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Timothy L. Pagaard
that you will violate them intelligently. Picasso broke almost every rule of artistic composition when he drew faces, but his art is beautiful When we talk about structure in writing we mean the arrangement of parts. For an essay to communicate it not only must contain worthwhile because he also knew how to draw faces conventionally; he broke the information, but its parts must be arranged well. Are there rules for dis- rules in order to express something new and unique. Below you see diagrammed the classic structure of an essay. This covering the best structure for your essays? In writing there is really only one rule: Every element of everything one is an essay of four-pages, but the proportions hold true even for book-length compositions. This is a tried-and-true template, nothing you write must be EFFECTIVE. That is, every decision you make— fancy, pure vanilla. But it is eminently serviceable—it almost always will about content, diction, grammar, or structure—must somehow be determined by the question Does it work? Does this arrangement, say, or be useful to you, if only as a point of departure, an approach to organizing your work, a format that will at least help you to get started. It also this choice of words, this example, help you to achieve the goals set for will be handy to have a conventional structural format in mind for essay this piece of writing ([A] the external goals imposed by the assignment, examinations and the like—occasions when you have no time to be cre[B] personal goals deriving from your subject, and [C] the goals mandated by the limitations of your audience)? Does it help you to commu- ative with structure. nicate as clearly as possible what you want to communicate to your readers? There are no consistently right answers—no TITLE absolutes—when it comes to deciding these questions. Just SNAPPY OPENING SENTENCE about every rule you have been taught, every convention, FIRST SECTION may be violated if to do so is in the interest of more effective CONTINUED communication. But… it helps to know what the conventions are so
TOPIC/TRANSITION SENTENCE some structural considerations to bear in mind as you develTHESIS STATEMENT op them. I have treated these in the order that they appear in an essay. Remember, though, that you can write any part TOPIC/TRANSITION SENTENCE SECOND SECTION of your essay at any time. Start where you are “hottest,” FIRST SECTION where you have the most to say now, and go on from there. Generally you should plan to write your essay in this order: I The body or text—again, beginning where you are the FIRST PAGE SECOND PAGE hottest. I The conclusion. I The introduction. (Think of your essay as a person: How can you introduce someone you have never THIRD SECTION met—or worse, someone who doesn’t even exist yet?) CONTINUED SECOND SECTION CONTINUED I The title. CONCLUDING/TRANSITION SENTENCE There are two stages in your writing process when you should be concerned about structure: (1) in pre-writing or CONCLUDING/TRANSITION SENTENCE the invention phase and (2) in revising. REITERATE THESIS STATEMENT During the invention phase, once you have accumuTOPIC/TRANSITION SENTENCE lated a fairly large quantity of material to write about, do CONCLUSION what you can to arrange it in a logical order—so that your ﬁrst (or “zero”) draft will not be altogether formless. THIRD SECTION When you begin to draft, however, it will be a good idea to think more about what you have to say than about the order in which you are saying it. You will ﬁnd that, if you can think as freely as possible—free even to pursue distractions or diversions, worrying as little as possible about THIRD PAGE FOURTH PAGE mechanical or structural considerations—you will have a lot impose order on your essay. Plan to make large-scale, “coarse-adjustmore to say. ment” changes. It is at this stage, during the revision phase, that you Then, when you revise your draft, work as hard as you can to should think most about the contents of this handout.
THE ELEMENTS What follows are the parts of the essay and
Name the author(s) and work(s) you are analyzing (again. (A) Flannery O’Connor uses it as a particularly power# The thesis statement is traditionally the last sentence of your ﬁrst (or introductory) paragraph. sock-’em story of passion and greed in the Old West…). Rufus Johnson demolishes the life of well-intentioned Sheppard in just this way in “The Lame Shall Enter First. you can get away with murder in between.” [Thesis Statement] • A series of short stimulating questions. ¨ [Thesis Statement. Title. I am not advising you. an opinion or interpretation your reader is likely to have formed. Harry returned to the river knowing instinctively that he would not be coming back. unless you are discussing several). they hardly will be likely to read on. usually a single sentence which contains: (A) Your subject—limited enough so that you can cover it effectively in a four-to-ﬁve-page or ﬁve-to-seven-page essay. “A Circle in the Fire. • A broad statement narrowing to your thesis statement. If you don’t engage readers immediately.g. Flannery O’Connor uses fire as a powerful symbol of purification in her short story. • Symbolism in Flannery O’Connor… is still too general.” ¨ [Thesis Statement] • A brief anecdote. It is received wisdom in these “politically correct” times that Hemingway was sexist. Again. disagreement with. Understanding next to nothing of the meaning of baptism. but understanding that he had been offered an escape from his lifeless existence. “A Circle in the Fire. A person who is openly committed to badness invited to join the family of such a shallow do-gooder will destroy that family. What happens when everyday people are forced to compare themselves to someone who is truly good? Will they welcome goodness or reject it? Wouldn’t a morally Christlike person be accepted . Good intentions without real moral depth can lead to disaster. isn’t he? Certainly an unjustly convicted and excessively punished prisoner. each to be answered in a major section of your essay. “A Good (B) Your unique critical insight The pain and finality of fire make it an accurate symbol of the experience of purification from superficial material concerns. and insensitive. [Shift] But this judgment fails to take into consideration many of his most important stories. “Hills Like White Elephants.” for example…. Cope was to burn all she had. Avoid titles that are too general or too speciﬁc.. In the ﬁrst paragraph (or series of paragraphs) of your essay you should set up the critical issue you intend to discuss. he drowned himself. What about it? Never use the title of a work by itself as your title. • “A Circle in the Fire”… is also too general. a memorable scene from the text.” ad” on a book cover (A rock-’em. I Stimulate your readers’ interest. it is taken: O’Connor used “A Circle in the Fire” already. The key tool for doing this is the thesis statement. they are at a complete disadvantage. Here is another useful rule: If you have a good introduction and a good conclusion. The only way to save Mrs. • Symbolism… is far too general.) • Symbolism in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Circle in the Fire”… is better but still pretty general. what about it? Which symbols? • Fire as a Symbol in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Circle in the Fire”… is much better—speciﬁc and accurate. like the “back 2 ful symbol of purification from superficial material concerns in her short story. Readers won’t even know you are writing about literature (you might be writing about psychological or anthropological symbolism). But the point remains that it is a good idea to spend as much time on the ﬁrst and last paragraphs as you do on the rest of your essay. ¨ [Together] (B) Because fire is both painful and final. Man Is Hard To Find”] • An idea or situation that apparently supports a position opposite the one you intend to discuss. Deﬁne your issue and explain why anybody might be interested in what you have to say about it. Entire books have been written on the subject. Seize your readers’ interest through: (A) A snappy opening sentence. A man willing to extend credit to help strangers is by definition a good man. The ﬁrst paragraph of your essay has two functions: I First it should introduce your subject. • Fire as a Symbol of Purification in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Circle in the Fire”… is great. not to do your best to create an effective text. (Besides. ¨ [Thesis Statement. I Name the author(s) and the work(s) you are analyzing (unless there are many—then describe them in a phrase. He brought no suitcase. Think of all the magazine or newspaper articles you have started but put down after the ﬁrst boring paragraph. not for supporting your thesis). Introduction. e. I The second function of your introduction is to arouse your readers’ interest. [“A Circle in the Fire”] (B) The rest of the introductory paragraph(s): Here you take your readers from the snappy opener to the thesis statement. has a right to be called a good person. of course. It is very much an advertisement for the rest. Ernest Hemingway has become passé. …in the Stories of O’Connor and Hemingway). of all people. Your title should: I Point to your key interpretive insight. Most readers naturally assume that a respectable upbringing based upon traditional family values will produce a good person. When people who have no grasp of their moral responsibilities encounter real evil. excessively macho. “The River”] • Refutation of. perhaps employing one or more of the following strategies (chieﬂy for effect.
“The Good. and the ____________”. This of course I Topic sentence—functions as a mini thesis statement introducing the will be even more of a problem with our research assignment. They should fulﬁll these functions: I One sentence or the other should suggest the relationship of the whole to the thesis statement of the essay. Here is an example of a transitional topic sentence: Each of these should cover a separate aspect of your thesis. would naturally have four sections As for #1. it should: will be 2100 words long. and when it sank out of sight. These transitional sentences provide the connective tissue for your essay—holding everything together. you use an anecdote for your introduction strategy. short ones with longer ones. paragraph. Threewhole essay): or four-hundred-word paragraphs are awfully long. especially since the ﬁrst and last (notice how paragraphs are structured like smaller versions of the pagragraphs in an essay are generally shorter than the others. you have moved up to in this course: (1) We are TOPIC SENTENCE do not do so slavishly: Be sensitive to the natnow working with longer essays. and throughout “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” Flannery O’Connor uses the sun as a similar symbol of the pervasiveness of God. Transitions. ____________”. only inward [reﬂects the main thesis]. “The Displaced Person”] • A key quotation from the text or from a critic. “Stop. examples supporting the topic sentence. more than 200 words. and ____________”. You know what it is I Development—further explanation of the topic sentence. mind likes trinities. Connect your ideas to the wider world and to each other. A very good way to achieve unity in your essay. and see a paragraph running the length of the page. while one discussing adapting our organization to achieve the effect we want on our readfour different types of “grace” in O’Connor’s moments of epiphany ers. useful one for writers to begin with. I The ﬁrst sentence should lead your reader from the section or paragraph you are ending into the material you are going to write about in the one you are beginning. allowing structure to grow organically out of our subject. For example. So when we write it is wise to break (A) Reiterates the topic sentence in light of all that has been said in the up paragraphs of. like to be reading an assignment in a text book. I The last sentence should lead your reader into the next section. effect of our writing on our audience. Or if you use “questioning” in your introduction. to pull everything together. is to “frame” it by linking your introduction and your conclusion. and the Paragraphs. But #2 has even more bearing on the issue. the Judicial . and to turn a page I Support—detail. For example. In terms of the (B) Clearly reﬂect the main thesis statement. easy to remember. Do the math. However. ﬁnds them easy to deal CONCLUDING SENTENCE There is no need to use back-to-back tranwith. ____________”. it left a line in the sky like a red clay road hanging over the trees. you might leave your story at a climactic moment and conclude it at the end of your essay. Here is an example of a transitional concluding sentence: Sheppard’s inner lameness [reﬂects the thesis] made his own life a painful contradiction of his professed values [concludes the present paragraph]. unwieldy paragraphs. evidence. which main idea of this section or paragraph. at the end of the paragraph you are concluding or Development or explanation “The Executive branch. examples “Moe. look.M. either If Sheppard’s lameness [a link to the previous paragraph] was (1) supporting it with concrete evidence or (2) explaining it further. it led to an inner lameness in his son Norton that killed him [points toward the next paragraph]. “The Sun was a huge red ball like an elevated Host drenched in blood. and (2) We must ural divisions of your subject. for example. you could refer in your conclusion to your opening questions and then provide speciﬁc answers. Take there are two central differences between your advantage of this natural human trait when CONCLUDING SENTENCE past writing experiences and the level of writing you structure your essay. It is also a good idea to vary the length of paragraphs. but worse. disjointed feel. Show how everything in your essay works together. Using too many short paragraphs gives an essay a choppy. mixing (B) Must refer to the main thesis of the essay. If. On the other hand. Text. E.enthusiastically if he or she came into your circle of friends? ¨ [Thesis Statement. so it is a good idea to avoid too TRANSITION TRANSITION 3 . and ____________”. Norton were both spiritual and terrifyingly physical Why three? For some reason the human [main idea of this paragraph]. Larry. A key place where connectivity is developed is in the ﬁrst sentence of each section or paragraph and the last one. dividing 1500 words into ﬁve paragraphs produces Each section and each paragraph should contain the following awkward. Your heart I Concluding sentence— drops. its effects on his son Most will do both. Traditionally essays contain three main sections of development. the Son. and the of topic sentence at the beginning of the one you are starting. and so on. could logically be divided into two sections. either “The Father. ¨ [Thesis Statement] I Framing. The “ﬁve-paragraph” standard is a Supporting detail. say. we must be aware that a series of long paragraphs is a daunting thing to face. it serves as a conclusion to the section or paragraph. but be sure that you use at least will have any problem ﬁlling in these blanks: TOPIC SENTENCE one whenever you break for a new paragraph.” In the Eucharist the Host symbolizes God’s presence in the material. evidence. (A) Express the main idea of the section or paragraph. no one sitional sentences. the Bad. an now take the over-all effect of our writing much more into consideressay comparing an O’Connor short story with one of Hemingway’s ation. It looks like a lot of work. Forster’s dictum “Only connect” is possibly the most important principle of good writing.
) 4 . Shortley to Mrs.) • Process analysis—explain the circumstances leading up to an event. • Quotation—relate your views to received wisdom. I Remember the advantages of “framing” your essay as a strategy for achieving unity. • Spatial—details as they occur in space.g. reinforcing the main idea of your essay. (See page 3. and you can logically break for a new one. and the river. themes. subtly altering the words. the steps leading up to Mrs. I The classical rhetorical modes. but also (2) invention aides: Consider using one or more of these when you are wondering what to do next in your essay. patterns for organizing what you have to say. • Chronological—time sequence. Given the psychological principle that people remember most what they read last. Reiterate the main idea of each main section of your text. (2) emotional (“The Life You Save May Be Your Own”).” I have called them “sections. All of your essays will be attempts to influence readers to accept your interpretations. characters. using a sentence or so for each. You should ALWAYS do this.. in laying out the vanilla ﬁve-paragraph essay. phrase. but sometimes your attention shifts in the middle of a long paragraph. settings. give examples. I Basic organizational strategies. • Simple to complex—moving from what is relatively easy to understand to what is more difficult. a scene. discuss reasons and consequences. usually ﬁrst to last. applying what you know about essays to these sections instead of to increasingly lengthy paragraphs. Often literary essays involve comparisons of authors. • Emphatic or climactic—people remember most what they experience last. then the river itself. An analysis of the symbols in “The River” might cover the Biblestory book. • Show how your thesis extends beyond the scope of the present treatment. so save your most compelling material for last. McIntyre reject Mr. You might structure an essay on “The River” around the three main settings: the apartment. Guizac. Organizing your text. perhaps employing one or more of these strategies: • Summarize key points. e. Why did Mrs. • Exempliﬁcation—illustrate your thesis. Conclusion. • Description—paint a picture in words of a person. It is a common practice to analyze a piece of literature by tracing its development from beginning to end. The following are organizational strategies which may be used as patterns of development either for an entire essay or for its component sections and paragraphs. • Causal analysis—explain why. • Division/classiﬁcation—determine the parts of your subject and categorize them. Some critics like to close by relating the theme(s) of the literature they are analyzing to life in general. • Comparison/contrast—point out similarities and differences. but may incorporate ﬂashback or ﬂash forward. Other times critical approaches or interpretations are compared and contrasted. and how did rejecting him affect her spiritually. Shortley to Mrs. then the pigs. The ﬁnal paragraph(s) of your essay should provide a sense of completeness and closure. You should group like ideas into paragraphs. the Connin house. stories. McIntyre’s rejection of Mr. A discussion of the characters in “The Displaced Person” might move from Sulk to Mr.” It would be a good idea for you to begin thinking of groups of paragraphs. (Always use many examples and few generalizations in your writing. You might examine three types of violence in O’Connor’s stories: (1) physical (“A Good Man Is Hard To Find”).many of them as well. A visual description of Norton hanging from the rafters in Sheppard’s attic might be a very effective addition to an essay analyzing the rhetorical power of “The Lame Shall Enter First. In your conclusion state as clearly and as dramatically as you can precisely what you want your readers to remember after they have put down your essay. In a good conclusion you will do these two things: I Reiterate your thesis statement. I Use the rest of the paragraph to wrap your subject up. • Argumentation/persuasion—convince readers of the viability of your position on a controversial issue. and (3) the violence of personal loss (“A Circle in the Fire”). concept. etc. These may be used in two ways: (1) simply as structural guides. this is a crucial part of your essay and should not be neglected. A definition of “grace” might be useful in almost any essay about O’Connor. instead of calling the organizational units “paragraphs.” • Deﬁnition—analyze the meaning of a word. Guizac. McIntyre. an object. You will notice that throughout this discussion.