How to write an essay

Writing an essay is like making a hamburger. Think of the introduction and conclusion as the bun, with the “meat” of your argument in between. The introduction is where you’ll state your thesis, while the conclusion sums up your case. Both should be no more than a few sentences. The body of your essay, where you’ll present facts to support your position, must be much more substantial, usually three paragraphs.

Like making a hamburger, writing a good essay takes preparation. Let’s get started!

Structuring the Essay (aka Building a Burger)
Think about a hamburger for a moment. What are its three main components? There’s a bun on top and a bun on the bottom. In the middle, you’ll find the hamburger itself. So what does that have to do with an essay? Think of it this way:

The top bun contains your introduction and topic statement. This paragraph begins with a hook, or factual statement intended to grab the reader’s attention. It is followed by a thesis statement, an assertion that you intend to prove in the body of the essay that follows.
The meat in the middle, called the body of the essay, is where you’ll offer evidence in support of your topic or thesis. It should be three to five paragraphs in length, with each offering a main idea that is backed up by two or three statements of support.
The bottom bun is the conclusion, which sums up the arguments you’ve made in the body of the essay.
Like the two pieces of a hamburger bun, the introduction and conclusion should be similar in tone, brief enough to convey your topic but substantial enough to frame the issue that you’ll articulate in the meat, or body of the essay.

Choosing a Topic
Before you can begin writing, you’ll need to choose a topic for your essay, ideally one that you’re already interested in.

Nothing is harder than trying to write about something you don’t care about. Your topic should be broad or common enough that most people will know at least something about what you’re discussing. Technology, for example, is a good topic because it’s something we can all relate to in one way or another.

Once you’ve chosen a topic, you must narrow it down into a single thesis or central idea. The thesis is the position you’re taking in relation to your topic or a related issue. It should be specific enough that you can bolster it with just a few relevant facts and supporting statements. Think about an issue that most people can relate to, such as: Technology is changing our lives.

Drafting the Outline
Once you’ve selected your topic and thesis, it’s time to create a roadmap for your essay that will guide you from introduction to conclusion. This map, called an outline, serves as a diagram for writing each paragraph of the essay, listing the three or four most important ideas that you want to convey. These ideas don’t need to be written as complete sentences in the outline; that’s what the actual essay is for.

Here’s one way of diagramming an essay on how technology is changing our lives:

Introductory Paragraph

Hook: Statistics on home workers
Thesis: Technology has changed work
Links to main ideas to be developed in the essay: Technology has changed where, how and when we work
Body Paragraph I

Main idea: Technology has changed where we can work
Support: Work on the road + example
Support: Work from home + example statistic
Conclusion
Body Paragraph II

Main idea: Technology has changed how we work
Support: Technology allows us to do more on our own + example of multitasking
Support: Technology allows us to test our ideas in simulation + example of digital weather forecasting
Conclusion
Body Paragraph III

Main idea: Technology has changed when we work
Support: Flexible work schedules + example of telecommuters working 24/7
Support: Technology allows us to work any time + example of people teaching online from home
Conclusion
Concluding Paragraph

Review of main ideas of each paragraph
Restatement of thesis: Technology has changed how we work
Concluding thought: Technology will continue to change us
Note that the author uses only three or four main ideas per paragraph, each with a main idea, supporting statements, and a summary.

Creating the Introduction
Once you’ve written and refined your outline, it’s time to write the essay. Begin with the introductory paragraph. This is your opportunity to hook the reader’s interest with the very first sentence, which can be an interesting fact, a quotation, or a rhetorical question, for instance.

After this first sentence, add your thesis statement. The thesis clearly states what you hope to express in the essay. Follow that with a sentence to introduce your body paragraphs. This not only gives the essay structure, it signals to the reader what is to come. For example:

Forbes magazine reports that “One in five Americans work from home”. Does that number surprise you? Information technology has revolutionized the way we work. Not only can we work almost anywhere, we can also work at any hour of the day. Also, the way we work has changed greatly through the introduction of information technology into the workplace.

Notice how the author uses a fact and addresses the reader directly to grab their attention.

Writing the Body of the Essay
Once you’ve written the introduction, it’s time to develop the meat of your thesis in three or four paragraphs. Each should contain a single main idea, following the outline you prepared earlier.

Use two or three sentences to support the main idea, citing specific examples. Conclude each paragraph with a sentence that summarizes the argument you’ve made in the paragraph.

Let’s consider how the location of where we work has changed. In the past, workers were required to commute to work. These days, many can choose to work from the home. From Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine, you will find employees working for companies located hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Too, the use of robotics to manufacture products has led to employees spending more time behind a computer screen than on the production line. Whether it’s in the countryside or in the city, you’ll find people working everywhere they can get online. No wonder we see so many people working at cafes!

In this case, the author continues to directly address the reader while offering examples to support their assertion.

Concluding the Essay
The summary paragraph summarizes your essay and is often a reverse of the introductory paragraph. Begin the summary paragraph by quickly restating the principal ideas of your body paragraphs. The penultimate (next to last) sentence should restate your basic thesis of the essay. Your final statement can be a future prediction based on what you have shown in the essay.

In this example, the author concludes by making a prediction based on the arguments made in the essay.

Information technology has changed the time, place and manner in which we work. In short, information technology has made the computer into our office. As we continue to use new technologies, we will continue to see change. However, our need to work in order to lead happy and productive lives will never change. The where, when and how we work will never change the reason why we work.

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