Essay Structure

Essay Structure

Although there are many different types of essays a student can write, it is important to understand that there is a basic essay structure.

Students, once they enter a basic college composition course, should know the five paragraph essay structure.  It looks like this:

  1. Introduction
  2. Body Paragraph One

III.  Body Paragraph Two

  1. Body Paragraph Three
  2. Conclusion


All essays begin with this structure; even essays that end up being multiple pages with more than five paragraphs.

Now that you know what basic essay structure is, let’s break this structure down so that you can see where you can improve as a writer.

A solid college-level paragraph is between 10 and 12 sentences.  “How do I write that many sentences,” you ask?  Let’s take a look:


An introduction should contain:

  1. hook, or attention-grabber.  This hook can be a personal antecdote, quotation, definition, statistic, or narrative.
  2. transition.  This is the part of the paragraph between the hook and thesis.  It’s important because you need to  connect your hook to your main point for the reader.
  3. thesis.  This is the main or controlling idea of your paper.  Basically, this is what you are saying about your topic; your viewpoint.

Body Paragraphs:

All body paragraphs should contain:

  1. topic sentence.  This sentence directs the paragraph and connects the paragaph to the thesis of the essay.  It should not be longer than a sentence or two.
  2. Supporting details.  This is where you will use outside sources, examples, or anything that supports your topic sentence.
  3. Commentary.  This is where students short-change themselves all the time. If you have ever gotten a paper back with the words, “develop more,” this is what needs work.  Commentary is vital to a body paragraph because it connects the supporting details with the topic sentence for the reader.  You have to show your readers how your backup works to actually backup your topic sentence(s) and thesis.


All conclusions should contain:

  1. rephrasing of your thesis in a new way.  You want to rephrase your thesis because the idea is that your controlling idea has evolved, or matured, over the course of your essay.
  2. No new ideas.  If you’ve got new ideas, you’re writing another body paragraph, not a conclsion.
  3. Return to your hook.  This is the sign of a good writer.  It will also help you to tie up loose ends and help you figure out how to end your essay.


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