How to structure an English essay

Structuring an English essay is just as important as the content of itself. You need to remember that an examiner has read hundreds of other essays, so they will appreciate a well-structured one. Plus, it would be a shame if all the hard work you spent revising and coming up with good ideas was lost in a jumbled, incomprehensible structure. So, how do you structure an essay?

The Introduction

A good introduction is essential as it not only draws your reader into the essay but will provide an outline of your argument, which will help both you and the examiner.

  • Hook: this is an interesting introductory lines that will make the examiner read on and your essay stand out. This is your chance to be more creative and show off your research. Think outside the box. A hook could include contextual information, references to other texts or literary trends, and general or critical opinion surrounding the text. A hook is sometimes the hardest part of the essay so find a few that you could use for different essay questions.
  • Thesis: This may sound fancy, but it is quite simply a one line answer to the question itself. The thesis statement is essentially the backbone of your essay as every point in the main body will support it.  This will clarify your essay structure by ensuring that every argument you make is relevant to the question. For example:

The question – ‘How does the poet present Word War One in the poem?’

Thesis statement – ‘The poet presents Word War One in a negative light by suggesting that warfare can make a permanent impact on a soldier’s mental and physical health.’

  • Signposting: Finally, write a couple of lines outlining the intentions of each paragraph. For example:

‘This essay will show that the poem negatively portrays warfare through the uneven structure, the metaphorical language, and the first person point of view.’

The Main Body

The main body of the essay should be no more than four paragraphs long, but these paragraphs should contain lengthy and in depth analysis of each quotation.  Of course, every paragraph should be relevant to, and directly answer the question. Each paragraph should be structured the same way.

  • Point: Each paragraph should discuss a different idea. This idea could be a point about a theme, a character, structure, language, or form. Start with a short sentence introducing the idea. This is almost like a mini thesis statement and will reflect the signposting in the introduction. For example:

‘Firstly, this essay uses an uneven structure to demonstrate how the horrors of war can irreversibly fracture a soldier’s mental state.’

  • Example: Select short quotations, either a single phrase or individual words. Ensure they are completely relevant and can be analysed in great depth and detail. When selecting quotes, quality not quantity is important.
  • Analysis: This should be four or five lines long and should analyse the quote through language, structure, and form. If relevant, this is the place you can also include contextual information. Again, always ensure your analysis relates directly to the question and thesis statement.

The Conclusion

A conclusion isn’t just a carbon copy of the introduction.  You do need to include the thesis and the signposting again to reiterate the argument, however, this is again your chance to be more creative. Whilst the main body of the essay has to be neutral (in the third person and analytical), the conclusion can contain your opinion on the question and the conclusions you’ve drawn. You can include:

  • Contextual information: such as the historical, economic, political, and social events before, during, and after the text’s conception; biographical information about the writer; and the reaction of the contemporary and modern reader and critic to the text.
  • Your opinion on whether the text is effective or not.
  • Whether the text is valuable to readers, society, or history.
  • Whether the text teaches us important lessons or conveys a significant message.

Of course, finish the essay with a memorable line that will stick with the examiner even after they’ve moved onto the next candidate.


Written by Florianne H.

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