Organising ideas in essays and then presenting them in a meaningful, developed manner is one of the most challenging technical elements of the course - but success with structure is an essential means of demonstrating analytical and interpretive skill.
Examiners often make the recommendation that students spend considerable time practising this element; the better essays - and indeed spoken commentaries, are almost always ones in which ideas have not just been grouped together meaningfully, but presented in a sequence that allows for the development of an argument, and this is perhaps the most important aim.
Essay structure: some important elements...
1. Make sure, as far as possible, that one paragraph deals with one main topic only
2. Make sure that each paragraph develops. By the end of a paragraph, your exploration of the topic should have gone somewhere - do not just repeat a point or points
3. Make sure that the essay as a whole develops. By the end of the essay, your argument needs to have gone somewhere
4. The best essays are organised in way the is logical and purposeful. If swapping paragraph 5 with paragraph 3 makes no difference to the essay or the argument then either:
- The essay has not developed an argument OR
- The essay is repetitive
Think in terms of a house or apartment block: you could not build the 3rd floor before you had built the first, and that, in turn, could not have been built without a foundation. Everything about the first level, or foundation, depends on what has come before it - and it is exactly the same principle with a well-organised, and well-developed essay.
5. Make sure that you connect ideas - between sentences, between paragraphs and between sections of your argument. Ideas are usually connected in one or two ways:
- Points of similarity and/or continuation
- Points of contrast or reversal
Particular words and/or phrases that will help with transitions of these kinds are as follows:
|Points of similarity and/or continuation||Points of contrast or reversal|
|In addition; furthermore; moreover; similarly; equally; moreover; comparatively; in the same way; correspondingly; besides; indeed; above all; also; therefore; in consequence; firstly ... secondly etc||In contrast; on the one hand/on the other; even so/though; although; instead; whereas; however; conversely; nevertheless; on the contrary; despite/in spite of; instead; for all that; alternatively; notwithstanding; all the same; otherwise; and yet; after all|
The essay below is annotated with comments that highlight where features associated with structure are present. Have a read through, digest the examiner's comments and try to emulate the characteristics in your own writing.