A text that is often used in high schools and colleges is Bailey and Powell's The Practical Writer. This most useful text suggests that a standard essay is composed of five paragraphs: Introduction, 3 Body Paragraphs, and a Concluding Paragraph.
- The Introductory Paragraph is composed of what is called a "Motivator," also known as a "hook," especially in journalistic writing. This motivator is an anecdote, a reflection or observation, a relevant quote, or a question. From this motivator, the writer leads into the thesis, a general statement that expresses the main idea of the essay, the idea that the entire essay should support. This thesis is followed by a "blueprint," a list of the ideas that will become the 3 topic sentences for the body paragraphs. These are essentially the 3 opinions that the writer will support. Thus, the introduction (a) grabs the reader's attention and (b) informs the reader of the main idea of the essay and how it will be developed.
- The 3 Central paragraphs are formed from the 3 opinions. Each paragraph has a topic sentence, supporting sentences which contain reasons, arguments, counter-arguments, examples, citations from a text, testimonials, facts, statistics, or narrative examples. Which type of support a writer uses depends upon the writer's purpose. The paragraph, then, ends with a concluding sentence which will make also a transition to the next paragraph. Thus, the three basic parts of the paragraphs are (a) a topic sentence, (b) specific support, and (c) a reworded topic sentence.
- The Concluding paragraph rewords the thesis, reminding the reader of this main point. The writer can begin the concluding paragraph by restating the three opinions. For example, the writer could say because --- (and state the main reasons), or by --- (and express the actions mentioned) and then reword the thesis. In addition, a "clincher" is used; this is a final thought that finishes by referring to the motivator. Thus, the conclusion (a) reminds the reader of the thesis, the main point, of the essay and (b) it gives the essay a sense of finality.
A good essay will have coherence. Coherence can be achieved by providing an explanation of the support, reminding the reader of the opinion in the topic sentence by repeating it or using synonymous words that suggest the opinion, and by using transitions. Unity is also required; that is, the ideas will make sense and they will follow in a logical manner. To achieve this logical order, each idea in the paragraphs should clearly support the topic sentence. If ideas are irrelevant to this main point, they should be removed.
Academic writing demands that Standard English be used, no contractions be used, and correct spelling be used. Sentences will be varied in structure and complexity and transitional words or phrases will join them. Vocabulary should also be appropriate to the scholastic level of the essay.
As stated in another post, most essays are written in an objective voice, using third person. However, for a narrative essay, or one about a personal experience, first-person may be employed. Avoidance of second person is encouraged. Unless directly instructing the reader, do not use "you." (or until you become famous as Hemingway and others have done)