Introduction: Your introduction is like a signpost or a map at the beginning of a trail. It tells readers where you are going to take them, what ideas you will explore, and what they will see along the way. It should create a feeling of anticipation and interest. It should provide a broad context for your ideas, a strong thesis or focusing idea, and a brief summary of the points the essay will develop. Ask yourself:
What is my main idea or thesis?
Who are my readers? What do they know and believe?
Why is my idea important here and now?
How do I want my readers to respond?
Body: The body of the essay moves the reader along toward the destination or goal. It might have one paragraph, but usually it has several. Each paragraph is related to one of the points you want to show the readers along the way. Some points may take more than one paragraph to develop completely. There should be connections and transitions between the points you show the reader. Ask yourself:
What points do I want to make to help my readers understand my idea?
What examples can I use to help the reader understand each point?
What evidence do I have that each point is true?
How can I keep the reader interested in following my ideas?
What is this paragraph about?
What does this paragraph do for the reader?
Conclusion: The conclusion is the end of the journey. It looks back on the points you have shown the reader, and reinforces, but does not necessarily repeat, the main idea. It also should create a feeling of ending, a farewell to the reader. Ask yourself:
How has the reader's mind been changed by following my points and examples?
If we continued this journey, where would we go next?
If the reader ignores the points you have made, what might happen?
Many high school students have learned a type of organization called the “five-paragraph essay.” The pattern works like this:
Introduction: Thesis and three reasons.
Body Paragraph One: Discuss reason number one.
Body Paragraph Two: Discuss reason number two.
Body Paragraph Three: Discuss reason number three.
Thesis statement. (At left it is underlined, but you don't have to underline it.)
When most students graduate from high school, they are tired of school. They don’t want to go to school for four more years. However, without a college degree, it is hard to get a good job. In my opinion, the purpose of college is to prepare you for a good career. Cal Poly Pomona prepares you because it has many popular degree programs. It also has many good teachers and a “learn by doing” philosophy.
The degree programs at Cal Poly lead directly into good jobs in industry. For example, the Hotel and Restaurant Management program prepares students for a career in the hospitality industry. The Electrical and Computer Engineering program is also popular in our high tech society. (Add more)
Transitional phrase, topic sentence about point 2.
In addition, Cal Poly has a hands on, “learn by doing” teaching philosophy. This means that students work on real projects with real materials, plants and animals. For example . . . (Add more)
Brief summary of information.
Restatement of thesis.
Choosing the right college or university can make a big difference in preparing you for a career. Cal Poly Pomona is the right university for me because of its attractive degree programs, good teachers, and hands on teaching methods. It might be the right choice for you too.
This essay format is really a formula for an instant essay organization. Essays written in this style are often simplistic and formulaic, but it is possible to write a good essay if you have good content and think about your readers a bit. This format is especially useful for timed essay exams.
Although the five-paragraph essay format does provide a basic organizational structure, there are many potential problems. To list a few:
Most newspaper editorials, magazine essays, scholarly articles, and other examples of writing of this general type don’t have five paragraphs. (The closest thing to a five-paragraph essay in the real world is probably the unsigned editorials in the opinion section of the local newspaper, but even these do not always have five paragraphs.)
The reader usually needs some sort of context for the thesis, some idea of why he or she should be interested in reading about this now. In general this format doesn’t do much to engage the reader.
Such essays are usually too short to require a summary at the end. The summary repeats ideas that the reader has just read about and hasn’t had time to forget.
The format encourages too much repetition—often the same three phrases are repeated in the introduction, the body paragraphs, and the conclusion. The reader gets bored.
If you follow this format too strictly, you are letting the form generate the content. In other words, you are putting far more emphasis on how you organize the content than on what you want to say, the purpose you have in mind, and what your readers need.
Contrary to what many students believe, there is no rule that says that a college essay, or any other kind of essay, must have five paragraphs and five paragraphs only. Paragraph divisions perform two functions: 1) they help the reader understand the text by organizing it into groups of ideas that work together, and 2) they help the eye return to the proper place in the text after looking away for a brief moment. A text without enough breaks is difficult to read because you keep losing your place.
Thus, paragraph divisions should simply help the reader read and understand the text. How many paragraphs you have depends on the nature of your ideas and how much you have to say. What follows is a different way of thinking about the college essay.
Reading the opinion section of the local newspaper is a good way to become familiar with the essay format used in the GWT. The unsigned editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper’s editorial board, and are very similar to GWT essays. The signed (with a byline) editorials are written by guest columnists, usually professional writers and influential people. The letters to the editor are written by ordinary citizens who have a strong opinion about an issue, or an article in a previous edition of the newspaper.
For many GWT topics, you could not go far wrong imagining yourself writing a letter to the editor of the newspaper.