping them as pets, and whether people’s perceptions of their nature matches current knowledge and understanding.

Main body: paragraphs

The body of the essay should be organised into paragraphs. Each paragraph should deal with a different aspect of the issue, but they should also link in some way to those that precede and follow it. This is not an easy thing to get right, even for experienced writers, partly because there are many ways to successfully structure and use paragraphs. There is no perfect paragraph template.

The theme or topic statement

The first sentence, or sometimes two, tells the reader what the paragraph is going to cover. It may either:

  • Begin a new point or topic, or
  • Follow on from the previous paragraph, but with a different focus or go into more-specific detail. If this is the case, it should clearly link to the previous paragraph.

The last sentence

It should be clear if the point has come to an end, or if it continues in the next paragraph.

Here is a brief example of flow between two summarised paragraphs which cover the historical perspective:

It is known from hieroglyphs that the Ancient Egyptians believed that cats were sacred. They were also held in high regard, as suggested by their being found mummified and entombed with their owners (Smith, 1969). In addition, cats are portrayed aiding hunters. Therefore, they were both treated as sacred, and were used as intelligent working companions. However, today they are almost entirely owned as pets.

In contrast, dogs have not been regarded as sacred, but they have for centuries been widely used for hunting in Europe. This developed over time and eventually they became domesticated and accepted as pets. Today, they are seen as loyal, loving and protective members of the family, and are widely used as working dogs.

There is never any new information in a conclusion.

The conclusion usually does three things:

  • Reminds your readers of what the essay was meant to do.
  • Provides an answer, where possible, to the title.
  • Reminds your reader how you reached that answer.

The conclusion should usually occupy just one paragraph. It draws together all the key elements of your essay, so you do not need to repeat the fine detail unless you are highlighting something.

A conclusion to our essay about cats and dogs is given below:

Both cats and dogs have been highly-valued for millenia, are affectionate and beneficial to their owners’ wellbeing. However, they are very different animals and each is 'better' than the other regarding care needs and natural traits. Dogs need regular training and exercise but many owners do not train or exercise them enough, resulting in bad behaviour. They also need to be 'boarded' if the owner is away and to have frequent baths to prevent bad odours. In contrast, cats do not need this level of effort and care. Dogs are seen as more intelligent, loyal and attuned to human beings, whereas cats are perceived as aloof and solitary, and as only seeking affection when they want to be fed. However, recent studies have shown that cats are affectionate and loyal and more intelligent than dogs, but it is less obvious and useful. There are, for example, no 'police' or 'assistance' cats, in part because they do not have the kinds of natural instincts which make dogs easy to train. Therefore, which animal is better depends upon personal preference and whether they are required to work. Therefore, although dogs are better as working animals, cats are easier, better pets.

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Better Essays: Signposting

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Q. What is the typical structure of an academic paper?

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Answered By: Ning Zou Last Updated: Mar 11, 2022     Views: 157

Academic papers are like hourglasses: the introduction opens with a “hook” at its widest point and makes broad connections to the reader’s interests; the paper narrows to a tight, focused thesis statement. The body paragraphs stay relatively narrow and focus on the thesis. The conclusion broadens and reinforces connections to the larger context. Check out our resource on paper structure for more information.

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“What Is an Academic Essay?”

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Overview (a.k.a. TLDR)

  • Different professors define the academic essay differently.
  • Thesis (main point)
  • Supporting evidence (properly cited)
  • Counterarguments
  • Your academic essay is knowledge that you create for the learning community of which you’re a member (a.k.a. the academy).

As a student in Core classes, especially in COR 102, you can expect that at least some of the major work in the course will entail writing academic essays. That term, academic essay , might sound as if it’s referring to a specific writing genre. That’s because it is. An academic essay is not a short story, an electronic game design document, a lesson plan, or a scientific lab report. It’s something else. What exactly is it, though? That depends, to some extent, on how the professor who has asked you to write an academic essay has chosen to define it. As Kathy Duffin posits in an essay written for the Writing Center at Harvard University, while an academic essay may “vary in expression from discipline to discipline,” it “should show us a mind developing a thesis, supporting that thesis with evidence, deftly anticipating objections or counterarguments, and maintaining the momentum of discovery.”

Even though Duffin’s essay is more than 20 years old, I still find her description interesting for a few reasons, one of which being the way that she has sandwiched, so to speak, some established content requirements of academic essays in between two broad intellectual functions of the academic essay. Here’s what I see:

When Duffin writes that an academic essay “should show us a mind,” she is identifying an important quality in many essay forms, not just academic essays: a sense of a mind at work. This is an important consideration, as it frames an academic essay as an attempt to understand something and to share that understanding. Essay is, in fact, also a verb; to essay is to try or attempt.

The established content requirements are as follows:

  • a thesis (which Duffin describes also as a “purpose” and “motive”)
  • evidence in support of the thesis, and
  • an anticipation of objections or counterarguments

Duffin caps this all off with something about “maintaining the momentum of discovery.” Honestly, I’m not positive that I know what this means, but my guess is that it means an academic essay will construct and advance a new way of knowing the essay topic, a way that makes this process seem worth the writer’s and the reader’s time.

Again, your professor may or may not define academic essays as Duffin does. The only thing I would add to the above is a reminder that the academic essays you write in COR 102 and other courses represent knowledge that you’re creating within and for the academy —another word for Champlain College, an academic institution. You’re creating knowledge for a community of learners, a community of which you, your professor, and your peers are members. Keeping this conceptualization of your academic essay in mind may help you appreciate such other common elements of academic essays as voice , citations , and essay format.

Duffin, Kathy. “Overview of the Academic Essay.” Harvard College Writing Center, Harvard U., 1998, https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/overview-academic-essay Accessed 29 July 2020.

Quick tip about citing sources in MLA style

What’s a thesis, sample mla essays.

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Unit 4: Fundamentals of Academic Essay Writing

26 Essay Structure

You may have learned how to write a “5-paragraph” essay with an introduction, three body paragraphs, and conclusion. This is a good starting place. The academic writing conventions you will learn in this course will be expanded upon in ESL 118, where you will learn more advanced approaches to academic writing.

Preview Questions:

  • What does a “typical” essay look like? What are the parts of an essay?
  • What are the parts of a paragraph?
  • What are the qualities of a good paragraph?
  • What’s the difference between a thesis statement and a topic sentence?
  • Does every paragraph need a concluding sentence?

Topic Sentences

Writers can and should create a very clear “skeleton” for the ideas in an essay. That skeleton (or outline if you don’t like skeletons) usually consists of  the thesis statement and the topic sentences  for each paragraph or section of the essay.

Topic sentences in an essay lead the reader through your ideas in a way that feels logical and “readable.”

Good topic sentences include all of the following:

  • Some kind of  transition (The most significant challenge…; Another important aspect of…; The final factor to consider…)
  • A  thesis reminder (e.g. “challenge” in the example above; Other common “thesis ingredients” are reasons, advantages, problems, and so on.)
  • The  topic of the paragraph (Let’s imagine it is technical problems)
  • The  controlling idea of the paragraph (What are you saying about the topic?)

When you put all of these things together, you might write the following topic sentence for one of your paragraphs/sections:

One challenge  for students taking online courses is  technical problems , which can have a  negative effect on students’ success in a course.

Note:  Often a section of your essay (one of your main points) requires more than one paragraph. In that case, only the first paragraph in the  section  requires this kind of “major transition.” Each additional paragraph still needs a topic sentence, but the goal is simply a smooth continuation of the same idea with a transition to the new sub-topic.

Suggestion: Your topic sentence repeats a supporting point (expressed in the thesis statement), but does so in a way that is different from the thesis (with new vocabulary or different word forms , if possible)

Exercise #1

Examine the thesis statement and topic sentences from the Peer Review Student Model. Discuss whether they contain the elements listed above. Suggest how they might be improved.

Exercise #2

Analyze the topic sentences of one of the sample essays or your own draft.

Key Takeaways

Each section of the body of your essay will begin with a topic sentence. This sentence typically occurs at the beginning of the paragraph and will develop one of the supporting points of your thesis. If the thesis statement is the “road map” of your essay, then the topic sentences continue to elaborate on the “directions” of where your essay is headed.

Academic Writing I Copyright © by UW-Madison ESL Program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • The four main types of essay | Quick guide with examples

The Four Main Types of Essay | Quick Guide with Examples

Published on September 4, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

An essay is a focused piece of writing designed to inform or persuade. There are many different types of essay, but they are often defined in four categories: argumentative, expository, narrative, and descriptive essays.

Argumentative and expository essays are focused on conveying information and making clear points, while narrative and descriptive essays are about exercising creativity and writing in an interesting way. At university level, argumentative essays are the most common type. 

In high school and college, you will also often have to write textual analysis essays, which test your skills in close reading and interpretation.

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Table of contents

Argumentative essays, expository essays, narrative essays, descriptive essays, textual analysis essays, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about types of essays.

An argumentative essay presents an extended, evidence-based argument. It requires a strong thesis statement —a clearly defined stance on your topic. Your aim is to convince the reader of your thesis using evidence (such as quotations ) and analysis.

Argumentative essays test your ability to research and present your own position on a topic. This is the most common type of essay at college level—most papers you write will involve some kind of argumentation.

The essay is divided into an introduction, body, and conclusion:

  • The introduction provides your topic and thesis statement
  • The body presents your evidence and arguments
  • The conclusion summarizes your argument and emphasizes its importance

The example below is a paragraph from the body of an argumentative essay about the effects of the internet on education. Mouse over it to learn more.

A common frustration for teachers is students’ use of Wikipedia as a source in their writing. Its prevalence among students is not exaggerated; a survey found that the vast majority of the students surveyed used Wikipedia (Head & Eisenberg, 2010). An article in The Guardian stresses a common objection to its use: “a reliance on Wikipedia can discourage students from engaging with genuine academic writing” (Coomer, 2013). Teachers are clearly not mistaken in viewing Wikipedia usage as ubiquitous among their students; but the claim that it discourages engagement with academic sources requires further investigation. This point is treated as self-evident by many teachers, but Wikipedia itself explicitly encourages students to look into other sources. Its articles often provide references to academic publications and include warning notes where citations are missing; the site’s own guidelines for research make clear that it should be used as a starting point, emphasizing that users should always “read the references and check whether they really do support what the article says” (“Wikipedia:Researching with Wikipedia,” 2020). Indeed, for many students, Wikipedia is their first encounter with the concepts of citation and referencing. The use of Wikipedia therefore has a positive side that merits deeper consideration than it often receives.

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An expository essay provides a clear, focused explanation of a topic. It doesn’t require an original argument, just a balanced and well-organized view of the topic.

Expository essays test your familiarity with a topic and your ability to organize and convey information. They are commonly assigned at high school or in exam questions at college level.

The introduction of an expository essay states your topic and provides some general background, the body presents the details, and the conclusion summarizes the information presented.

A typical body paragraph from an expository essay about the invention of the printing press is shown below. Mouse over it to learn more.

The invention of the printing press in 1440 changed this situation dramatically. Johannes Gutenberg, who had worked as a goldsmith, used his knowledge of metals in the design of the press. He made his type from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony, whose durability allowed for the reliable production of high-quality books. This new technology allowed texts to be reproduced and disseminated on a much larger scale than was previously possible. The Gutenberg Bible appeared in the 1450s, and a large number of printing presses sprang up across the continent in the following decades. Gutenberg’s invention rapidly transformed cultural production in Europe; among other things, it would lead to the Protestant Reformation.

A narrative essay is one that tells a story. This is usually a story about a personal experience you had, but it may also be an imaginative exploration of something you have not experienced.

Narrative essays test your ability to build up a narrative in an engaging, well-structured way. They are much more personal and creative than other kinds of academic writing . Writing a personal statement for an application requires the same skills as a narrative essay.

A narrative essay isn’t strictly divided into introduction, body, and conclusion, but it should still begin by setting up the narrative and finish by expressing the point of the story—what you learned from your experience, or why it made an impression on you.

Mouse over the example below, a short narrative essay responding to the prompt “Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself,” to explore its structure.

Since elementary school, I have always favored subjects like science and math over the humanities. My instinct was always to think of these subjects as more solid and serious than classes like English. If there was no right answer, I thought, why bother? But recently I had an experience that taught me my academic interests are more flexible than I had thought: I took my first philosophy class.

Before I entered the classroom, I was skeptical. I waited outside with the other students and wondered what exactly philosophy would involve—I really had no idea. I imagined something pretty abstract: long, stilted conversations pondering the meaning of life. But what I got was something quite different.

A young man in jeans, Mr. Jones—“but you can call me Rob”—was far from the white-haired, buttoned-up old man I had half-expected. And rather than pulling us into pedantic arguments about obscure philosophical points, Rob engaged us on our level. To talk free will, we looked at our own choices. To talk ethics, we looked at dilemmas we had faced ourselves. By the end of class, I’d discovered that questions with no right answer can turn out to be the most interesting ones.

The experience has taught me to look at things a little more “philosophically”—and not just because it was a philosophy class! I learned that if I let go of my preconceptions, I can actually get a lot out of subjects I was previously dismissive of. The class taught me—in more ways than one—to look at things with an open mind.

A descriptive essay provides a detailed sensory description of something. Like narrative essays, they allow you to be more creative than most academic writing, but they are more tightly focused than narrative essays. You might describe a specific place or object, rather than telling a whole story.

Descriptive essays test your ability to use language creatively, making striking word choices to convey a memorable picture of what you’re describing.

A descriptive essay can be quite loosely structured, though it should usually begin by introducing the object of your description and end by drawing an overall picture of it. The important thing is to use careful word choices and figurative language to create an original description of your object.

Mouse over the example below, a response to the prompt “Describe a place you love to spend time in,” to learn more about descriptive essays.

On Sunday afternoons I like to spend my time in the garden behind my house. The garden is narrow but long, a corridor of green extending from the back of the house, and I sit on a lawn chair at the far end to read and relax. I am in my small peaceful paradise: the shade of the tree, the feel of the grass on my feet, the gentle activity of the fish in the pond beside me.

My cat crosses the garden nimbly and leaps onto the fence to survey it from above. From his perch he can watch over his little kingdom and keep an eye on the neighbours. He does this until the barking of next door’s dog scares him from his post and he bolts for the cat flap to govern from the safety of the kitchen.

With that, I am left alone with the fish, whose whole world is the pond by my feet. The fish explore the pond every day as if for the first time, prodding and inspecting every stone. I sometimes feel the same about sitting here in the garden; I know the place better than anyone, but whenever I return I still feel compelled to pay attention to all its details and novelties—a new bird perched in the tree, the growth of the grass, and the movement of the insects it shelters…

Sitting out in the garden, I feel serene. I feel at home. And yet I always feel there is more to discover. The bounds of my garden may be small, but there is a whole world contained within it, and it is one I will never get tired of inhabiting.

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Though every essay type tests your writing skills, some essays also test your ability to read carefully and critically. In a textual analysis essay, you don’t just present information on a topic, but closely analyze a text to explain how it achieves certain effects.

Rhetorical analysis

A rhetorical analysis looks at a persuasive text (e.g. a speech, an essay, a political cartoon) in terms of the rhetorical devices it uses, and evaluates their effectiveness.

The goal is not to state whether you agree with the author’s argument but to look at how they have constructed it.

The introduction of a rhetorical analysis presents the text, some background information, and your thesis statement; the body comprises the analysis itself; and the conclusion wraps up your analysis of the text, emphasizing its relevance to broader concerns.

The example below is from a rhetorical analysis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech . Mouse over it to learn more.

King’s speech is infused with prophetic language throughout. Even before the famous “dream” part of the speech, King’s language consistently strikes a prophetic tone. He refers to the Lincoln Memorial as a “hallowed spot” and speaks of rising “from the dark and desolate valley of segregation” to “make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” The assumption of this prophetic voice constitutes the text’s strongest ethical appeal; after linking himself with political figures like Lincoln and the Founding Fathers, King’s ethos adopts a distinctly religious tone, recalling Biblical prophets and preachers of change from across history. This adds significant force to his words; standing before an audience of hundreds of thousands, he states not just what the future should be, but what it will be: “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” This warning is almost apocalyptic in tone, though it concludes with the positive image of the “bright day of justice.” The power of King’s rhetoric thus stems not only from the pathos of his vision of a brighter future, but from the ethos of the prophetic voice he adopts in expressing this vision.

Literary analysis

A literary analysis essay presents a close reading of a work of literature—e.g. a poem or novel—to explore the choices made by the author and how they help to convey the text’s theme. It is not simply a book report or a review, but an in-depth interpretation of the text.

Literary analysis looks at things like setting, characters, themes, and figurative language. The goal is to closely analyze what the author conveys and how.

The introduction of a literary analysis essay presents the text and background, and provides your thesis statement; the body consists of close readings of the text with quotations and analysis in support of your argument; and the conclusion emphasizes what your approach tells us about the text.

Mouse over the example below, the introduction to a literary analysis essay on Frankenstein , to learn more.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, protagonist Victor Frankenstein is a stable representation of the callous ambition of modern science throughout the novel. This essay, however, argues that far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as. This essay begins by exploring the positive portrayal of Frankenstein in the first volume, then moves on to the creature’s perception of him, and finally discusses the third volume’s narrative shift toward viewing Frankenstein as the creature views him.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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At high school and in composition classes at university, you’ll often be told to write a specific type of essay , but you might also just be given prompts.

Look for keywords in these prompts that suggest a certain approach: The word “explain” suggests you should write an expository essay , while the word “describe” implies a descriptive essay . An argumentative essay might be prompted with the word “assess” or “argue.”

The vast majority of essays written at university are some sort of argumentative essay . Almost all academic writing involves building up an argument, though other types of essay might be assigned in composition classes.

Essays can present arguments about all kinds of different topics. For example:

  • In a literary analysis essay, you might make an argument for a specific interpretation of a text
  • In a history essay, you might present an argument for the importance of a particular event
  • In a politics essay, you might argue for the validity of a certain political theory

An argumentative essay tends to be a longer essay involving independent research, and aims to make an original argument about a topic. Its thesis statement makes a contentious claim that must be supported in an objective, evidence-based way.

An expository essay also aims to be objective, but it doesn’t have to make an original argument. Rather, it aims to explain something (e.g., a process or idea) in a clear, concise way. Expository essays are often shorter assignments and rely less on research.

The key difference is that a narrative essay is designed to tell a complete story, while a descriptive essay is meant to convey an intense description of a particular place, object, or concept.

Narrative and descriptive essays both allow you to write more personally and creatively than other kinds of essays , and similar writing skills can apply to both.

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Caulfield, J. (2023, July 23). The Four Main Types of Essay | Quick Guide with Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved April 3, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/academic-essay/essay-types/

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