Chapter 5: Basic Essay Structure

Essay Structure is a major issue with high school writers. Sometimes people didn't get the information when they were supposed to, some people just didn't get it when their teacher went over it, and the majority of people had it hammered into their head but never really understood it.

What is an essay?: Many people know what an essay looks like, how to write one and how to edit. But, some people don't really know what an essay is. The dicionary definition of an essay is: a short literary composition on a single subject, usually presenting the personal view of the author or something resembling such a composition. This is a very general definition of essays. For tips for writing common academic essay structures see Common Academic Writing Structures.

Most rubrics show, to some extent, what the teacher is expecting the essay to look like. Walhalla High School has a common writing rubric that most non-english teachers use for writing assignments. This rubric includes: content and development, organization, conventions, and voice. It includes three categories for each: excellent, proficient, competent, and incomplete. This is a fairly straight forward, general rubric that deals with the vast majority of essays. While this is the standard rubric for our school it is not always the rubric that teachers use. English teachers especially tend to make their own rubrics to fit the type of essay or the topic their class is doing. Gradewise all excellent results in a 96-100, all proficient results in an 88-92, all competent results in an 80-84, and all incompletes result in a 76-0. However, some teachers don't even use the basic rubric and use a totally different grading scale.
Basic Essay Structure:
Basic Essay structure consists of generally the same things. These things are: a strong thesis statement with logical supporting points, body paragraphs that discuss the supporting points in the order they are mentioned in the thesis statement, and a conclusion which summarizes what has been said in the body of the paper. The thesis statement should be included in the introductory paragraph. The writing process can help with writing the acual essay. For explanation on the writing process please see Chapter 3, Prewriting Strategies, Drafting, Editing, Revising, and Polishing and Publishing.Essay structure is also strongly related to paragraph structure and consists of some very similar ideas. For further information on Paragraph structure see Basic Paragraph Structure
Still confused? Try checking out this flowchart that explains the basics of essay structure. Or, if your not a flowchart kind of guy look at this house that does an equally good job.
essay_structure.GIF EssayStructure.gif
Writing essays:
Possibly the hardest part of essays is actually writing them. Content is especially important for academic essays because that is usally the majority of the grade. Also knowing what kind of academic essay you are writing is very important. For research papers you will probably have to incorporate quotes into your paper. For help in-text quotes see In Text Citations. Essays are typically accompanied by prompts of some sort telling you what the essay should be about. Below is an example of a prompt and essays that accompany it.

Sample prompt:
Educators debate extending high school to five years because of increasing demands on students from employers and colleges to participate in extracurricular activities and community service in addition to having high grades. Some educators support extending high school to five years because they think students need more time to achieve all that is expected of them. Other educators do not support extending high school to five years because they think students would lose interest in school and attendance would drop in the fifth year. In your opinion, should high school be extended to five years?

A good sample of an essay:
The Senior Itch—the incurable chaffing we all crave to scratch. The cure? Graduation. As we progress through our high school years growing with wisdom and maturity, we all yearn for freedom. Yet what we desire most is not always what is best for us. Although most won't want to admit it, .
Colleges look most thoroughly at how an applicant used his or her four years of high school. Leadership roles, a dedication to an organization, and a well-rounded, involved student is appealing to the most elite educational institutions. Often, students desire leadership positions in numerous extra-curricular organizations, but face limiting regulations on the number of offices they may hold at one time. Even if a school doesn't limit students' involvement, students eventually reach the limits of what a 24-hour day can hold. Too often, students cannot participate as much as they want in as many extra-curriculars as they want because there just isn't time. With an extra year of high school, those involved in more than one activity could successfully find the time to contribute to and to lead each one. Colleges would see a longer, more developed individual's resume that included a time for each of their interests. The organizations would benefit from stronger student participation and the students would be recognized for their true efforts as well.
Because they struggle to gain leadership roles and become the well-rounded students colleges desire, the task of maintaining a respectable grade-point-average during high school is a struggle for many students. It is difficult to be involved in activities of interest while still keeping high grades. However, colleges don't consider this when they seek applicants with high grade-point-averages in their admissions pool. Elongating the span of high school would allow more students with both grades and activities on their agenda to spend more time focusing on each separate interest. Rather than feeling forced to crunch a large block of "weighted" classes together in hopes of elevating their GPA, students would find more time to spread out their difficult classes and make the most of every single year. With less pressure and more time, grades would improve for all dedicated students, as would the enjoyment of studying those subjects and the increased retainment of what we learned in those classes.
Education aside, many high school students find that four years is not enough time to accomplish their varied goals. For instance, a student may desire a job in addition to school. The money they earn may help pay their way through college. With such a short preparation period before college, they can hardly be expected to make a successful life for themself without the proper funds. Also, many students are interested in community service prior to attending college, but find they do not have enough time in the four-year high school period. Colleges are drawn to students with a rich assortment of community service and evidence of responsibilities such as holding a job, but students have a hard time finding the hours to put into these tasks.
High school is the foundation of the rest of our life. Like money in the bank, the investment of an additional year when we are young can make all the difference. With the additional time, motivated students would be able to become more involved in their schools, boost their grades, and find the time for a job and community service. Colleges admire these attributes, and for the sake of high-schoolers' acceptance into these institutions, more time should be provided for their endeavors. High school students work hard toward their future. Another year would help ensure their success.

Explanation: This essay has all of the required points that an essay should have. The introductory paragraph includes a good thesis that states what it is going to talk about, the body paragraph provides suppport and reasoning for the topic, and the conclusion provides closure for the piece. This essay recieved a six out of possible six points.

Sample of a Bad essay:
In this essay I am writing about that school should be extended for five year. I think that school should be extended for five year because it will help you how you are educate. The school for five year will help you a lot when you are doing something. The school for five year could help you in most everything that you are doing. I think that if you go to school for five years you could learn a lot of skills. School could help you out of most anything that you want to do in this world. School could teach you how to be educator. By going to school is a good thing because if you go to school it could help have experience in everything that you are doing. To have experience you to do that thing you do best and how well you do at it. I think that school could teach you how to have experience in everything you are doing. I know that to go to school you have to choice to go to school because nobody can make you go to school. I know that school are not for everyone but I think that every children should go to school because if you don't go to school you will not be educate. I know that when you have an education it is a good thing. School is a place where you could learn a lot of different that you don't know. I know that I learn a lot of thing I didn't know but I know them. By going to school you make new friends, and you see a lot of different people like people that is not from the United States. At school you do classwork and do all type of assignment your teacher told you to do. I believe that every students should want to be educator because you need education in this world. School shouldn't be a place where students fights. I think that every students should like going to school.

Explanation: This essay has a thesis statement but it is not separated into an introductory paragraph. There are no supporting body paragraphs and no conclusion paragraph to sum the paper up. There is no flow in the paper at all, and the author does not extrapolate on any of their ideas. This essay recieved a one out six.

Links To Other Helpful Websites

For more examples of good and bad essays please visit:
For additional links to helpful tips on all aspects of writing essays:
For information on using quotes in Essays for support please view:
For a list of different types of essays and tips for writing each one vist:
Tips on ideas to get you started:
Tips on the writing process: