Module 1: An Overview of the Writing Process

Organizing an essay.

There are many elements that must come together to create a good essay. The topic should be clear and interesting. The author’s voice should come through, but not be a distraction. There should be no errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, or capitalization. Organization is one of the most important elements of an essay that is often overlooked. An organized essay is clear, focused, logical and effective.

Organization makes it easier to understand the thesis. To illustrate, imagine putting together a bike. Having all of the necessary tools, parts, and directions will make the job easier to complete than if the parts are spread across the room and the tools are located all over the house. The same logic applies to writing an essay. When all the parts of an essay are in some sort of order, it is both easier for the writer to put the essay together and for the reader to understand the main ideas presented in the essay.

Photo of a white kitchen lit with windows. Rows of glass jars line shelves over the countertop, and a hanging rack of pans and pots appears beneath that.

Strategy 1. Reverse Outlining

If your paper is about Huckleberry Finn, a working thesis might be: “In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain develops a contrast between life on the river and life on the shore.” However, you might feel uncertain if your paper really follows through on the thesis as promised.

This paper may benefit from reverse outlining. Your aim is to create an outline of what you’ve already written, as opposed to the kind of outline that you make before you begin to write. The reverse outline will help you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of both your organization and your argument.

Read the draft and take notes Read your draft over, and as you do so, make very brief notes in the margin about what each paragraph is trying to accomplish.

Outline the Draft After you’ve read through the entire draft, transfer the brief notes to a fresh sheet of paper, listing them in the order in which they appear. The outline might look like this:

  • Paragraph 1: Intro
  • Paragraph 2: Background on Huck Finn
  • Paragraph 3: River for Huck and Jim
  • Paragraph 4: Shore and laws for Huck and Jim
  • Paragraph 5: Shore and family, school
  • Paragraph 6: River and freedom, democracy
  • Paragraph 7: River and shore similarities
  • Paragraph 8: Conclusion

Examine the Outline Look for repetition and other organizational problems. In the reverse outline above, there’s a problem somewhere in Paragraphs 3-7, where the potential for repetition is high because you keep moving back and forth between river and shore.

Re-examine the Thesis, the Outline, and the Draft Together Look closely at the outline and see how well it supports the argument in your thesis statement. You should be able to see which paragraphs need rewriting, reordering or rejecting. You may find some paragraphs are tangential or irrelevant or that some paragraphs have more than one idea and need to be separated.

Strategy 2. Talk It Out

Drawing of two men sitting at a cafe table talking. They are wearing period dress (bowlers, suits, bow ties).

Find a Friend, your T.A., your Professor, a relative, a Writing Center tutor, or any sympathetic and intelligent listener. People are more accustomed to talking than writing, so it might be beneficial to explain your thinking out loud to someone before organizing the essay. Talking to someone about your ideas may also relieve pressure and anxiety about your topic.

Explain What Your Paper Is About Pay attention to how you explain your argument verbally. It is likely that the order in which you present your ideas and evidence to your listener is a logical way to arrange them in your paper. Let’s say that you begin (as you did above) with the working thesis. As you continue to explain, you realize that even though your draft doesn’t mention “private enterprise” until the last two paragraphs, you begin to talk about it right away. This fact should tell you that you probably need to discuss private enterprise near the beginning.

Take Notes You and your listener should keep track of the way you explain your paper. If you don’t, you probably won’t remember what you’ve talked about. Compare the structure of the argument in the notes to the structure of the draft you’ve written.

Get Your Listener to Ask Questions As the writer, it is in your interest to receive constructive criticism so that your draft will become stronger. You want your listener to say things like, “Would you mind explaining that point about being both conservative and liberal again? I wasn’t sure I followed” or “What kind of economic principle is government relief? Do you consider it a good or bad thing?” Questions you can’t answer may signal an unnecessary tangent or an area needing further development in the draft. Questions you need to think about will probably make you realize that you need to explain more your paper. In short, you want to know if your listener fully understands you; if not, chances are your readers won’t, either. [2]

Strategy 3. Paragraphs

Readers need paragraph breaks in order to organize their reading. Writers need paragraph breaks to organize their writing. A paragraph break indicates a change in focus, topic, specificity, point of view, or rhetorical strategy. The paragraph should have one main idea; the topic sentence expresses this idea. The paragraph should be organized either spatially, chronologically, or logically. The movement may be from general to specific, specific to general, or general to specific to general. All paragraphs must contain developed ideas: comparisons, examples, explanations, definitions, causes, effects, processes, or descriptions. There are several concluding strategies which may be combined or used singly, depending on the assignment’s length and purpose:

  • a summary of the main points
  • a hook and return to the introductory “attention-getter” to frame the essay
  • a web conclusion which relates the topic to a larger context of a greater significance
  • a proposal calling for action or further examination of the topic
  • a question which provokes the reader
  • a vivid image or compelling narrative [3]

Put Paragraphs into Sections You should be able to group your paragraphs so that they make a particular point or argument that supports your thesis.  If any paragraph, besides the introduction or conclusion, cannot fit into any section, you may have to ask yourself whether it belongs in the essay.

Re-examine each Section Assuming you have more than one paragraph under each section, try to distinguish between them. Perhaps you have two arguments in favor of that can be distinguished from each other by author, logic, ethical principles invoked, etc. Write down the distinctions — they will help you formulate clear topic sentences.

Re-examine the Entire Argument Which section do you want to appear first? Why? Which Second? Why? In what order should the paragraphs appear in each section? Look for an order that makes the strongest possible argument. [4]

  • Organizing an Essay ↵
  • Reorganizing Your Draft ↵
  • Parts of an Essay ↵
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University of Lynchburg

Organizing Your Paper

If you have already written a paper and need help getting it organized, click on the Organizing After Drafting tab.

Organizing Before Drafting

Organizing before drafting occurs when brainstorming is structured and focused into an organized essay.

The first step in organizing any essay is to create a thesis statement. You may already know what the main argument of your essay is going to be, but a strong thesis helps to organize it. A strong thesis also helps your reader to understand your argument clearly.

In developing your thesis, begin by writing down one sentence that expresses the thrust of your essay. To make this process easier, place your thesis statement after the phrase “I believe that.” For example, you might want to write an essay about how golden retrievers make great pets, so you’d write:

Now your essay has a thesis. The phrase, “I believe that,” will eventually be removed in the final version of your essay, but for now this starter phrase will help you to organize the rest of your paper.

The next step in organizing an essay is creating body paragraphs to support your thesis. After developing your thesis, you might be tempted to start writing the rest of your essay immediately. However, by outlining the body of your paper, you can ensure that rest of your essay directly reflects and supports your thesis.

An outline consists of points that connect the body of the essay to the thesis. On a separate piece of paper, write out the major points that you feel logically support your thesis. To make this process easier, begin each point with the word “because.” For example, following the thesis, “I believe that golden retrievers make good pets,” you’d write:

Once you’ve come up with enough statements to support your thesis, remove the lead phrases, “I believe that” and “because.” What’s left is a rough outline for your final essay.

  • Golden retrievers are extremely well tempered.
  • Golden retrievers train very easily.
  • Pure golden retrievers are relatively cheap and easy to locate.

Once you’ve completed a rough outline, you might once again be tempted to start your essay. Don’t! First, you need to tackle the final step in the essay preparation process: a topic outline.

A topic outline is built around your rough outline. It organizes the order and flow of each your essay’s body paragraphs.

Start by relisting the supporting points of your thesis and label each point with a roman numeral. Once you’ve labeled each point with a Roman numeral, develop at least two sub-points, labeled A, B and C, etc, under each major point.

Sub-points are specific statements that directly reflect and support each main point.

For example, the topic outline for your essay on golden retrievers would look like this:

I. Golden retrievers are extremely well tempered

A. They’ve never been used historically as attack dogs. B. Golden retriever attacks are some of the rarest, statistically.

II. Golden retrievers train very easily.

A. Golden retrievers are successful show dogs. B. Golden retrievers are intelligent dogs.

III. Pure golden retrievers are relatively cheap and easy to locate.

A. Statistically, golden retrievers are some of the most common purebred dogs in America. B. Female golden retrievers have larger litters than most purebreds.

Organization: Parts of the Whole

Organization is one of the most important aspects to consider when crafting your paper. The grouping of similar ideas is key to ensuring that a paper is both easily understood and professional. Good organization serves as the foundation for any academic writing.

Most papers follow a similar structural pattern that includes an introduction, supporting body paragraphs, and a conclusion.


This is the first section of a paper. Its purpose is to provide background about the topic that is to be discussed. The topic should be clearly identified and explained so that the reader is equipped with enough knowledge to follow the paper. The introduction also provides an opportunity to grasp the reader’s attention; this can be done by explaining the importance of the topic or its implications.

The thesis statement, which is arguably one of the most important components of the paper, is typically found at the end of the introduction. The thesis statement presents the main point of the paper and is usually a positional stance, a claim, or an answer to a question. It is important that the thesis statement be clear and defendable because the paper is structured around this statement.

Example of an effective thesis statement:

Aerobic exercise is beneficial for the human body because it promotes heart health, reduces hypertension, and reduces risk of diabetes.

This thesis is effective because the main idea is stated clearly (aerobic exercise is beneficial) while providing evidence for this reasoning (promotes heart health, reduces hypertension, reduces risk of diabetes). A useful organization tip is to separate these individual points of reasoning into separate body paragraphs later in the paper.

Body Paragraphs

These paragraphs make up the bulk of the paper and provide evidence to support an idea or claim (the most important one being the thesis). Evidence can be derived from a cited source or from critical reasoning. Evidence provided in the body paragraphs should be adequately analyzed, discussed, interpreted, etc. As a reminder, all evidence should also be cited with parenthetical citations and there should be corresponding entries in the paper’s works cited.

Further explanation from a source and connection to the thesis is expected. Topic sentences are placed at the beginning of the body paragraphs and state the main idea or concern to be addressed in the paragraph.

Example of an effective topic sentence:

Aerobic exercise, such as running, can reduce risk of diabetes by decreasing insulin resistance.

This topic sentence states the main idea of the paragraph (how aerobic exercise reduces risk of diabetes) which is related to the thesis statement. The reader can expect to read subsequent evidence for this claim as well as analysis of the provided evidence.

The conclusion summarizes the main points that were discussed in the body paragraphs and ties them to the thesis statement. Questions or ideas for further exploration of the paper’s subject can also be included in this section.

Here are some tips and strategies that can be used to help organize a paper.

The creation of an outline can be helpful in planning or organizing a paper. Outlines divide the paper into different paragraphs, with each paragraph labeled or described. Here is a very basic example:

  • Introduction: Explain the importance of regular exercise and introduce aerobic exercise as an option. State thesis – aerobic exercise is beneficial because…
  • Body Paragraph 1: How aerobic exercise benefits the heart.
  • Body Paragraph 2: How aerobic exercise reduces hypertension.
  • Body Paragraph 3: how aerobic exercise can reduce risk of diabetes.
  • Conclusion: Summarize findings from body paragraphs, tie them to the thesis.

Outlines can be created before the first draft is completed in order to plan the overall structure. An outline can also be made based on a draft of the paper, as a means of ensuring that the paper is adequately organized. This particular type of outline is often referred to as a reverse outline.

Sectioning refers to the division and organization of different parts of a paper. This can be done by labeling each paragraph or section of a paper according to its main topic.

Sectioning can be an effective way to check for unnecessary or out of place information. If you label a paragraph of a draft by its main theme, for example “Effects of Aerobic Exercise on the Heart,” then your reader can expect this paragraph to focus on this area. If there is information in the paragraph unrelated to this label, it is moved to the appropriate section.

Reading a paper aloud is a strategy that can be used to detect problems with organization, flow, and grammar. Hearing the words spoken aloud can help some people detect issues that are otherwise easily overlooked. Reading the paper aloud to another person can be especially helpful.

Works Cited

  • “Reorganizing Drafts.” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2021.

Prepared by Peter Gillespie

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How to Organize an Essay

Last Updated: March 27, 2023 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Jake Adams . Jake Adams is an academic tutor and the owner of Simplifi EDU, a Santa Monica, California based online tutoring business offering learning resources and online tutors for academic subjects K-College, SAT & ACT prep, and college admissions applications. With over 14 years of professional tutoring experience, Jake is dedicated to providing his clients the very best online tutoring experience and access to a network of excellent undergraduate and graduate-level tutors from top colleges all over the nation. Jake holds a BS in International Business and Marketing from Pepperdine University. There are 17 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, several readers have written to tell us that this article was helpful to them, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 279,534 times.

Jake Adams

Essay Template and Sample Essay

organizing in an essay

Laying the Groundwork

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 1

  • For example, a high-school AP essay should have a very clear structure, with your introduction and thesis statement first, 3-4 body paragraphs that further your argument, and a conclusion that ties everything together.
  • On the other hand, a creative nonfiction essay might wait to present the thesis till the very end of the essay and build up to it.
  • A compare-and-contrast essay can be organized so that you compare two things in a single paragraph and then have a contrasting paragraph, or you can organize it so that you compare and contrast a single thing in the same paragraph.
  • You can also choose to organize your essay chronologically, starting at the beginning of the work or historical period you're discussing and going through to the end. This can be helpful for essays where chronology is important to your argument (like a history paper or lab report), or if you're telling a story in your essay.
  • The “support” structure begins with your thesis laid out clearly in the beginning and supports it through the rest of the essay.
  • The “discovery” structure builds to the thesis by moving through points of discussion until the thesis seems the inevitable, correct view.
  • The “exploratory” structure looks at the pros and cons of your chosen topic. It presents the various sides and usually concludes with your thesis.

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 2

  • If you haven't been given an assignment, you can always run ideas by your instructor or advisor to see if they're on track.
  • Ask questions about anything you don't understand. It's much better to ask questions before you put hours of work into your essay than it is to have to start over because you didn't clarify something. As long as you're polite, almost all instructors will be happy to answer your questions.

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 3

  • For example, are you writing an opinion essay for your school newspaper? Your fellow students are probably your audience in this case. However, if you're writing an opinion essay for the local newspaper, your audience could be people who live in your town, people who agree with you, people who don't agree with you, people who are affected by your topic, or any other group you want to focus on.

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 5

Getting the Basics Down

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 6

  • A thesis statement acts as the “road map” for your paper. It tells your audience what to expect from the rest of your essay.
  • Include the most salient points within your thesis statement. For example, your thesis may be about the similarity between two literary works. Describe the similarities in general terms within your thesis statement.
  • Consider the “So what?” question. A good thesis will explain why your idea or argument is important. Ask yourself: if a friend asked you “So what?” about your thesis, would you have an answer?
  • The “3-prong thesis” is common in high school essays, but is often frowned upon in college and advanced writing. Don't feel like you have to restrict yourself to this limited form.
  • Revise your thesis statement. If in the course of writing your essay you discover important points that were not touched upon in your thesis, edit your thesis.

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 7

  • If you have a librarian available, don't be afraid to consult with him or her! Librarians are trained in helping you identify credible sources for research and can get you started in the right direction.

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 8

  • Try freewriting. With freewriting, you don't edit or stop yourself. You just write (say, for 15 minutes at a time) about anything that comes into your head about your topic.
  • Try a mind map. Start by writing down your central topic or idea, and then draw a box around it. Write down other ideas and connect them to see how they relate. [14] X Research source
  • Try cubing. With cubing, you consider your chosen topic from 6 different perspectives: 1) Describe it, 2) Compare it, 3) Associate it, 4) Analyze it, 5) Apply it, 6) Argue for and against it.

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 9

  • If your original thesis was very broad, you can also use this chance to narrow it down. For example, a thesis about “slavery and the Civil War” is way too big to manage, even for a doctoral dissertation. Focus on more specific terms, which will help you when you start you organize your outline. [16] X Trustworthy Source University of North Carolina Writing Center UNC's on-campus and online instructional service that provides assistance to students, faculty, and others during the writing process Go to source

Organizing the Essay

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 10

  • Determine the order in which you will discuss the points. If you're planning to discuss 3 challenges of a particular management strategy, you might capture your reader's attention by discussing them in the order of most problematic to least. Or you might choose to build the intensity of your essay by starting with the smallest problem first.

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 11

  • For example, a solid paragraph about Hamlet's insanity could draw from several different scenes in which he appears to act insane. Even though these scenes don't all cluster together in the original play, discussing them together will make a lot more sense than trying to discuss the whole play from start to finish.

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 12

  • Ensure that your topic sentence is directly related to your main argument. Avoid statements that may be on the general topic, but not directly relevant to your thesis.
  • Make sure that your topic sentence offers a “preview” of your paragraph's argument or discussion. Many beginning writers forget to use the first sentence this way, and end up with sentences that don't give a clear direction for the paragraph.
  • For example, compare these two first sentences: “Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743” and “Thomas Jefferson, who was born in 1743, became one of the most important people in America by the end of the 18th century.”
  • The first sentence doesn't give a good direction for the paragraph. It states a fact but leaves the reader clueless about the fact's relevance. The second sentence contextualizes the fact and lets the reader know what the rest of the paragraph will discuss.

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 13

  • Transitions help underline your essay's overall organizational logic. For example, beginning a paragraph with something like “Despite the many points in its favor, Mystic Pizza also has several elements that keep it from being the best pizza in town” allows your reader to understand how this paragraph connects to what has come before.
  • Transitions can also be used inside paragraphs. They can help connect the ideas within a paragraph smoothly so your reader can follow them.
  • If you're having a lot of trouble connecting your paragraphs, your organization may be off. Try the revision strategies elsewhere in this article to determine whether your paragraphs are in the best order.
  • The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin - Madison has a handy list of transitional words and phrases, along with the type of transition they indicate. [22] X Research source

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 14

  • You can try returning to your original idea or theme and adding another layer of sophistication to it. Your conclusion can show how necessary your essay is to understanding something about the topic that readers would not have been prepared to understand before.
  • For some types of essays, a call to action or appeal to emotions can be quite helpful in a conclusion. Persuasive essays often use this technique.
  • Avoid hackneyed phrases like “In sum” or “In conclusion.” They come across as stiff and cliched on paper.

Revising the Plan

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 15

  • You can reverse-outline on the computer or on a printed draft, whichever you find easier.
  • As you read through your essay, summarize the main idea (or ideas) of each paragraph in a few key words. You can write these on a separate sheet, on your printed draft, or as a comment in a word processing document.
  • Look at your key words. Do the ideas progress in a logical fashion? Or does your argument jump around?
  • If you're having trouble summarizing the main idea of each paragraph, it's a good sign that your paragraphs have too much going on. Try splitting your paragraphs up.

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 16

  • You may also find with this technique that your topic sentences and transitions aren't as strong as they could be. Ideally, your paragraphs should have only one way they could be organized for maximum effectiveness. If you can put your paragraphs in any order and the essay still kind of makes sense, you may not be building your argument effectively.

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 17

  • For example, you might find that placing your least important argument at the beginning drains your essay of vitality. Experiment with the order of the sentences and paragraphs for heightened effect.

Image titled Organize an Essay Step 18

Expert Q&A

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About This Article

Jake Adams

To organize an essay, start by writing a thesis statement that makes a unique observation about your topic. Then, write down each of the points you want to make that support your thesis statement. Once you have all of your main points, expand them into paragraphs using the information you found during your research. Finally, close your essay with a conclusion that reiterates your thesis statement and offers additional insight into why it’s important. For tips from our English reviewer on how to use transitional sentences to help your essay flow better, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Some basic guidelines

The best time to think about how to organize your paper is during the pre-writing stage, not the writing or revising stage. A well-thought-out plan can save you from having to do a lot of reorganizing when the first draft is completed. Moreover, it allows you to pay more attention to sentence-level issues when you sit down to write your paper.

When you begin planning, ask the following questions: What type of essay am I going to be writing? Does it belong to a specific genre? In university, you may be asked to write, say, a book review, a lab report, a document study, or a compare-and-contrast essay. Knowing the patterns of reasoning associated with a genre can help you to structure your essay.

For example, book reviews typically begin with a summary of the book you’re reviewing. They then often move on to a critical discussion of the book’s strengths and weaknesses. They may conclude with an overall assessment of the value of the book. These typical features of a book review lead you to consider dividing your outline into three parts: (1) summary; (2) discussion of strengths and weaknesses; (3) overall evaluation. The second and most substantial part will likely break down into two sub-parts. It is up to you to decide the order of the two subparts—whether to analyze strengths or weaknesses first. And of course it will be up to you to come up with actual strengths and weaknesses.

Be aware that genres are not fixed. Different professors will define the features of a genre differently. Read the assignment question carefully for guidance.

Understanding genre can take you only so far. Most university essays are argumentative, and there is no set pattern for the shape of an argumentative essay. The simple three-point essay taught in high school is far too restrictive for the complexities of most university assignments. You must be ready to come up with whatever essay structure helps you to convince your reader of the validity of your position. In other words, you must be flexible, and you must rely on your wits. Each essay presents a fresh problem.

Avoiding a common pitfall

Though there are no easy formulas for generating an outline, you can avoid one of the most common pitfalls in student papers by remembering this simple principle: the structure of an essay should not be determined by the structure of its source material. For example, an essay on an historical period should not necessarily follow the chronology of events from that period. Similarly, a well-constructed essay about a literary work does not usually progress in parallel with the plot. Your obligation is to advance your argument, not to reproduce the plot.

If your essay is not well structured, then its overall weaknesses will show through in the individual paragraphs. Consider the following two paragraphs from two different English essays, both arguing that despite Hamlet’s highly developed moral nature he becomes morally compromised in the course of the play:

(a) In Act 3, Scene 4, Polonius hides behind an arras in Gertrude’s chamber in order to spy on Hamlet at the bidding of the king. Detecting something stirring, Hamlet draws his sword and kills Polonius, thinking he has killed Claudius. Gertrude exclaims, “O, what a rash and bloody deed is this!” (28), and her words mark the turning point in Hamlet’s moral decline. Now Hamlet has blood on his hands, and the blood of the wrong person. But rather than engage in self-criticism, Hamlet immediately turns his mother’s words against her: “A bloody deed — almost as bad, good Mother, as kill a king, and marry with his brother” (29-30). One of Hamlet’s most serious shortcomings is his unfair treatment of women. He often accuses them of sins they could not have committed. It is doubtful that Gertrude even knows Claudius killed her previous husband. Hamlet goes on to ask Gertrude to compare the image of the two kings, old Hamlet and Claudius. In Hamlet’s words, old Hamlet has “Hyperion’s curls,” the front of Jove,” and “an eye like Mars” (57-58). Despite Hamlet’s unfair treatment of women, he is motivated by one of his better qualities: his idealism. (b) One of Hamlet’s most serious moral shortcomings is his unfair treatment of women. In Act 3, Scene 1, he denies to Ophelia ever having expressed his love for her, using his feigned madness as cover for his cruelty. Though his rantings may be an act, they cannot hide his obsessive anger at one particular woman: his mother. He counsels Ophelia to “marry a fool, for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them” (139-41), thus blaming her in advance for the sin of adultery. The logic is plain: if Hamlet’s mother made a cuckold out of Hamlet’s father, then all women are capable of doing the same and therefore share the blame. The fact that Gertrude’s hasty remarriage does not actually constitute adultery only underscores Hamlet’s tendency to find in women faults that do not exist. In Act 3, Scene 4, he goes as far as to suggest that Gertrude shared responsibility in the murder of Hamlet’s father (29-30). By condemning women for actions they did not commit, Hamlet is doing just what he accuses Guildenstern of doing to him: he is plucking out the “heart” of their “mystery” (3.2.372-74).

The second of these two paragraphs is much stronger, largely because it is not plot-driven. It makes a well-defined point about Hamlet’s moral nature and sticks to that point throughout the paragraph. Notice that the paragraph jumps from one scene to another as is necessary, but the logic of the argument moves along a steady path. At any given point in your essays, you will want to leave yourself free to go wherever you need to in your source material. Your only obligation is to further your argument. Paragraph (a) sticks closely to the narrative thread of Act 3, Scene 4, and as a result the paragraph makes several different points with no clear focus.

What does an essay outline look like?

Most essay outlines will never be handed in. They are meant to serve you and no one else. Occasionally, your professor will ask you to hand in an outline weeks prior to handing in your paper. Usually, the point is to ensure that you are on the right track. Nevertheless, when you produce your outline, you should follow certain basic principles. Here is an example of an outline for an essay on Hamlet :

This is an example of a sentence outline. Another kind of outline is the topic outline. It consists of fragments rather than full sentences. Topic outlines are more open-ended than sentence outlines: they leave much of the working out of the argument for the writing stage.

When should I begin putting together a plan?

The earlier you begin planning, the better. It is usually a mistake to do all of your research and note-taking before beginning to draw up an outline. Of course, you will have to do some reading and weighing of evidence before you start to plan. But as a potential argument begins to take shape in your mind, you may start to formalize your thoughts in the form of a tentative plan. You will be much more efficient in your reading and your research if you have some idea of where your argument is headed. You can then search for evidence for the points in your tentative plan while you are reading and researching. As you gather evidence, those points that still lack evidence should guide you in your research. Remember, though, that your plan may need to be modified as you critically evaluate your evidence.

How can I construct a usable plan?

Here are two methods for constructing a plan. The first works best on the computer. The second method works well for those who think visually. It is often the method of choice for those who prefer to do some of their thinking with pen and paper, though it can easily be transposed to a word processor or your graphic software of choice.

method 1: hierarchical outline

This method usually begins by taking notes. Start by collecting potential points, as well as useful quotations and paraphrases of quotations, consecutively. As you accumulate notes, identify key points and start to arrange those key points into an outline. To build your outline, take advantage of outline view in Word or numbered lists in Google Docs. Or consider one of the specialized apps designed to help organize ideas: Scrivener, Microsoft OneNote, Workflowy, among others. All these tools make it easy for you to arrange your points hierarchically and to move those points around as you refine your plan.You may, at least initially, keep your notes and your outline separate. But there is no reason for you not to integrate your notes into the plan. Your notes—minor points, quotations, and paraphrases—can all be interwoven into the plan, just below the main points they support. Some of your notes may not find a place in your outline. If so, either modify the plan or leave those points out.

method 2: the circle method

This method is designed to get your key ideas onto a single page, where you can see them all at once. When you have an idea, write it down, and draw a circle around it. When you have an idea that supports another idea, do the same, but connect the two circles with a line. Supporting source material can be represented concisely by a page reference inside a circle. The advantage of the circle method is that you can see at a glance how things tie together; the disadvantage is that there is a limit to how much material you can cram onto a page.

Here is part of a circle diagram

Once you are content with your diagram, you have the option of turning it into an essay outline.

What is a reverse outline?

When you have completed your first draft, and you think your paper can be better organized, consider using a reverse outline. Reverse outlines are simple to create. Just read through your essay, and every time you make a new point, summarize it in the margin. If the essay is reasonably well-organized, you should have one point in the margin for each paragraph, and your points read out in order should form a coherent argument. You might, however, discover that some of your points are repeated at various places in your essay. Other points may be out of place, and still other key points may not appear at all. Think of all these points as the ingredients of an improved outline which you now must create. Use this new outline to cut and paste the sentences into a revised version of your essay, consolidating points that appear in several parts of your essay while eliminating repetition and creating smooth transitions where necessary.

You can improve even the most carefully planned essay by creating a reverse outline after completing your first draft. The process of revision should be as much about organization as it is about style.

How much of my time should I put into planning?

It is self-evident that a well-planned paper is going to be better organized than a paper that was not planned out. Thinking carefully about how you are going to argue your paper and preparing an outline can only add to the quality of your final product. Nevertheless, some people find it more helpful than others to plan. Those who are good at coming up with ideas but find writing difficult often benefit from planning. By contrast, those who have trouble generating ideas but find writing easy may benefit from starting to write early. Putting pen to paper (or typing away at the keyboard) may be just what is needed to get the ideas to flow.

You have to find out for yourself what works best for you, though it is fair to say that at least some planning is always a good idea. Think about whether your current practices are serving you well. You know you’re planning too little if the first draft of your essays is always a disorganized mess, and you have to spend a disproportionate amount of time creating reverse outlines and cutting and pasting material. You know you’re planning too much if you always find yourself writing your paper a day before it’s due after spending weeks doing research and devising elaborate plans.

Be aware of the implications of planning too little or too much.

Planning  provides the following  advantages :

  • helps you to produce a  logical  and  orderly  argument that your readers can follow
  • helps you to produce an  economical  paper by allowing you to spot repetition
  • helps you to produce a  thorough  paper by making it easier for you to notice whether you have left anything out
  • makes drafting the paper easier by allowing you to concentrate on writing issues such as grammar, word choice, and clarity

Overplanning  poses the following  risks :

  • doesn’t leave you enough time to write and revise
  • leads you to produce papers that try to cover too much ground at the expense of analytic depth
  • can result in a writing style that lacks spontaneity and ease
  • does not provide enough opportunity to discover new ideas in the process of writing

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Many types of writing follow some version of the basic shape described above. This shape is most obvious in the form of the traditional five-paragraph essay: a model for college writing in which the writer argues his or her viewpoint (thesis) on a topic and uses three reasons or subtopics to support that position. In the five-paragraph model, as illustrated below, the introductory paragraph mentions the three main points or subtopics, and each body paragraph begins with a topic sentence dealing with one of those main points.


Remember, this is a very simplistic model. It presents a basic idea of essay organization and may certainly be helpful in learning to structure an argument, but it should not be followed religiously as an ideal form.

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9.3 Organizing Your Writing

Learning objectives.

  • Understand how and why organizational techniques help writers and readers stay focused.
  • Assess how and when to use chronological order to organize an essay.
  • Recognize how and when to use order of importance to organize an essay.
  • Determine how and when to use spatial order to organize an essay.

The method of organization you choose for your essay is just as important as its content. Without a clear organizational pattern, your reader could become confused and lose interest. The way you structure your essay helps your readers draw connections between the body and the thesis, and the structure also keeps you focused as you plan and write the essay. Choosing your organizational pattern before you outline ensures that each body paragraph works to support and develop your thesis.

This section covers three ways to organize body paragraphs:

  • Chronological order
  • Order of importance
  • Spatial order

When you begin to draft your essay, your ideas may seem to flow from your mind in a seemingly random manner. Your readers, who bring to the table different backgrounds, viewpoints, and ideas, need you to clearly organize these ideas in order to help process and accept them.

A solid organizational pattern gives your ideas a path that you can follow as you develop your draft. Knowing how you will organize your paragraphs allows you to better express and analyze your thoughts. Planning the structure of your essay before you choose supporting evidence helps you conduct more effective and targeted research.

Chronological Order

In Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” , you learned that chronological arrangement has the following purposes:

  • To explain the history of an event or a topic
  • To tell a story or relate an experience
  • To explain how to do or to make something
  • To explain the steps in a process

Chronological order is mostly used in expository writing , which is a form of writing that narrates, describes, informs, or explains a process. When using chronological order, arrange the events in the order that they actually happened, or will happen if you are giving instructions. This method requires you to use words such as first , second , then , after that , later , and finally . These transition words guide you and your reader through the paper as you expand your thesis.

For example, if you are writing an essay about the history of the airline industry, you would begin with its conception and detail the essential timeline events up until present day. You would follow the chain of events using words such as first , then , next , and so on.

Writing at Work

At some point in your career you may have to file a complaint with your human resources department. Using chronological order is a useful tool in describing the events that led up to your filing the grievance. You would logically lay out the events in the order that they occurred using the key transition words. The more logical your complaint, the more likely you will be well received and helped.

Choose an accomplishment you have achieved in your life. The important moment could be in sports, schooling, or extracurricular activities. On your own sheet of paper, list the steps you took to reach your goal. Try to be as specific as possible with the steps you took. Pay attention to using transition words to focus your writing.

Keep in mind that chronological order is most appropriate for the following purposes:

  • Writing essays containing heavy research
  • Writing essays with the aim of listing, explaining, or narrating
  • Writing essays that analyze literary works such as poems, plays, or books

When using chronological order, your introduction should indicate the information you will cover and in what order, and the introduction should also establish the relevance of the information. Your body paragraphs should then provide clear divisions or steps in chronology. You can divide your paragraphs by time (such as decades, wars, or other historical events) or by the same structure of the work you are examining (such as a line-by-line explication of a poem).

On a separate sheet of paper, write a paragraph that describes a process you are familiar with and can do well. Assume that your reader is unfamiliar with the procedure. Remember to use the chronological key words, such as first , second , then , and finally .

Order of Importance

Recall from Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” that order of importance is best used for the following purposes:

  • Persuading and convincing
  • Ranking items by their importance, benefit, or significance
  • Illustrating a situation, problem, or solution

Most essays move from the least to the most important point, and the paragraphs are arranged in an effort to build the essay’s strength. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to begin with your most important supporting point, such as in an essay that contains a thesis that is highly debatable. When writing a persuasive essay, it is best to begin with the most important point because it immediately captivates your readers and compels them to continue reading.

For example, if you were supporting your thesis that homework is detrimental to the education of high school students, you would want to present your most convincing argument first, and then move on to the less important points for your case.

Some key transitional words you should use with this method of organization are most importantly , almost as importantly , just as importantly , and finally .

During your career, you may be required to work on a team that devises a strategy for a specific goal of your company, such as increasing profits. When planning your strategy you should organize your steps in order of importance. This demonstrates the ability to prioritize and plan. Using the order of importance technique also shows that you can create a resolution with logical steps for accomplishing a common goal.

On a separate sheet of paper, write a paragraph that discusses a passion of yours. Your passion could be music, a particular sport, filmmaking, and so on. Your paragraph should be built upon the reasons why you feel so strongly. Briefly discuss your reasons in the order of least to greatest importance.

Spatial Order

As stated in Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” , spatial order is best used for the following purposes:

  • Helping readers visualize something as you want them to see it
  • Evoking a scene using the senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound)
  • Writing a descriptive essay

Spatial order means that you explain or describe objects as they are arranged around you in your space, for example in a bedroom. As the writer, you create a picture for your reader, and their perspective is the viewpoint from which you describe what is around you.

The view must move in an orderly, logical progression, giving the reader clear directional signals to follow from place to place. The key to using this method is to choose a specific starting point and then guide the reader to follow your eye as it moves in an orderly trajectory from your starting point.

Pay attention to the following student’s description of her bedroom and how she guides the reader through the viewing process, foot by foot.

Attached to my bedroom wall is a small wooden rack dangling with red and turquoise necklaces that shimmer as you enter. Just to the right of the rack is my window, framed by billowy white curtains. The peace of such an image is a stark contrast to my desk, which sits to the right of the window, layered in textbooks, crumpled papers, coffee cups, and an overflowing ashtray. Turning my head to the right, I see a set of two bare windows that frame the trees outside the glass like a 3D painting. Below the windows is an oak chest from which blankets and scarves are protruding. Against the wall opposite the billowy curtains is an antique dresser, on top of which sits a jewelry box and a few picture frames. A tall mirror attached to the dresser takes up most of the wall, which is the color of lavender.

The paragraph incorporates two objectives you have learned in this chapter: using an implied topic sentence and applying spatial order. Often in a descriptive essay, the two work together.

The following are possible transition words to include when using spatial order:

  • Just to the left or just to the right
  • On the left or on the right
  • Across from
  • A little further down
  • To the south, to the east, and so on
  • A few yards away
  • Turning left or turning right

On a separate sheet of paper, write a paragraph using spatial order that describes your commute to work, school, or another location you visit often.


Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.

Key Takeaways

  • The way you organize your body paragraphs ensures you and your readers stay focused on and draw connections to, your thesis statement.
  • A strong organizational pattern allows you to articulate, analyze, and clarify your thoughts.
  • Planning the organizational structure for your essay before you begin to search for supporting evidence helps you conduct more effective and directed research.
  • Chronological order is most commonly used in expository writing. It is useful for explaining the history of your subject, for telling a story, or for explaining a process.
  • Order of importance is most appropriate in a persuasion paper as well as for essays in which you rank things, people, or events by their significance.
  • Spatial order describes things as they are arranged in space and is best for helping readers visualize something as you want them to see it; it creates a dominant impression.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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This chapter is about the importance of organizing a draft with a clear outline. This step is sometimes combined with the previous step in the writing process—developing a thesis statement. Some writers find it helpful to first jot down their main ideas in outline form, and then use that visual to help develop an overarching thesis statement. Ultimately, moving from thesis statement to outline is dynamic: writers often develop an initial hunch, work out the kinds through an outline, and then revise the thesis each point becomes more obviously structured. This chapter, “Organize,” will stress the importance of planning and structure in the writing process.

visual of the writing process

The Importance of Organization

Your prewriting activities and readings have helped you gather information for your assignment. The more you sort through the pieces of information you found, the more you will begin to see the connections between them. Patterns and gaps may begin to stand out. But only when you start to organize your ideas will you be able to translate your raw insights into a form that will communicate meaning to your audience.

When you write, you need to organize your ideas in an order that makes sense. The writing you complete in all your courses exposes how analytically and critically your mind works. In some courses, the only direct contact you may have with your instructor is through the assignments you write for the course. You can make a good impression by spending time ordering your ideas.

Order refers to your choice of what to present first, second, third, and so on in your writing. The order you pick closely relates to your purpose for writing that particular assignment. For example, when telling a story, it may be important to first describe the background for the action. Or you may need to first describe a 3-D movie projector or a television studio to help readers visualize the setting and scene. You may want to group your support effectively to convince readers that your point of view on an issue is well reasoned and worthy of belief.

In longer pieces of writing, you may organize different parts in different ways so that your purpose stands out clearly and all parts of the paper work together to consistently develop your main point.

Methods of Organizing Writing

The three common methods of organizing writing are  chronological order ,  spatial order , and  order of importance . You need to keep these methods of organization in mind as you plan how to arrange the information you have gathered in an outline. An outline is a written plan that serves as a skeleton for the paragraphs you write. Later, when you draft paragraphs in the next stage of the writing process, you will add support to create “flesh” and “muscle” for your assignment.

When you write, your goal is not only to complete an assignment but also to write for a specific purpose—perhaps to inform, to explain, to persuade, or for a combination of these purposes. Your purpose for writing should always be in the back of your mind, because it will help you decide which pieces of information belong together and how you will order them. In other words, choose the order that will most effectively fit your purpose and support your main point.

Table “Order versus Purpose” shows the connection between order and purpose.

For an essay question on a test or a brief oral presentation in class, all you may need to prepare is a short, informal outline in which you jot down key ideas in the order you will present them. This kind of outline reminds you to stay focused in a stressful situation and to include all the good ideas that help you explain or prove your point.

For a longer assignment, like an essay or a research paper, many college instructors require students to submit a  formal outline  before writing a major paper as a way to be sure you are on the right track and are working in an organized manner. A formal outline is a detailed guide that shows how all your supporting ideas relate to each other. It helps you distinguish between ideas that are of equal importance and ones that are of lesser importance. You build your paper based on the framework created by the outline.

Instructors may also require you to submit an outline with your final draft to check the direction of the assignment and the logic of your final draft. If you are required to submit an outline with the final draft of a paper, remember to revise the outline to reflect any changes you made while writing the paper.

Topic and sentence outlines

There are two types of formal outlines: the topic outline and the sentence outline. You format both types of formal outlines in the same way.

  • Place your introduction and thesis statement at the beginning, under roman numeral I.
  • Use roman numerals (II, III, IV, V, etc.) to identify main points that develop the thesis statement.
  • Use capital letters (A, B, C, D, etc.) to divide your main points into parts.
  • Use arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.) if you need to subdivide any As, Bs, or Cs into smaller parts.
  • End with the final roman numeral expressing your idea for your conclusion.

Here is what the skeleton of a traditional formal outline looks like. The indention helps clarify how the ideas are related.


Thesis statement

Main point 1 →  becomes the topic sentence of body paragraph 1

Main point 2 →  becomes the topic sentence of body paragraph 2

Main point 3 →  becomes the topic sentence of body paragraph 3

In an outline, any supporting detail can be developed with subpoints. For simplicity, the model shows them only under the first main point.

Formal outlines are often quite rigid in their organization. As many instructors will specify, you cannot subdivide one point if it is only one part. For example, for every roman numeral I, there must be a For every A, there must be a B. For every arabic numeral 1, there must be a 2. See for yourself on the sample outlines that follow.

Topic outlines

A topic outline is the same as a sentence outline except you use words or phrases instead of complete sentences. Words and phrases keep the outline short and easier to comprehend. All the headings, however, must be written in parallel structure.

Here is the topic outline that Mariah constructed for the essay she is developing. Her purpose is to inform, and her audience is a general audience of her fellow college students. Notice how Mariah begins with her thesis statement. She then arranges her main points and supporting details in outline form using short phrases in parallel grammatical structure.

Mariah's outline for her essay

Writing an Effective Topic Outline

This checklist can help you write an effective topic outline for your assignment. It will also help you discover where you may need to do additional reading or prewriting.

  • Do I have a controlling idea that guides the development of the entire piece of writing?
  • Do I have three or more main points that I want to make in this piece of writing? Does each main point connect to my controlling idea?
  • Is my outline in the best order—chronological order, spatial order, or order of importance—for me to present my main points? Will this order help me get my main point across?
  • Do I have supporting details that will help me inform, explain, or prove my main points?
  • Do I need to add more support? If so, where?
  • Do I need to make any adjustments in my working thesis statement before I consider it the final version?

Writing at Work

Word processing programs generally have an automatic numbering feature that can be used to prepare outlines. This feature automatically sets indents and lets you use the tab key to arrange information just as you would in an outline. Although in business this style might be acceptable, in college your instructor might have different requirements. Teach yourself how to customize the levels of outline numbering in your word-processing program to fit your instructor’s preferences.

Exercise 4.1

Using the working thesis statement you wrote in the previous chapter, “Thesis Statements,” and the results of your brainstorming from “Generating Ideas,” construct a topic outline for your essay. Be sure to observe correct outline form, including correct indentions and the use of Roman and arabic numerals and capital letters.


Please share with a classmate and compare your outline. Point out areas of interest from their outline and what you would like to learn more about.

Sentence Outlines

A sentence outline is the same as a topic outline except you use complete sentences instead of words or phrases. Complete sentences create clarity and can advance you one step closer to a draft in the writing process.

Here is the sentence outline that Mariah constructed for the essay she is developing.

An updated sentence outline

The information compiled under each roman numeral will become a paragraph in your final paper. In the previous example, the outline follows the standard five-paragraph essay arrangement, but longer essays will require more paragraphs and thus more roman numerals. If you think that a paragraph might become too long or stringy, add an additional paragraph to your outline, renumbering the main points appropriately.

PowerPoint presentations, used both in schools and in the workplace, are organized in a way very similar to formal outlines. PowerPoint presentations often contain information in the form of talking points that the presenter develops with more details and examples than are contained on the PowerPoint slide.

Exercise 4.2

Expand the topic outline you prepared in the previous execise to make it a sentence outline. In this outline, be sure to include multiple supporting points for your main topic even if your topic outline does not contain them. Be sure to observe correct outline form, including correct indentations and the use of Roman and arabic numerals and capital letters.

Key Takeaways

  • Writers must put their ideas in order so the assignment makes sense. The most common orders are chronological order, spatial order, and order of importance.
  • After gathering and evaluating the information you found for your essay, the next step is to write a working, or preliminary, thesis statement.
  • The working thesis statement expresses the main idea that you want to develop in the entire piece of writing. It can be modified as you continue the writing process.
  • Effective writers prepare a formal outline to organize their main ideas and supporting details in the order they will be presented.
  • A topic outline uses words and phrases to express the ideas.
  • A sentence outline uses complete sentences to express the ideas.
  • The writer’s thesis statement begins the outline, and the outline ends with suggestions for the concluding paragraph.

Write What Matters Copyright © 2020 by Liza Long; Amy Minervini; and Joel Gladd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Organizing an Essay

Carol Lynn Moder

When you are asked to write longer assignments, you will need to consider what your topic will be and what you want to say about it. In many academic contexts, longer assignments may be in the form of an informational essay that will present several points in support of one main idea about the topic. The writer’s main purpose is normally stated in a thesis statement . Depending on the type of essay you are writing and your purpose, you may have a choice of whether to put your thesis statement in the introduction or in the conclusion. In informational essays, most American academic audiences prefer you to state the main purpose of the essay explicitly at the end of the introduction .

When a thesis statement appears in the introduction, it not only states the writer’s purpose, but typically it also gives the reader a preview of the main points of the essay and the order in which the writer will present them. For example, if the thesis statement is: “in this paper I will discuss the three main factors that affect success in college prior education, motivation, and the time devoted to assignments,” the reader expects you to discuss these three factors IN THE ORDER YOU MENTIONED them:

  • Prior education
  • Time devoted to assignments.

You should give some thought to what order will be most effective for the information you are presenting. Be sure that your thesis statement presents that order clearly and then follows that order in the body of the paper.

Following the introduction, it is typical to present each of your main points in a single unified paragraph. The most coherent way to organize the paragraphs in your writing is to introduce each paragraph with a TOPIC SENTENCE . As its name suggests, the topic sentence is usually a single sentence that states the topic, that is, the main point that the paragraph will illustrate or discuss.

Sample Thesis Statement & Topic Sentences:

Thesis Statement:

In this paper I will discuss the three main factors that affect success in college: prior education, motivation, and time devoted to assignments.

Paragraph 1 Topic Sentence:

Most research concerning success in college focuses on the importance of a student’s prior educational background.

Paragraph 2 Topic Sentence:

Although prior educational background plays an important role, the amount and type of motivation that a student has can make a greater difference in college success.

Paragraph 3 Topic Sentence:

A final important factor in Student Success is the amount of time a student actually devotes two assignments.

If we consider the sample thesis statement and topic sentences, we see that they have more than one function. As we have said, they explicitly state the main point or points of the essay, but they also help the reader to understand how the writing will develop. They tell the reader what to look for in the writing. These sentences are like directions you give to help a person find a particular place. If you give clear directions that highlight the upcoming turn in the road, it makes it easier for the reader to follow the path of your thoughts. A third important function of the thesis statements and topic sentences is to make connections and show the relationships among the points. If we look at the sample topic sentences for paragraphs 2 and 3, we see that they use words that make connections to other ideas in the writing. The words and phrases involved in the sample help the reader to follow the path of the argument and make sure that the reader is on the right road. Using these connecting phrases leads readers to understand how you, the writer, wants them to put their ideas together.

Once you have introduced the main point of a paragraph or the topic sentence, you then must develop the paragraph with examples, details, or anecdotes to illustrate and develop the point. The kind of details or examples you use depend on the purpose and requirements of the assignment.

After you provide these examples, you may want to continue to help the reader to follow your reasoning, by the end of the paragraph for the summarizing sentence or two that connects the example to the overall purpose of the essay. Such sentences are sometimes called “wrap & tie” sentences. If your paragraph is a package that contains one of the main ideas, the final sentence wraps up the package and ties a nice bow on top. The purpose is to make sure your reader understands how you want him or her to interpret your examples and what conclusions you intend. If you do not use a wrap and tie sentence, you are leaving the “package” open and your reader can put whatever he or she wants inside. In American academic writing, readers usually expect a writer to make his or her interpretation is clear and explicit as possible.

When you have developed your writing with an introduction and the appropriate number of body paragraphs, you then need to draw a final conclusion . The conclusion typically appears in a separate paragraph. Like “wrap & tie” sentences, the purpose of the conclusion is to direct the reader to the interpretation that you intend. The most basic conclusion reiterates the main points of the writing. It may also highlight some of the key examples. It must connect these to the purpose stated in the thesis statement and draw a final conclusion.

As with all kinds of academic writing, before you begin to develop your content you should look carefully at the assignment. Sample assignment 2 requires the writer to develop content about food that would compare and contrast food practices in the US with food practices in his or her home country. To gather information about American food practices, each student interviewed an American student. The assignment requires the writer to use information from the interview. The purpose of the comparison is to relate food practices to cultural or individual identity. It requires students to use three themes from the interview to illustrate the main point.

Sample assignment 2

Compare and contrast to food practices, yours and that of a person you interviewed, focusing on the way that food relates to cultural or individual identity. Include at least three themes in your essay. Compare aspects which are similar and contrast aspects which are different.

Sample Introduction 1

What Food Tells us about the US and Saudi Arabia

Societies are often complicated to any stranger. They are hard to understand completely for an individual who does not live in that society, yet there is a way to understand them. The products of a society tell a lot about it. For example, artists express the views, ideas, beliefs and important issues of their society using their passion in doing certain art. Music, paintings, statues, and poetry convey the background of an artist. Such works of art carry an enormous amount of information that need to be analyzed by an expert, which brings us back to the complexity issue again. Foods are the products of each society that can be easily understood. According to Rozin, (2005) food takes a wider role than just nutrition, and identifies where people are from and what ethnicity they are. Food and food practices tell a lot about one’s culture and identity (p. 108). Cooking food, just like art, explains many aspects of a society but in a simpler way. To gather information about American food and culture, I interviewed Mike, an American student. Through the conversation, the similarities and differences between the two cultures, his and mine, emerged. Food cuisines are significantly impacted by immigration in both Saudi Arabia and the United States. Also, in both countries there are foods that are associated with particular events and celebrations. However the involvement of fathers in food is different from that in the United States.

FOCUS: Introduction & Thesis Statement

Look at Sample Introduction 1.

  • Is the title informative? Interesting?
  • How does the writer introduce the topic?
  • What does the writer do to capture the reader’s attention?
  • Underline where the writer cites a published source.Why does the author use this source here? What does it add to the introduction?
  • Underline the sentences that indicate the writer’s focus for this paper.What three themes will the writer describe?  In what order will the reader expect to see these themes discussed?
  • Look at Sample Assignment 2. Does the writer address all parts of the assignment?
  • What do you expect to see in the rest of the essay?

Sample Introduction 2

Differences of Food Between Different Countries

Today we all live in an increasingly diversified world. That not only means differences in economy and politics, but also means the diversification of food cultures. Even though we all live in the same world, there are many differences and similarities and different countries and areas. In order to find the differences of food between two different countries, I have interviewed Sandy, an American girl from a small city in the Midwest. Through the half-hour interview, we talked about many aspects about food.

FOCUS: Critiquing the Introduction

Look at Sample Introduction 2 and Sample Introduction 3 and evaluate how effectively each one:

  • Identifies the topic
  • Captures the interest of the reader
  • States the main purpose of the essay
  • Specifies the themes that will be discussed
  • Outlines how the essay will develop
  • Meets the requirements of the assignment

What should each writer do to improve each introduction?

Sample Body Paragraph 1: Differences of Food Between Different Countries

Immigrants bring their cuisines with them to the country they move to. In the US the number of immigrants is enormous. It is almost a country that was populated by immigrants and it is the country where the salad bowl metaphor is perfectly applied. Their food cuisine is a mixture of different cuisines from around the globe. For example, Mexican, Italian, Chinese and Japanese dishes are popular in the US. When I asked Mike to tell me more about the cuisine in his home state of Florida he said:

Since the Spanish came to Florida originally you have that influence. So you have Spanish cuisine there. You also have a lot of people from New York who come down to Florida to retire because the weather is a lot nicer in Florida, so they Regional food is common.

According to Mike, immigration plays a role in Florida’s cuisine. Similarly, Saudi Arabia is a country where Muslims from around the world come to practice rituals throughout the course of the year. Moreover, some stay for the rest of their lives in Saudi Arabia. Also, a small fraction of the immigrants come to work in Saudi Arabia. Those immigrants, just like others, bring their own unique dishes with them. They become popular with time. For instance, Egyptian, Moroccan, Pakistani, and Indian dishes are common in Saudi Arabia. Although the numbers of immigrants vary, both countries have been impacted in the same manner.

FOCUS: Body Paragraph 2

Look at Sample Body Paragraph 2:

  • Underline the topic sentence. Does the topic sentence clearly identify the topic of the paragraph? Does it connect to the thesis statement? Does it connect to the idea in Body Paragraph 1?
  • What examples or details does the writer use to support his main point in this paragraph? Do all the details contribute to the main point? Are any details not related to the topic of the paragraph?
  • Underline the wrap & tie sentence. What interpretation of the examples does the writer offer in the sentence? Does this interpretation support the thesis statement?
  •  What improvements could the writer make?

Sample Conclusion: Differences of Food Between Different Countries

The US and Saudi Arabia have similarities and differences when it comes to food and food practices. Both had an immigration era that impacted their food significantly. Also, both countries link food items to special occasions, which tells a lot about their past and roots. Finally food preparation responsibilities and habits are different, conveying that the family structure and dominance are different too. To sum this up, food is a good was to understand and even compare to cultures. Moreover it is easier and much more fun to understand a society by food than it is by art.

FOCUS: Conclusion

  • Read the Sample Conclusion.
  • What information does the first sentence provide?
  • How is the information in the conclusion related to the body paragraphs?
  • How does the writer link the Introduction and the Conclusion?
  • Consider the final sentence. What information does it convey? How effective do you think this concluding sentence is in highlighting the writer’s main point?

Organizing an Essay Copyright © 2020 by Carol Lynn Moder is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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