How to Structure an Essay

Drawing on your own experiences and observations, use examples to show that you agree or disagree with aa proverb, such as "When life throws you lemons, make lemonade". Mint Images - Bill Miles / Getty Images

If you've been tasked with writing an essay for a class assignment, the project might seem daunting. However, your assignment doesn't have to be a hair-pulling, frazzled all-nighter. Think of writing an essay as if you were making a hamburger. Imagine the parts of a burger: There's a bun (bread) on top and a bun on the bottom. In the middle, you'll find the meat. 

Your introduction is like the top bun announcing the subject, your supporting paragraphs are the beef in the middle, and your conclusion is the bottom bun, supporting everything. The condiments would be the specific examples and illustrations that can help to clarify key points and keep your writing interesting. (Who, after all, would eat a burger composed only of bread and beef?)

Each part needs to be present: A soggy or missing bun would cause your fingers to slip immediately into the beef without being able to hold and enjoy the burger. But if your burger had no beef in the middle, you'd be left with two dry pieces of bread.

The Introduction

Your introductory paragraphs introduce the reader to your topic. For example, you might choose to write an essay titled, "Technology Is Changing Our Lives." Start your introduction with a hook that captures the reader's attention: "Technology is taking over our lives and changing the world."

After you introduce your topic and draw the reader in, the most important part of your introductory paragraph(s) would be you the main idea, or thesis. "The Little Seagull Handbook" calls this a statement that introduces your main point, identifying your topic. Your thesis statement could read: "Information technology has revolutionized the way we work."

But, your topic can be more varied and may cover seemingly mundane subjects, such as this opening paragraph from Mary Zeigler's "How to Catch River Crabs." Zeigler grabs the reader's attention from the first sentence:

"As a lifelong crabber (that is, one who catches crabs, not a chronic complainer), I can tell you that anyone who has patience and a great love for the river is qualified to join the ranks of crabbers.​"

The final sentences of your introduction, then, would be a mini-outline of what your essay will cover. Don't use an outline form, but explain briefly all the key points you intend to discuss in narrative form.

Supporting Paragraphs

Extending the hamburger essay theme, the supporting paragraphs would be beef. These would include well-researched and logical points that support your thesis. The topic sentence of each paragraph might serve as the reference points of your mini-outline. The topic sentence, which is often at the beginning of a paragraph, states or suggests the main idea (or topic) of a paragraph.

Bellevue College in Washington state shows how to write four different supporting paragraphs on four different topics: a description of a beautiful day; savings and loan and bank failures; the writer's father; and, the writer's joke-playing cousin. Bellevue explains that your supporting paragraphs should provide rich, vivid imagery, or logical and specific supporting details, depending on your topic.

A perfect supporting paragraph for the technology topic, discussed previously, could draw on current events. In its Jan. 20-21, 2018, weekend edition, "The Wall Street Journal" ran an article titled, "Digital Revolution Upends Ad Industry: A Divide Between Old Guard and New Tech Hires."

The article described in searing detail, how one of the world's biggest ad agencies lost a major Mcdonald's advertising account to a relative upstart because the fast-food chain felt the older agency "was not adept enough at using data to quickly produce online ads and target minute slices of its customer base."

The younger, hipper, agency, by contrast, had worked with Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc's Google to assemble a team of data experts. You could use this news story to illustrate how technology—and a need for workers who understand it and are able to use it—is taking over the world and is changing entire industries.

The Conclusion

Just as a hamburger needs a durable bottom bun to contain all the ingredients inside, your essay needs a strong conclusion to support and buttress your points. You can also think of it as the closing argument a prosecutor might make in a criminal court case. The closing arguments section of a trial takes place when the prosecution attempts to strengthen the evidence she presented to the jury. Even though the prosecutor likely provided solid and compelling arguments and evidence during the trial, it isn't until the closing arguments that she ties it all together.

In the same way, you'll restate your main points in the conclusion in reverse order of how you listed them in your introduction. Some sources call this an upside-down triangle: The intro was a triangle that was right-side up, where you started with a short, razor sharp point—your hook—which then fanned out slightly to your topic sentence and broadened further with your mini-outline. The conclusion, by contrast, is an upside-down triangle that starts by broadly reviewing the evidence—the points you made in your supporting paragraphs—and then narrows to your topic sentence and a restatement of your hook.

In this way, you've logically explained your points, restated your main idea, and left readers with a zinger that hopefully convinces them of your point of view.


Bullock, Richard. "The Little Seagull Handbook with Exercises." Michal Brody, Francine Weinberg, Third edition, W. W. Norton & Company, December 22, 2016.

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "How to Structure an Essay." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). How to Structure an Essay. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "How to Structure an Essay." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 1, 2023).