PART I: THE INTRODUCTION
An introduction is usually the first paragraph of your academic essay. If you’re writing a long essay, you might need two or three paragraphs to introduce your topic to your reader. A good introduction does three things:
- Gets the reader’s attention. You can get a reader’s attention by telling a story, providing a statistic, pointing out something strange or interesting, providing and discussing an interesting quote, etc. Be interesting and find some original angle via which to engage others in your topic.
- Provides necessary background information. Don’t start too broad, for instance by talking about how literature helps us understand life, but do tell your readers what they need to know to get their bearings in your topic, e.g. who wrote the story you’re writing about, when it was published, where it was published, etc.
- Provides a specific and debatable thesis statement. The thesis statement is usually just one sentence long, but it might be longer—even a whole paragraph—if the essay you’re writing is long. A good thesis statement makes a debatable point, meaning a point someone might disagree with and argue against. It also serves as a roadmap for what you argue in your paper.
PART II: THE CONCLUSION
A conclusion is the last paragraph of your essay, or, if you’re writing a really long essay, you might need two or three paragraphs to conclude. A conclusion typically does one of two things—or, of course, it can do both:
- Summarizes the argument. Some instructors expect you not to say anything new in your conclusion. They just want you to restate your main points. Especially if you’ve made a long and complicated argument, it’s useful to restate your main points for your reader by the time you’ve gotten to your conclusion. If you opt to do so, keep in mind that you should use different language than you used in your introduction and your body paragraphs. The introduction and conclusion shouldn’t be the same.
- Explains the significance of the argument. Some instructors want you to avoid restating your main points; they instead want you to explain your argument’s significance. In other words, they want you to answer the “so what” question by giving your reader a clearer sense of why your argument matters.
- For example, your argument might be significant to studies of a certain time period.
- Alternately, it might be significant to a certain geographical region.
- Alternately still, it might influence how your readers think about the future. You might even opt to speculate about the future and/or call your readers to action in your conclusion.
PART III: THE BODY PARAGRAPHS
Body paragraphs help you prove your thesis and move you along a compelling trajectory from your introduction to your conclusion. If your thesis is a simple one, you might not need a lot of body paragraphs to prove it. If it’s more complicated, you’ll need more body paragraphs. An easy way to remember the parts of a body paragraph is to think of them as containing the MEAT of your essay:
Main Idea. The part of a topic sentence that states the main idea of the body paragraph. All of the
sentences in the paragraph connect to it. Keep in mind that main ideas are…
- like labels. They appear in the first sentence of the paragraph and tell your reader what’s inside the paragraph.
- arguable. They’re not statements of fact; they’re debatable points that you prove with evidence.
- focused. Make a specific point in each paragraph and then prove that point.
Evidence. The parts of a paragraph that prove the main idea. You might include different types of
evidence in different sentences. Keep in mind that different disciplines have different ideas about what counts as evidenceand they adhere to different citation styles. Examples of evidence include…
- quotations and/or paraphrases from sources.
- facts, e.g. statistics or findings from studies you’ve conducted.
- narratives and/or descriptions, e.g. of your own experiences.
Analysis. The parts of a paragraph that explain the evidence. Make sure you tie the evidence you provide back to the paragraph’s main idea. In other words, discuss the evidence.
Transition. The part of a paragraph that helps you move fluidly from the last paragraph. Transitions
appear in topic sentences along with main ideas, and they look both backward and forward in order to help you connect your ideas for your reader. Don’t end paragraphs with transitions; start with them.
Keep in mind that MEAT does not occur in that order.The “Transition” and the “Main Idea” often combine to form the first sentence—the topic sentence—and then paragraphs contain multiple sentences of evidence and analysis. For example, a paragraph might look like this:
TM. E. E. A. E. E. A. A.
The following is based on an original document by Bethan Davies with revisions by John McKenna, D. Robert Ladd, and Ellen G. Bard of the School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.
Good essay writing is a skill acquired rather than learnt. Approaches vary from person to person and will depend on one’s experience in essay writing, almost to the point where a style of writing will be as individual as a signature.
You may already be quite comfortable writing essays and if so, you will have a definite feel for what works for you. If, on the other hand, you are new at the game or don’t seem to be getting the marks you feel your efforts deserve, then we encourage you to follow the advice in Section 2 on preparation and research. The same applies to Section 3 on structure and Section 4 on style, but the contents of these sections can also serve as a basis for self-assessment—even for the experienced—before that final draft is submitted. There is a checklist at the end—use it! You should pay special attention to Section 4.3 on stylistic conventions, as there is little scope for flexibility on these matters within a particular academic discipline.
Throughout this short guide we use the term “essay” to mean any sort of academic writing assignment that you hand in for a course. In economics you will be required to produce a variety of written assignments, and only some of them will be “essays” in the sense that the term might be used in a history or literature course. Others will be concise reports of experiments or descriptions of economic or other data. However, they are all referred to herein as “essays,” and most of the principles of clarity, organization and presentation apply to them all.
2.1 Time Management
Allow yourself enough time. If you work continuously on your essay right up to the deadline, there is a very high likelihood that you won’t have done yourself (or the topic) justice. So make a rough timetable. Aim to have what you subjectively feel is a “final” draft at least two days before the submission deadline. Use the remaining days to review your work at well-spaced intervals. This will help you look more objectively at your own work.
2.2 Getting Started