How to Structure an Essay
General essay structure
As a general rule, an essay or dissertation will follow a set structure. Of course, the longer the dissertation, the more chapters will be included in the main body of the work. A normal essay structure includes the following parts:
An academic essay will always begin with an introduction. This is a paragraph (or multiple paragraphs for a longer academic piece) that introduces your topic and the main themes that it will cover.
The introduction is where you set up your background and form your thesis statement, which is the main argument of your essay.
The introductory paragraph should not be too long, it needs to be concise but contain all the necessary information to provide a solid basis for the next stage of your essay.
The thesis statement
A sensible essay structure needs a solid thesis statement – this is the research question that you are going to be examining in your essay.
The thesis statement should come at the end of your introduction so as to set the stage for the main body of your essay. This statement will tell the reader exactly what you will be trying to find out or explore in the essay.
The literature review
In a longer piece of academic research, after the introduction comes the literary review. The literary review is a review of the important literary that has already been published on your subject.
The literature should include the main points that have already been discovered and the most important writers writing about your topic. You should also state how your work will fit into existing research, complement it and expand the current knowledge on the subject.
International students may have specialist knowledge of research from their home country, which could be useful when writing the literary review, especially for scientific essays and research papers.
If your academic essay is shorter, your literary review will be shorter. In an alternative essay structure, you might assess other pieces of work within the main body of your essay.
The main body
The main body of your essay is where you start to examine your ideas in relation to other work and develop your own argument.
The length of the main body will depend on your exact assignment and the aims of your research. This main section could range in length from three or four paragraphs to many chapters.
Your essay structure should be well ordered with each chapter or section spaced out into paragraphs. Each paragraph of the main essay body should build on the previous paragraph in order to develop your argument.
Each paragraph should keep relevant to your thesis statement and each section needs to address different issues that relate to the main focus of the essay: your thesis.
When structuring your essay, the conclusion always comes at the end. This section summarises the findings in your essay and relates them back to the introduction.
The conclusion should explain how you have succeeded in your aims in answering your original thesis statement or question.
Be careful not to repeat the same points from your introduction in the conclusion.
Often, an essay will not conclude with a definitive answer, so your conclusion will instead simply bring together your findings and offer some kind of closure. The conclusion might pose another related question or it might simply conclude that no answer is possible.
The appendix (or appendices if there is more than one) is where you put all of your supporting materials.
The appendices will include interview transcripts, graphs, charts and any further information that is relevant to your essay but not included in the main body.
The reference section of your essay is a list, or bibliography, of all the sources cited in the essay. You need to reference every source you have used or taken ideas from, otherwise you will be committing plagiarism.
There is a format for listing different types of sources and the exact requirements of this format will depend on your institution and your subject of study.
See our referencing section for more information on academic referencing, how to reference academic work and the different common formats used.
Do you have any tips for structuring an academic essay?