Somewhere in the recesses of history, an individual or group of individuals determined the form of the perfect essay. It may or may not have been the English department of some large university, but by the end of the 20th century, the basic structure of the essay had been perfected into its three component parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Each one of these parts serves to provide form and function in the communication of clear ideas, and each has a specific role to play that, when fully realized, transform the English language into a powerhouse of logic, argument, and erudition.
The first component of the perfect essay is the introduction. The opening paragraph (or paragraphs) of the perfect essay is a vital invitation. A strong, powerful introduction is needed in order to capture the reader’s attention. Without a strong introduction, the intended audience would have no reason to continue reading the essay. Further, what is the point of writing anything if it is not to be read by someone? The opening must grab the reader’s focus, and draw him or her into the world of words you as a writer have created. Often, a powerful opening sentence, one that may shock or stand out, can be used to startle the reader. Melville probably spent months formulating “Call me Ishmael.” It is stark and disconcerting, like the opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Both of these are introductions that grab the attention of the audience.
The second purpose of the introduction is to establish the argument that will follow in the essay. One of the simplest essay forms to prepare is the three-point argument. After the opening phrases, the writer must get down to business, and lay out how he or she will support the argument in question. For example: “The French Revolution led to the complete upheaval of European society in the social, political, and religious realms” may be a stereotypical essay introduction. It demonstrates that the writer intends to prove the argument in three specific areas. These three identified topics will then form the second part of the essay, the body.
The body of an essay is where the main thrust and support for the argument and/or thesis will be found. An introduction by itself may read well, but will never prove its point. After having identified the three areas to be examined during the course of the essay in the introduction, the second paragraph of the essay usually begins the body proper. In the above example of the French Revolution, the second paragraph would offer support for the argument using examples from the social changes that took place in France and the rest of Europe between 1789 and 1799, attempting to show how conditions were different at the end of the Revolution. Likewise, the second paragraph of the body would offer examples from the political situation in Europe, with the third body paragraph drawing on religious changes.
Each paragraph in the body of an essay has a specific function. They can generally be identified by the topic sentence, which gives purpose to the paragraph, proving that paragraph’s worth, so to speak. However, since writing is more of an art than a science (despite the best efforts of Strunk and White), topic sentences may occur in the middle or end of a paragraph, drawing the reader into the bulk of the argument as a synthetic whole. Indeed, while paragraphs are not used in the body of an essay without purpose, often they serve as transitions from one topic to another, linking one topic to the next so that there is not a sudden sharp intellectual break between points of the argument. Without transition, an essay would read more like an outline, using bullet points one after another.
After the body of the essay has been written, a conclusion must be drawn. It would not serve the reader to be drawn in by a great introduction, follow an argument through the body of the essay point by point, and then be left hanging by an abrupt cut off. A conclusion is needed to reiterate to the reader that you, as a writer, have proven the argument you intended to. Generally, the main thesis is restated in the conclusion of an essay, along the lines of: “It has been clearly shown that the French Revolution dramatically altered European society in the social, political, and religious realms.” This reminds the reader that there was a purpose to the entire essay, and you as the writer have proved the thesis.
Conclusions can be the shortest of the three sections of the essay. Introductions often need a few sentences to ease into the topic at hand, for stylistic purposes, and the body of the essay will always be the largest portion, but conclusions sometimes become truncated in the face of time or space constraints. It is often enough to simply restate the thesis and the main ideas used to prove it. But a conclusion should not be slighted as the least worthy part of an essay. A conclusion should be viewed like dessert after a fine meal: the perfect ending, light and fulfilling. A conclusion is the writer’s opportunity to shine stylistically, the work of the essay has been completed, the thesis proven with great mastery, and so the reader should be left satisfied.
The perfect essay is art surrounding a specific frame. An introduction, the main body and a conclusion are the three structures that hold an essay together, paint, canvas and easel of the writer. How they are then used becomes a matter of style. In the right writer’s hands, the three parts of an essay form a beautiful example of the English language.
Basic Format of a College Essay
At Paper Masters, we believe essay writing is a skill like many others that can be strengthened and developed with practice. In the same way that a professional musician or athlete spends hours each day practicing, and years before the desired level of skill can be achieved, so too have our writers practiced, worked and developed.
A traditional essay takes the form of five paragraphs:
- Paragraph 1 is an introduction, where the thesis is presented;
- Paragraphs 2 - 4 are three body paragraphs, where the thesis is supported with evidence;
- The final paragraph is a conclusion, where the evidence is brought together, showing that the thesis has been proven.
In a shorter essay, the body may be only one paragraph. Therefore it is essential to provide concrete examples from the key phrases of a thesis statement. Developing the middle paragraph in an essay is often the most important lesson gleaned from the essay writing exercise. Without substance to an essay, the thesis is weak and unproven.
What makes a great essay? Exquisite language is but one ingredient to strong essay writing. Without a solid foundation of support, the most verbose of thesis statements is icing without the cake: unsatisfying and incomplete.
Essay writing and researching are useless skills - Think again!
When we think of research, a research paper usually comes to mind. But we perform other types of research, though we might not call it that. For example, I needed a used car and used the Internet to find it. This too, I discovered, is a form of research.
The Used-Car Research Process
Very few of us like to visit auto dealers when we are about to purchase a new or used car. That is because we might feel pressured and might, well, end up with a car – especially a used car – we later realize was not the best one for our needs. Needing a car, but unable to afford a new one, I searched the Internet to see what bargains there might be in a used car. I wanted a Honda Accord because of its reliability and its size – not a big car, but comfortable and fairly roomy.
My first step was to go to www.carpointmsn.com. There, I entered the make and model I wanted, along with my zip code. Up came nearly 80 Honda Accords for sale within 30 miles of my home. Some, of course, were beyond my means, but after checking out more than 12 of the Accords listed, I narrowed down my search to three, on the basis of their age (three years old) and miles driven to date (under 40,000). All three were between$11,000 and $13,000 in price.
My next step was to go to www.interestratecalculator.com, where I calculated the monthly payment if I put down $1,000 and had $10,000 in financing. At a rate of 7.5 percent, I would be paying $241.74 a month – not cheap, but at least affordable.
After that, I did “research” on the dealer’s lots where the three cars were located. Because I planned to check out the car I finally selected before talking to a salesperson, I visited the lot on a Sunday, when the dealership was closed. Three such visits and several hours later, I decided on a silver, four-door Accord with 41,000-plus miles. It was dent-free, with few scratches or other marks, and the interior seemed to be in good shape. At that point, I wrote down the car’s identification number and returned home.
This next step involved logging on to www.carfax.com. This is a great service that lets you know immediately (for a fee of $19.99) whether the car has a clear title, has been damaged by accident, flood, etc., or has other notable problems. All I had to do was enter the vehicle’s ID number and, of course, my credit card number. My printable report came up moments later, and I was pleased to see there were no problems with this vehicle.
Finally, I visited the dealership, where I “researched” my prospective car by inspecting it thoroughly inside, looking for leaks, water in the trunk, and other potential problems. There were none, and after a test drive, where everything worked fine, I sat with the salesman and worked out a deal. Within 30 minutes, I had signed the papers, and later that day I was behind the wheel of my new (for me) car.
“Find a Kelley Blue Book Value, Reliability Rating and More,” online at www.carpoint.msn.com
“Interest Rate Calculator,” online at www.interestratecalculator/mortgage/mortgage.html
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