Organizational tips for academic essays

This article presents some tips to help you figure out how best to structure your essay.

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Four tips for Organization

In general, the purpose of the essay should dictate the organization of the essay—ask yourself what claims you need to establish in order for your reader to believe that your main claim is right. The claims that help establish your main claim are called “supporting claims.”

In many cases, each supporting claim will get a paragraph. When you’re outlining, try to phrase these supporting claims as rough topic sentences. In some cases, these supporting claims will also require some argument in order for your reader to believe them. If this happens, consider adding an additional argument or two in separate paragraphs to help establish your supporting claim.

Once you get a sense of the supporting claims that will form the basis of your paragraphs, consider the following tips:

Arguments usually proceed from the simplest claim to the most complex

In other words, the body of a good argumentative essay often begins with the more simple and widely accepted claims, and then moves to the more complex and contentious ones. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • Often, a reader must understand the more basic claims before she can understand the more complex claims.
  • If you begin with a point your readers agree on without much trouble, you can build on this agreement to convince them of something more contentious.

Give the background early

If you have so much background information that it cannot be given precisely enough in the introduction, this information will usually lead the body of the essay, or the section that it is relevant to.

Define terms as needed

Technical language should be defined as or before it’s used—never wait very long to define a term you’ve used:

  • If you can, define your terms as you use them.
  • If you have so much technical language that defining terms as you use them is too interruptive, take a paragraph or so to define the terms and show how they relate to each other.

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Shane Bryson

Shane finished his master's degree in English literature in 2013 and has been working as a writing tutor and editor since 2009. He began proofreading and editing essays with Scribbr in early summer, 2014.