Regardless of age, subject, and whether it’s for an assignment or an exam, EVERY ESSAY your teen writes needs to have good structure.
Structure is the life blood of every essay. Without it, the essay dies.
Thankfully, even though essay structure is arguably the most important part of a good essay, it’s also the easiest part.
All your teen needs to do is follow the essay structure described below for every essay they write, and they’ll be well on their way to writing an A grade essay every time. Okay, here we go.
Essay structure is broken down into two parts:
- Overall essay structure, and
- Paragraph structure.
Let’s take a look at each one.
Overall essay structure:
Every essay your teen writes should conform to the following overall structure:
Paragraphs (one for each main point of the essay)
There are no exceptions. It doesn’t matter what the subject is. An essay is basically a story, and every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end.
Let’s look at each part individually.
In this section we’re going to use examples taken from one of our real high school essays (pictured above!). For context, the essay question was, What factors led to a significant decision being made in nineteenth-century New Zealand? and our essay was about the decision made by many Māori Chiefs to sign Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi) in 1840. (More on this here if you’re interested.) Please note this essay was written in our last year of high school, so don’t worry if it seems above the level your teen is currently at, the points about structure are relevant to any year level.
The job of the introduction is to identify the main topic/focus of the essay and to introduce what each main point (or each argument) of the essay is going to be about. The introduction of a high school essay will often only need to be a few sentences long. Example:
The decision by many Māori chiefs to sign Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840 was a very historical decision because it formalised the relationship between Māori and Pakeha. The Treaty had many consequences which overall involved the marginalistaion of Maori.
That’s it! Looking at this now we probably should have mentioned what each of the consequences that we go on to discuss in the essay were… But we still got a top grade for this essay, and it’s important to understand that an essay doesn’t need to be perfect to get a good grade.
The paragraphs of an essay are where you make your main points. Every main point or argument of an essay should have its own paragraph, and the paragraphs should be written in an order that is logical. In our example essay our paragraphs cover the following points:
- The historical context of the decision made by many Māori chiefs to sign Te Tiriti o Waitangi (one paragraph)
- Each factor that contributed to this decision (one factor per paragraph)
- An evaluation of the consequences of this decision (one consequence per paragraph)
Let’s have a look at a couple of example paragraphs:
Many factors contributed to Māori Chiefs signing Te Tiriti o Waitangi, one of which was Māori concern for British lawlessness in New Zealand. Actions of lawlessness and problems related to alcohol, including Pakeha’s increasing lack of respect for Māori, led to some Māori, Busby, and missionaries, asking for the protection of Britain to look after its own people.
Furthermore, many Māori Chiefs signed the Treaty for the opportunities they thought it would bring. Māori who had engaged in trade with Pakeha were keen to continue the arrival of benefits they received from trade such as tool materials and food, like pigs and potatoes. Simmons notes that Māori intermediaries liked what they saw overseas, outside New Zealand, and wanted to bring such opportunities to New Zealand. Edward Wakefield, however, recorded that he knew of two Māori Chiefs, Te Aratia and Turoa, who signed the Treaty out of a misunderstanding.
The job of the conclusion is to summarise the main points / ideas / arguments in the essay and link them back to the overall topic / purpose / focus of the essay. Similarly to the introduction of a high school essay, the conclusion does not need to be long — a few sentences should do, but it is important. Here’s the conclusion from our example essay:
Overall, the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi by many Māori chiefs was a very significant decision because, as a result of different factors, it drew Britain into New Zealand completely. Due to the different versions of the Treaty, it had many consequences involving issues of land and law, and the overall marginalisation of Māori.
Very simple and short, but this conclusion at least summarises the main points by stating that the decision drew Britain into New Zealand completely and had many consequences that ultimately led to the overall marginalistion of Māori.
In a perfect world this conclusion should probably have mentioned what those ‘factors’ and ‘consequences’ were again, but I expect the time pressure of an exam meant that this didn’t happen!
If there’s one mnemonic we want your teen to remember and use while they’re at high school it’s this:
This incredibly simple but highly memorable mnemonic will ensure that every paragraph your teen writes will follow an easy-to-read structure. Let’s look at each component.
The first sentence of each paragraph should tell the reader what the paragraph is going to be about. In our ‘paragraphs’ example above the Statement (also known as a Topic Sentence) is:
Many factors contributed to Māori chiefs signing Te Tiriti o Waitangi, one of which was Māori concern for British lawlessness in New Zealand.
This simple sentence clearly tells the reader that the paragraph is going to discuss how Māori concern for British lawlessness was one of the factors that contributed to Māori Chiefs signing the Treaty.
The rest of each paragraph is the explanation of the opening Statement. Your teen has to justify whatever it is they have said in the opening Statement by way of explanation and argument. The example paragraphs above show how after the opening Statements, the rest of the paragraph is about explaining that point.
You can also see in the example paragraphs above that they include examples and evidence, such as “food, like pigs and potatoes” and “two Māori Chiefs, Te Aratia and Turoa“. Examples, whether in the form of facts, quotes, statistics or names give AUTHORITY to what is being said in the paragraph. This is very important, because without examples, the reader has no reason to trust or agree with what you’re saying.
This part of an essay’s paragraph structure is a bit more ‘foo foo’, if you will, but it’s what takes an essay from yeah this essay is pretty good, to, WOW this kid REALLY understands the topic and clearly deserves an A!
The easiest way to make sure that your teen’s essays hit this point is to make sure they go beyond just regurgitating what they have studied; they need to show that they really understand the overall essay topic by doing things like drawing links between paragraphs and commenting on the significance of the points they make.
Here’s a couple of sentences from our example essay that would have helped give us a top mark:
Overall, the Kingitanga created distinct areas of Māori and Pakeha control. Neither Pakeha nor the government approved.
The Crown had the right of preemption to land, meaning the Crown could purchase Māori land cheaply and then sell it to settlers for a profit. This shook Māori confidence even more.
How this all works together
To sum up how a good essay is structured, here’s an image that shows how Overall essay structure and Paragraph structure work together:
Your teen’s task is to put this simple formula for bullet proof essay structure to use for themselves EVERY TIME they write an essay. Essay writing isn’t necessarily an easy skill to master, but using this formula makes structuring an essay easy.
We’re here to help your teen work on the structure of their essays, so your task now is to send us a sample of their writing and we’ll mark it for free! Just email Clare at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll get back to you within 3 days 😉.
Happy essay structuring and until our next Essay Month installment,
Chris & Clare