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Essay Structure

In this post I will briefly explain the way to structure essays.

I think that most people realise an essay should have a beginning, middle and conclusion, but may not be sure what these should contain and what their purpose is.

Previously, in my first essay writing article I explained how an essay, any essay, is an argument through which you need to prove a hypothesis. The way you structure your essay helps to provide a handy and effective framework to be able to develop your argument. There are examples sometimes where you will not be able to categorically prove your hypothesis, but as long as you explain why you want to prove it and try your best, that’s OK. The argument needs to be well thought out, but if you really don’t think that your essay is able to nail that position to the wall, then you can say that outright at the end. You have tried to prove xyz and failed, because of zyx. You will see an example of this below in the end middle and conclusion sections.

I Statements

Another thing to remember is that some universities are OK with you using “I” statements, such as “I am trying to prove” and some prefer everything to be impersonal, in the passive and/or third person, such as, “In this essay the author…” or “The aim of this work is to”. Your own institution will advise you.

So here follows a brief guide to what each section should contain. Please don’t take my examples of essay writing verbatim… they are just a guide and they are supposed to be tongue in cheek. Always use formal language in essays! Also they are not there for accuracy of fact… just as examples of structure.


In the introduction, you explain your topic, and what your argument will be. You introduce the topic in a very broad way, without going into detail. The introduction should be around ten percent of the entire essay. It is not a place to begin any arguments or extrapolating any knowledge. It is merely a place to explain what you are going to argue and why. Another important reason for an introduction is to explain what you will be discussing in your essay. So this is where you lay out all the things you are going to talk about in brief. However, if you don’t quite know what shape your essay will take at this stage, it’s fine to leave this until you’ve written the main body of the essay. It’s also fine to come back and change it. Don’t write it then feel you have to stick rigidly to what you wrote. You will need to have come up with some kind of plan for what you want to argue, but at this stage things are fluid and can change as you go along.

You’ll need to open with an introductory sentence or two, and often it helps to use a question somewhere in the mix, as you are in fact always questioning something. For example, let’s say your essay is about proving that salt preserves cheese, as in the previous article. You could begin by saying something like:

Throughout history it has been a commonly accepted notion that salt is an essential additive to cheese, and that this extends its shelf-life. However, where is the proof for this? This essay will attempt to prove from the literature that cheese is in fact best preserved by salt, and not other preservatives. Firstly, I will look at a brief history of cheese preservation, then look at data from xyz, then I will go into this that and the other. I will then examine some counter arguments, before reaching my conclusions. (at this point you do not need to say what your conclusions are). 

Middle Section

Front Middle Section

This is where you may like to go into an overview of the topic you are presenting. It could be a very potted history, or an overview of the types of research done on the topic, or a summary of popular opinion or commonly accepted opinions, depending what you want to argue about. So for cheese you might talk about a brief history of cheese preservation, for literature you might give some information on opinions about Jane Austen, etc. It needs to tie in with what you’re going to argue, and allow you to introduce your argument. Let’s say you want to argue that Jane Austen was not a celebrated author in her time. You might start by saying that it appears from xyz that Austen was well respected as an author at the time of her writing, quoting several people from the time of her writing, who say how great she is. However then you’d bring in your curveball. But was Austen really so celebrated in her time? Then you begin your argument.

Middle Middle Section

I cannot tell you how to write this in this article, but this is the main body of your argument. You will need to present data which proves what you want to say. However you do not need to ignore other data, but you will need to streamline your argument by sticking to things which support it. If it’s a commonly understood thing, such as the cheese argument above, then that’s probably easier. After all, you’ll have tons of data to choose from and won’t have to defend it too hard. But however, if you are trying to prove something controversial, you might want to be more careful as here cherry picking data will look very obvious. In this case you really need to know why you are arguing what you are. You may need to find ways to discredit studies or opinions that show the opposite, show they are flawed or have some holes in the data, or do not contain enough data.

A silly example might be, you want to prove that cats love swimming. Most people think, or know that cats are not so keen on water. Get your studies and ideas together which show evidence for water loving felines and then make them the focus. You can say for example: It may seem an unlikely position to argue from, but all the biggest cat swimming studies have missed some essential element, such as the water was too cold or the cats were not given enough motivation to go for a dip. All previous studies have focused on why cats don’t like water rather than trying to judge impartially if they do, so they may contain confirmation bias and unconscious cues. That’s the kind of thing you have to do.

Then try to show why your chosen studies are correct. For example: In Beasly and Winkle’s (2011) study, when given the right conditions, such as ambient lighting and no interference from hoomanz, cats dive in to warm water and really enjoy a good old paddle in the piscina. This appears to prove that in fact, the reason for cats running spitting away from the pool is not because they hate swimming, but that they dislike chilly conditions and being made a fool of while they find their tiger feet. 

Anyway… nuff said. Just make sure you use a range of data, from different sources, whether its actual data, or opinions from critiques for example in the case of literature.

End Middle Section

This is where you discuss major counter arguments. You’ve more or less established your argument. You’ve already perhaps discussed some dissenting ideas or studies and shown that they are not relevant or do not hold clout. But now you contradict yourself. Odd, I know. But it’s this that shows that you’ve really thought about a thing.

So, this is the part where you throw your hands up and say, OK, after all cats do hate water. OK, not quite like that, but for example you might say: Despite all the studies I have looked at, I cannot discount the overwhelming accordance in the literature that cats hate water, and folk tales back to the beginning of time speak of cats jumping up hissing at the sight of a stream. Also, Robinson’s (2014) study on cat aquatics showed that cats, under any circumstances and even when left alone, avoid getting their paws wet. Can my argument really hold water so to speak? I would say that it can. If all cats hate water under all circumstances, why do the studies I quoted show cat bathing to be a favoured activity of some moggies? I still stand by my hypothesis because whilst in some circumstances exceptions to the rule prove the rule, in this case such apparent exceptions would appear to disprove it. There can’t be a rule, if there are so many, and such convincing exceptions.  

So, you notice at the end of this I explain why I’m still right. That’s what you need to do. OR, if you really cannot find a way to justify your opinion, you will have to say something else. For example, in the above example you could say: Despite all the studies I have looked at, I cannot discount the overwhelming accordance in the literature that cats hate water, and folk tales back to the beginning of time speak of cats jumping up hissing at the sight of a stream. Also, Robinson’s (2014) study on cat aquatics showed that cats, under any circumstances and even when left alone, avoid getting their paws wet. Can my argument really hold water so to speak? In the light of such a large body of evidence which appears to drown out my own, small though convincing choice of studies, I have to admit that it may not be possible to categorically say that cats like water. I do, however, stand by the fact that the named studies add some very compelling doubt to the overall picture. 


The conclusion is a summary of what you have discussed and concluded in your essay. Do not add new data or arguments here.

It’s almost a mirror image of the introduction. You’ll reiterate what you have discussed, and then draw your ultimate conclusion.

For example: In this essay I set out to prove that cats like water and swimming. I started by giving a brief history of cat swimming, followed by dissemination of some of the most pertinent studies, showing how some studies seem to disprove the most commonly held opinions. I looked at some counter arguments to my hypothesis, and acknowledged that these held considerable sway and that I did not have enough data to categorically prove my hypothesis, but that the studies I presented did make a large dent in the commonly accepted data. In conclusion, though I do not feel able to categorically say that cats love swimming, I believe that there is a growing body of evidence which points to this being the case.  

Well, best of luck with your essay writing. If you would like help from a professional with structuring your essay, don’t hesitate to contact me today.