How to Organize an Essay
In this video, we will cover the steps involved in organizing an essay. We'll talk about titles, introductory paragraphs, concluding paragraphs, main points, transition statements and editing.
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One of the most common writing assignments a person may be asked to complete is an essay. In this video, we will discuss: 1) What is an essay? 2) What are the parts that make up an essay? 3) How to put it all together to make a good final product.
What is an Essay?
According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab, an essay is a shorter piece of writing that often requires students to hone skills, such as close reading, analysis, comparison and contrast, persuasion, conciseness, clarity and exposition. Students will often be asked to write about something they read, something they studied or something they experienced.
Now that we know what an essay is, let’s discuss the parts of an essay and how to put it all together. To take the journey, let’s think of an essay as a sandwich being made in one of the best sandwich shops in the world. How does one make a world-class sandwich?
Parts of an Essay
While this may not be the first step you complete, it’s a step that’s often missed by many students. Imagine we have created the best sandwich in the world in our sandwich shop, and on the menu is nothing but a blank line followed by a price. Who’s going to order that? Even worse, we wouldn’t want to call it something that was misleading. Why call it a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if it doesn’t have peanut butter or jelly? Just like item names in delis and sandwich and sub shops found all over the world, the title of our essay should be either descriptive of the contents of our essay or engaging to the point where the curiosity of individuals will compel them to read more. Go for the compelling title only when you have an audience that can choose to read your essay or not. An assigned essay that will be read only by a professor should use a descriptive title, while one being published in a magazine may best benefit from a compelling title.
Like all great sandwiches, the bread, while often neglected, is really the main star of the dish. Our top piece of bread is the introductory paragraph. The introductory paragraph should start with your thesis statement. Along with your thesis statement, you will be giving people a sneak peek at the main points you are going to cover in your essay.
Main points are the supporting materials that make up the substance of your essay. Consider this: the main ingredients within your sandwich. Like all good sandwiches, we want some very good, complementing flavors inside. When deciding on ingredients for a sandwich, we don’t want it bland with too little flavor. However, we also don’t want to go crazy with ingredients, making the taste too confusing for discriminating palates. A good rule of thumb for main points is to have between two and five total. Anything less than that is going to leave your audience without enough information to come to an informed conclusion. Any more than that and your audience may leave confused as to what your main thesis was really all about.
Just as important as our top piece of bread, our bottom piece needs to be as strong and well thought-out. Imagine picking up a sandwich and noticing the person used a slice of sourdough bread on the top and a slice of pumpernickel bread on the bottom - would you be confused? Just as the top and bottom pieces of bread complement each other and almost mimic each other in taste and texture, this should also be the case with your concluding paragraph. It should read similar to your introductory paragraph, reiterating your thesis statement and main points.
Okay, while what we have so far might look like a sandwich, the taste isn’t there without some wonderful background notes of condiments and accenting flavors. Like mayo and cheese, transition statements are the notes that hold the sandwich together, ensuring it doesn’t get too dry and that it has enough background flavor to guide the reader through. There should be transition statements following your introductory paragraph, between your main points, and before your concluding paragraph. Again, consider them the wonderful accents that give your essay the flavor that sets it apart, that makes it more than just a summation of the big parts. Like mustard on bread, transition statements are easy to forget to add, but the reader will always know if they are missing. Make sure to flavor your essay sandwich accordingly.
Now that we went through all the trouble of making an amazing, gourmet essay sandwich, what a waste if we didn’t package it appropriately. How would you feel if you walked into restaurant, ordered a sandwich and they brought it to you wrapped in a dirty towel or maybe even toilet paper? Would that leave a bad impression on you? Would you even choose to consume it? For the purpose of essay-writing, the packaging piece is your editing. No matter how well the content is written, if an essay is filled with grammatical errors and misspelled words, it won’t be seen as a good essay. It will leave a bad taste in the mouth of the reader, and all your effort of writing will have been in vain. Make sure you package your essay so that the reader is willing to consume that which you have written.
Putting it All Together
Let’s recap what we have learned in this video. An essay is a shorter piece of writing that includes skills such as close reading, comparing and contrasting, analysis, persuasion, conciseness and clarity. The parts of an essay are the title, the introductory paragraph, the main points and the concluding paragraph. In writing an essay, we look at the process the same as we would for putting together a gourmet sandwich. We start with the top piece of bread - the introductory paragraph -which includes our thesis statement and introduces our main points. We fill it with wonderful, high-quality ingredients - the main points. We end with the bottom piece of bread - the concluding paragraph. This concluding paragraph should complement and almost mimic our introductory paragraph, reiterating our thesis and main points. We want to make sure to include our condiments - our transitions and transitional statements. We want to make sure people know what to call our masterpiece by adding an appropriate title. And we want to make sure to package our essay sandwich well - with a good final edit, including a good look at spelling and grammar.
Follow these steps and you are on your way to creating a great essay!
After watching this lesson, you should be able to identify the different parts of an essay and understand the importance of each.
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