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Writing an academic essay means fashioning
a coherent set of ideas into an argument.
Because essays are essentially linear—they
offer one idea at a time—they must present
their ideas in the order that makes most
sense to a reader. Successfully structuring an
essay means attending to a reader's logic.
A typical essay contains many different kinds of information, often
located in specialized parts or sections. Even short essays perform
several different operations: introducing the argument, analyzing
data, raising counterarguments, concluding. Introductions and
conclusions have fixed places, but other parts don't.
Counterargument, for example, may appear within a paragraph, as a
free-standing section, as part of the beginning, or before the ending.
Background material (historical context or biographical
information, a summary of relevant theory or criticism, the
definition of a key term) often appears at the beginning of the essay,
between the introduction and the first analytical section, but might
also appear near the beginning of the specific section to which it's
relevant.
It's helpful to think of the different essay sections as answering a
series of questions your reader might ask when encountering your
thesis. (Readers should have questions. If they don't, your thesis is
most likely simply an observation of fact, not an arguable claim.)
"What?" The first question to anticipate from a reader
is "what": What evidence shows that the phenomenon
described by your thesis is true? To answer the question
you must examine your evidence, thus demonstrating
the truth of your claim. This "what" or "demonstration"
section comes early in the essay, often directly after the
introduction. Since you're essentially reporting what
you've observed, this is the part you might have most to
say about when you first start writing. But be
forewarned: it shouldn't take up much more than a
third (often much less) of your finished essay. If it does,
the essay will lack balance and may read as mere
summary or description.
"How?" A reader will also want to know whether the
claims of the thesis are true in all cases. The corresponding
question is "how": How does the thesis stand up to the
challenge of a counterargument? How does the
introduction of new material—a new way of looking at the
evidence, another set of sources—affect the claims you're
making? Typically, an essay will include at least one "how"
section. This section usually comes after the "what," but
keep in mind that an essay may complicate its argument
several times depending on its length, and that
counterargument alone may appear just about anywhere in
an essay.
"Why?" Your reader will also want to know what's at
stake in your claim: Why does your interpretation of a
phenomenon matter to anyone beside you? This question
addresses the larger implications of your thesis. It allows
your readers to understand your essay within a larger
context. In answering "why", your essay explains its own
significance. Although you might gesture at this question
in your introduction, the fullest answer to it properly
belongs at your essay's end. If you leave it out, your
readers will experience your essay as unfinished—or,
worse, as pointless or insular.
Academic essay
Academic essay

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Academic essay

  • 1.
  • 2. Writing an academic essay means fashioning a coherent set of ideas into an argument. Because essays are essentially linear—they offer one idea at a time—they must present their ideas in the order that makes most sense to a reader. Successfully structuring an essay means attending to a reader's logic.
  • 3. A typical essay contains many different kinds of information, often located in specialized parts or sections. Even short essays perform several different operations: introducing the argument, analyzing data, raising counterarguments, concluding. Introductions and conclusions have fixed places, but other parts don't. Counterargument, for example, may appear within a paragraph, as a free-standing section, as part of the beginning, or before the ending. Background material (historical context or biographical information, a summary of relevant theory or criticism, the definition of a key term) often appears at the beginning of the essay, between the introduction and the first analytical section, but might also appear near the beginning of the specific section to which it's relevant. It's helpful to think of the different essay sections as answering a series of questions your reader might ask when encountering your thesis. (Readers should have questions. If they don't, your thesis is most likely simply an observation of fact, not an arguable claim.)
  • 4. "What?" The first question to anticipate from a reader is "what": What evidence shows that the phenomenon described by your thesis is true? To answer the question you must examine your evidence, thus demonstrating the truth of your claim. This "what" or "demonstration" section comes early in the essay, often directly after the introduction. Since you're essentially reporting what you've observed, this is the part you might have most to say about when you first start writing. But be forewarned: it shouldn't take up much more than a third (often much less) of your finished essay. If it does, the essay will lack balance and may read as mere summary or description.
  • 5. "How?" A reader will also want to know whether the claims of the thesis are true in all cases. The corresponding question is "how": How does the thesis stand up to the challenge of a counterargument? How does the introduction of new material—a new way of looking at the evidence, another set of sources—affect the claims you're making? Typically, an essay will include at least one "how" section. This section usually comes after the "what," but keep in mind that an essay may complicate its argument several times depending on its length, and that counterargument alone may appear just about anywhere in an essay.
  • 6. "Why?" Your reader will also want to know what's at stake in your claim: Why does your interpretation of a phenomenon matter to anyone beside you? This question addresses the larger implications of your thesis. It allows your readers to understand your essay within a larger context. In answering "why", your essay explains its own significance. Although you might gesture at this question in your introduction, the fullest answer to it properly belongs at your essay's end. If you leave it out, your readers will experience your essay as unfinished—or, worse, as pointless or insular.