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Essay Writing: Structure

Structure: Introduction

The introduction of an essay is very important because it establishes the purpose and scope of the essay - what problem is the essay addressing and what specific aspects of the problem will be examined? It should act as a guide to the reader, indicating that you will be taking them on a planned and orderly journey. The introduction may include the following elements:

  1. Establish the issue that the essay addresses and why it is interesting or significant
  2. Provide academic context - theoretical perspectives, history of the issue (space permitting)
  3. Indicate your aim and your approach (this may include your theoretical lens and/or your thesis)  
  4. Outline the essay structure (introduce the separate parts of the essay, or aspects of the issue, in the order that they will be discussed)

The introduction is about 10% of your word count, which can help you to decide how much weight to give each of the elements above. A short, 200-word introduction should briefly deal with 1, 3 and 4 above at a minimum. 

Writing a good essay opener

The first few sentences of an essay should hook the reader in and make them want to read more, but how can you make your introductions exciting? In this video we look at 3 ways to start an essay, and some things to avoid.

Adult man beside Topic chocolate bar

Link to Writing a Good Essay Opener video - YouTube


Writing thesis statements

A thesis statement introduces the main ideas of your essay, acts as a guide the the reader, and gives structure to your work. 

Adult man beside lightbulb with three arrows.

Link to Writing Thesis Statements - YouTube


Structure: The Body of the Essay

In the body of the essay, you will develop arguments to support your thesis. Each argument should consist of  points that are supported by evidence. 

Longer essays may be divided into headings and sub-headings (check module leader's guidance - some departments discourage the use of headings). 

Develop a plan for your points and decide which points should be discussed first.

Progress from general points to more specific points (for example, move from theory to application of theory to cases).

Divide your discussion into themes in which related points are grouped together. 

Strong Paragraphs

Strong paragraphs are essential to a well-written essay.  


A paragraph is a group of sentences that are linked coherently around one central topic/idea. Paragraphs are the building blocks of academic writing. Each paragraph should do a specific job, moving the argument forward and guiding the reader through your thought process.

Paragraphs should be 10-12 lines long, but variations are acceptable. Do not write one-sentence long paragraphs; this is journalistic style, not academic.


Strong paragraphs

You need to write so-called strong paragraphs wherein you present a topic, discuss it and conclude it, as afar as possible. Strong paragraphs may not always be feasible, especially in introductions and conclusions, but should be the staple of the body of your written work. 

Topic sentence: Introduces the topic and states what your paragraph will be about

Development: Expand on the point you are making: explain, analyse, support with examples and/or evidence.

Concluding sentence: Summarise how your evidence backs up your point. You can also introduce what will come next.


PEEL technique

This is a strategy to write strong paragraphs. In each paragraph you should include the following:

Point: what do you want to talk about?

Evidence: show us!

Evaluation: tell us how the evidence does in fact support your point

Link: what's coming next? OR how does this paragraph link to your major argument?

Example of a strong paragraph, with PEEL technique:

Paragraph bridges

Paragraphs may be linked to each other through "paragraph bridges". One simple way of doing this is by repeating a word or phrase.

Example 1:

Last sentence of a paragraph:

First sentence of next paragraph:

In short, a number of efforts have been made to....

Despite these efforts,...

Example 2:

Last sentence of a paragraph:

First sentence of next paragraph:

Smith suggests that there are two types of personalities: introverts and extroverts...

Introverts typically favour...                                            

Structure: Conclusion

In many respects, the conclusion is the most important part of your essay, and it is also the simplest. During your essay you have presented the evidence, and now you must round up the argument. You will need to:

  1. Summarise the key themes discussed (for example, briefly highlight the key points that you have made during the main body of the essay).
  2. State your general conclusions (your conclusions should be based on the evidence discussed in the main body of the essay. They should not be a surprise to the reader). If taking a discussion-led approach to your essay, you need to make sure you reach a decision on the topic you discussed.
  3. Directly address and answer the question (for instance, if you have been asked ‘to what extent do you agree’ with a statement you will need to indicate the level to which you agree; if you have been asked ‘what are the most important factors’ you will need to identify them).
  4. Consider recommendations or new possibilities (for example, you could highlight why your conclusions are significant and/or what further work or research needs to be done to address the issue).
  5. Do not add new material (new information and evidence should be discussed within the main body of the essay).

Resources and bibliography

  • Bailey, S. (2006). Academic writing: a handbook for international students. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Copus, J. (2009). Brilliant writing tips for students. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 
  • Creme, P. and Lea, M.R. (2008). Writing at university: a guide for students. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
  • Godwin, J. (2009). Planning your essay. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 
  • Greetham, B. (2008). How to write better essays. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Levin, P. (2004). Write great essays! A guide to reading and essay writing for undergraduates and taught postgraduates. Maidenhead: Open University Press. 
  • Oshima, A. and Hogue, A. (2006). Writing Academic English. New York: Pearson. 
  • Osmond, A. (2013). Academic Writing and Grammar for Students. London: Sage Publications Ltd.
  • Read, S.H. (2019). Academic Writing Skills for International Students. England: Macmillan.
  • Rose, J. (2007). The mature student’s guide to writing. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.