Essay Structure: How To Write The Right Way

The dreaded “E” word…Essays. Based on my experience in working with high school students, I’ve learned that most students despise the word “essay.” Why? I think it’s because students have a hard time figuring out the proper essay structure.

Beginning an essay without first mapping out the essay structure is like driving a car without having a destination in mind. Ever read an essay that was unorganized? The writer’s ideas were all over the place, the sentences didn’t make sense, and the paragraphs just didn’t quite flow together smoothly…sound about right?

Now, does this mean that the author isn’t a good writer? Maybe, but that’s probably not the case. I bet if you re-read their essay, you’d discover that it’s not the content in the essay, but rather the essay structure that makes it appear to be written so poorly.

So, what’s The Proper Essay Structure?

Completing a writing assignment with the proper essay structure can be simple if you organize your thoughts into the following 3 elements:

  • Introduction (Paragraph 1)
  • Body (Paragraphs 2 -4)
  • Conclusion (Paragraph 5)

Below, I’ll explain each element of the basic 5 paragraph essay structure…   


The introduction is where you introduce the topic you’ll be writing about to your readers. After reading the introduction, your audience should know what the remainder of your essay is going to be about, if you’ve used the correct essay structure. The opening line of your introduction can take many forms – you may decide to ask a question, tell a story, or jump right into the heart of your argument.

For example, if you are writing a college admissions essay about a person who’s had a significant influence over your life, the essay structure of the opening line might be:

  • Can you think of one person who brightens your day when he or she walks in the room? (ask a question)
  • My 8th grade teacher, Ms. Jones, had the biggest influence on my life as an adolescent. (jump right into it)
  • After Christmas break, a new student joined our 2nd grade class. Her name was Zara and she was from Africa. Immediately, Zara and I became best friends. (tell a story)

The next sentences in your introduction should generally discuss your topic. For example, you might give more background information about ‘Ms. Jones’ or continue to describe how your friendship with ‘Zara’ developed over time.

After you’ve given enough ‘introductory’ information, you’ll need to develop a thesis statement. The thesis statement should be the last sentence of your introduction. This is where you state your argument and then list three or more reasons why you believe it is true.

For example, the essay structure of a thesis statement for the first example above could be:

  • My mother has had the greatest influence over my life because she always believed in me, taught me to never to give up on my dreams, and showed me the true meaning of hard work and dedication.

Body (Paragraphs 2-4)

The essay structure of the body paragraphs are meant to support your thesis statement (or argument). Like your introductory paragraph, each body paragraph should start with an opening sentence. Using the example thesis statement above, your first body paragraph would elaborate on how your mother “always believed in you.” Your opening sentence might be something like…

  • Even when I didn’t believe in myself, my mom has always been my biggest cheerleader.

The essay structure of the following supporting sentences would likely be specific examples of when your mom was your biggest cheerleader. The evidence provided in each body paragraph should all revolve around a single theme (i.e. your mother always believing in you). If you include too many themes in one paragraph, you destroy the essay structure, and that’s how things get confusing.

You might be able to recall several times when your mom ‘was your biggest cheerleader,’ and that’s totally fine, as long you only include that information in the first body paragraph. After you have all your thoughts down, wrap up this body paragraph with a concluding sentence, summarizing what you discussed in that paragraph.

The essay structure of body paragraphs 2 and 3 will be the same as the essay structure of the first body paragraph. Pick the next theme (i.e. she taught me never to give up on my dreams) and provide evidence for it. Open the paragraph with an introductory sentence that nicely transitions from the first body paragraph to this one. It might read something like…

  • In addition to being my biggest cheerleader, my mom also taught me to never give up on my dreams.

Finally, conclude with a summary of what you discussed in that paragraph. Follow the exact same essay structure for body paragraph 3.


One of my former English teachers comically described the proper essay structure like this, he said:

  • “Tell them what you’re going to tell them” (Introduction)
  • “Tell them” (Body)
  • “Tell them what you told them” (Conclusion)

Well, we’re at the “Tell them what you told them” part of the essay structure. As this suggests, your conclusion is where you will wrap up your entire essay. Hopefully by this point you’ve successfully convinced your readers of your thesis state (i.e. that your mom really has had the greatest influence over your life).

In order to stay in alignment with the proper essay structure, you are not to re-introduce any new information in your conclusion. You’re only supposed to give them an overview of what you already told them. Finally, similar to the body paragraphs, you should conclude your paper with a closing statement that wraps up the entire essay. structure.

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind, the essay structure outlined above is very general. If you are writing about a more complicated topic, then you will likely have many more body paragraphs than 3.

Another appropriate essay structure is expanding your individual themes. For example, you might decide to write 2-3 paragraphs about each theme, rather than just 1. The most important thing to remember about essay structure is consistency. If you have 2-3 paragraphs that support how your mom has always believed in you, for example, you should also have 2-3 paragraphs to support the other parts of your thesis statement.

Make sense? Now go get started on that essay!

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Lauren Anderson is a certified school counselor who's passionate about helping students all over the world successfully transition from high school to college! After spending 6 years as a business professional, she obtained her Master’s degree in School Counseling and now spends her spare time helping students.

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