English Composition I
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There are many ways to organize an essay. Most students have learned the traditional 5 paragraph formula:
an introduction that states the thesis and the three main ideas,
a body paragraph for each main idea, and
a conclusion that restates the three main ideas and clearly states the thesis.
This formula is a CRUTCH. It is used to teach basic organization to writers first writing multi-paragraph essays, but it is rarely, if ever, used in a professional or college-level writing situation. As familiar and comfortable as it may be, leave it behind in junior high, where it belongs.
Unfortunately, now that you've lost the crutch of the 5 paragraph essay formula, there's no similar formula to replace it. Each writing situation is unique, and each writer's intention and content add their own wrinkles to the question of how an essay should be organized. Organization is a deliberate choice on the part of the writer and that choices is part of a trial and error process. No writer can expect to always make the right decision about organizing the information that they need to communicate. Many times an organization that seems workable turns out to be confusing when actually written down. That's what revision is for.
The real key to organizing an essay is recognizing knowing what you want to accomplish and developing an organization plan that reflects those needs.
There are three basic parts of the essay that affect the organization:
- The Introduction:
- needs to accomplish two things: make the reader want to keep reading and introduce the topic.
That's the TOPIC, not the THESIS. The introduction does NOT have to include the thesis.
In fact, many times in an argument, the writer will deliberately want to keep the reader from knowing the thesis in order to keep the reader interested. There should be no doubt in the reader's mind that your essay is about gun control or the time you almost drowned or the remodeling plans, but that's all that's often needed. The thesis is typically the conclusion that you are moving towards. To give it away in the introduction can often keep the reader from finishing the essay.
The introduction should avoid beginning the story or argument. The introduction has a purpose separate from simply being the first paragraph of the story or the first paragraph of evidence for your argument.
It is often a good idea to try several different styles of introduction in order to see which tone or style best fits what you are trying to accomplish in the essay.
- The Body Paragraphs:
- These are where you are going to present the details, the specific information.
These paragraphs are where you tell the story or present the steps of the process one by one or the evidence for your argument.
How and why you divide these paragraphs will be dealt with later, but it should be understood that there needs to be multiple body paragraphs in order to help the reader understand the information that you are presenting.
- The Conclusion:
- The conclusion, like the introduction, should be separate from the body paragraphs.
The conclusion is NOT the place to give the reader one more example or the last parts of your narrative.
The conclusion should reflect and analyze the ENTIRE essay.
Because it's the last part of your essay that your reader will read, it is the main part that they will remember. Whatever you want your reader to remember needs to be emphasized and clear in the conclusion. If you focus your conclusion with one last example or argument, that will be all that the reader remembers about the entire essay.