Basic Essay Structure

The five-paragraph essay is the most basic essay structure. It should include the following:

  • your own title (not just the title of the text you are writing about!), centred and properly capitalised
  • introduction
    • the first sentence must fully identify the text(s) you are writing about (like in the topic sentences of the paragraphs we have been doing):
      • author’s name, correctly spelled and capitalised
      • title of the text, correctly spelled and capitalised
      • genre (short story, poem, etc.)
    • the first sentence should also say something relevant about the text: what it’s about (a one-sentence synopsis), its place in literary history, the author’s concern, etc. or an initial response to the assignment question.
    • brief, general development towards the thesis
    • thesis statement at the end of the paragraph
      • simple identification of the text, literary elements linked to the theme
      • (see below for more about this)
  • three body paragraphs
    • begin with topic sentences that identify the literary element and its link to the theme
    • every subsequent sentence must be about the literary element and its relevance to the theme; each sentence examines a specific aspect of the literary element and provides support through a reference to the text or with a relevant quote
  • conclusion
    • restates the thesis
    • briefly summarises the main points
    • reflects the introduction
    • no new points or new support
    • ends with a simple closing sentence
    • short

A Thesis Statement

  • is very similar to a topic sentence, but includes all three literary elements (not just one) and identifies the text more simply (not title and author and genre – just one). It identifies the theme.

thesis statement = text + theme + literary elements

More generally, the thesis statement:

  • Does not make an evaluative statement about the text (don’t say it’s good or strong or anything like that)
  • Identifies the literary elements you will be discussing in the body paragraphs
  • Must be a complete sentence
  • Should appear at the end of the introduction
  • Is supported by the topic sentence of each body paragraph
  • Does not include the use of the first person
  • Is as clear and concise as possible

In effect, the thesis statement is like an outline for the whole essay in a single sentence.

Other things to remember:

  • use the simple present tense
  • don’t use contractions (do not instead of don’t!)
  • use formal language
  • indent all paragraphs
  • double space
  • use MLA format
  • use MLA citations
  • don’t summarise
  • avoid repetition, redundancy, and empty  phrases