College essays give more freedom than any other form of academic writing, yet still, they are basically linear. That means you have to organize all your ideas into a string of coherent argument. A successfully structured essay is like a case of stairs leading to a total persuasion of your reader – each paragraph is a step, perfectly measured and on its place. Although there is no set formula, there are some commonly recommended elements. If I were to ask you to write my paper for me, I would expect you to include the following.
Usually stated somewhere in the first paragraphs of your essay, this is your main proposition. One should not confuse the thesis statement with the theme, which is merely a subject matter – a topical area of your research. The thesis statement must be specific and arguable. That means there is a way to disagree with it and intelligently argue about it. If there is no way anyone would disagree with your thesis statement, that’s an established fact (or trivial observation), and therefore your entire essay makes no sense. Why would one strive to prove something obvious?
Problem is why your thesis statement matters. To demonstrate it, you should provide some context. Show how the issue is misunderstood in the scientific community, or overlooked, or obscured by some other issues. Your essay must aim to clarify the issue, solve the problem, or at the very least deepen it and shed some light on some of its aspects. If your essay fails to do so, it is probably lacking relevance. Therefore it is important to decide on a problem and outline it at the beginning of your essay.
Evidence is the material with which you work to prove your thesis statement. It may come from your independent research or from the body of evidence collected by your predecessors. In the latter case, you must provide the source of your evidence in the form of quotations.
Since your thesis is an arguable statement, it is a good practice to consider counter-evidence as well. Of course, your aim is to prove that it has no bearing on your issue, resist it, and disprove it. Yet you must do it logically and on good grounds – not by simply denying the facts.
As you can see, the evidence must be processed and analyzed to create the argument for or against the thesis. When it comes to academia, data never speak for themselves – they must be interpreted. Interpretation of the evidence has two levels – analysis and reflection.
Analysis, as a rule, relates directly to the evidence, whereas reflection is made based on the observations you derive from the analysis. Reflection is an integral part of a strong essay, but it is especially important in the conclusion, where you must arrive at some new, not obvious facts. Consideration of the counter-arguments also constitutes reflection.
The structure is a pattern of your essay, a way in which evidence, analysis, and reflection are presented and tied together in one coherent argument. Two most wide-spread types of organizing an essay used by college students are the repetitive and chronological models.
The repetitive model consists of uniform paragraphs that follow the same pattern – statement of the evidence/fact, brief analysis, and a conclusion made from the stated fact. The chronological model presents the evidence in the same order as it appears in the sources or the work of literature that’s being analyzed.
Both models have their merits, being particularly convenient for students who are not yet experienced in essay-writing.
However, the strongest and most successful essays present evidence logically. Every new piece of information deepens the argument, propelling it further towards the inevitable conclusion. Moreover, sentences of reflection serve to tie different pieces of evidence together, making a transition between the sections of the essay smooth and seamless.
Of course, there are some other aspects that can make your essay even better, for example, rhetorical devices, visual structure, and relevant quotes. Yet those described above are the compulsory elements. Without them, there can be no good essay.