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.
The focus of such an essay predicts its structure. It dictates the information readers need to know and the order in which they need to receive it. Thus your essay's structure is necessarily unique to the main claim you're making. Although there are guidelines for constructing certain classic essay types (e.g., comparative analysis), there are no set formula.
Answering Questions: The Parts of an Essay
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. (Call it "complication" since you're responding to a reader's complicating questions.) 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.
Mapping an Essay
Structuring your essay according to a reader's logic means examining your thesis and anticipating what a reader needs to know, and in what sequence, in order to grasp and be convinced by your argument as it unfolds. The easiest way to do this is to map the essay's ideas via a written narrative. Such an account will give you a preliminary record of your ideas, and will allow you to remind yourself at every turn of the reader's needs in understanding your idea.
Essay maps ask you to predict where your reader will expect background information, counterargument, close analysis of a primary source, or a turn to secondary source material. Essay maps are not concerned with paragraphs so much as with sections of an essay. They anticipate the major argumentative moves you expect your essay to make. Try making your map like this:
- State your thesis in a sentence or two, then write another sentence saying why it's important to make that claim. Indicate, in other words, what a reader might learn by exploring the claim with you. Here you're anticipating your answer to the "why" question that you'll eventually flesh out in your conclusion.
- Begin your next sentence like this: "To be convinced by my claim, the first thing a reader needs to know is . . ." Then say why that's the first thing a reader needs to know, and name one or two items of evidence you think will make the case. This will start you off on answering the "what" question. (Alternately, you may find that the first thing your reader needs to know is some background information.)
- Begin each of the following sentences like this: "The next thing my reader needs to know is . . ." Once again, say why, and name some evidence. Continue until you've mapped out your essay.
Your map should naturally take you through some preliminary answers to the basic questions of what, how, and why. It is not a contract, though—the order in which the ideas appear is not a rigid one. Essay maps are flexible; they evolve with your ideas.
Signs of Trouble
A common structural flaw in college essays is the "walk-through" (also labeled "summary" or "description"). Walk-through essays follow the structure of their sources rather than establishing their own. Such essays generally have a descriptive thesis rather than an argumentative one. Be wary of paragraph openers that lead off with "time" words ("first," "next," "after," "then") or "listing" words ("also," "another," "in addition"). Although they don't always signal trouble, these paragraph openers often indicate that an essay's thesis and structure need work: they suggest that the essay simply reproduces the chronology of the source text (in the case of time words: first this happens, then that, and afterwards another thing . . . ) or simply lists example after example ("In addition, the use of color indicates another way that the painting differentiates between good and evil").
Copyright 2000, Elizabeth Abrams, for the Writing Center at Harvard University
What does family mean to me?
The main purpose of writing an essay is to present clear and concise statements about a specific topic. Writing personal essays involves incorporating emotional expressions to present personal experiences and how these experiences impact on the author’s life. The author needs to be creative when making a paper about the meaning of a family. Writing personal essays about a family requires proper planning, including reflecting and reviewing important events to help the author develop a good essay outline.
Presenting personal essays requires the author to interpret the meaning of a family. Writing such topics requires descriptions that capture the sensory environment of the family to enable the audience picture what the author is talking about. A good personal essay connects facts, events, sensory details and reflections to engage the target audience.
How to start an essay on family importance
The first part is an introduction, in the first paragraph, the author informs the reader about the topic. Introduction enables readers to be aware of what the writing is about. The author needs to establish the essay context and develop a framework that will enable him to approach the topic in a logical manner.
For example, when starting an essay about what does family mean to me, the following can be a good introduction:
“No one can deny that family is the foundation of society, a family is where we start our life journey. The family shapes us and helps us grow to achieve meaningful goals throughout our lives. When we talk about family, what comes to our minds is a group of related individuals, including children, parents and other relatives. Everyone defines family differently, however, the significance of the family is the same. The family is the most important feature in one’s life. For me, my family means everything, I can always turn to my parents and my siblings for help and affection.”
How to write body paragraphs
After introducing the topic, the following paragraphs of the essay present the essay body with detailed description about the topic. The body can be divided into three paragraphs, depending on the type of essay. The body part explains, describes and supports the thesis statement about the importance of a family. The author presents the main ideas in the essay body. Writer needs to organize his ideas in different sections to enable the audience follow through. After writing a brief introduction about what family means to me, the following is the first paragraph of the essay body.
“My family is one of my greatest pillars, my parents and my siblings influence my thoughts and behavior through their actions. My family values have greatly affected my behavior. My parents always encourage us to help those in need.”
The second paragraph describes more details about the importance of a family.
“Being able to rely on my family is another reason why family is important. The first people I turn to when I feel discouraged or feel happy are my parents and my siblings. I share with them my joy, sorrows, achievement and major milestone in my life.”
The third paragraph is as follows:
“I believe that blood is thicker than water, parents and siblings are always supportive and always use cordial words to encourage good behavior. For me, the family is the pillar of society, this gives it a bigger value, living in a good society depends on family structure. If the family offers adequate support, the society will be peaceful and stable.”
How to conclude an essay on the meaning of family
After presenting to the audience the importance of a family, the author needs to sum up the essay by restating the important points. Conclusion presents the final say on the issue being discussed in the paper. The author synthesizes his thoughts to demonstrate the significance of the topic and present the audience with a new view of the subject. The conclusion gives the author an opportunity to make a good lasting impression. When concluding the topic about what does family mean to me, the following can be a good conclusion.
“To sum up, I believe that everything we do revolves around the family. My family to me is my parents, relatives and friends. I can’t imagine living without my family because my family is my future and it is the essence of the society.”
- Introduction sentence;
- Thesis statement;
- Background information about the family.
- Justify why the family is important;
- Share some of the personal experience within the family.
- Supporting the thesis statement;
- Details about the meaning and the importance of a family.
- The third supporting point about the importance of family.
- Restating the thesis statement;
- Summarizing the main point;
- Making the final, conclusive sentence.