2.2: Parts of the Essay, Outlining
This resource was written by Jaclyn M. Wells.
Last edited by Allen Brizee on March 23, 2009 .
This resource covers the three-part organization of successful GED essays. The resource also covers outlining.
Lesson 2: Organizing the Essay
It is great to have many ideas to write about, but it is also important to organize those ideas in a logical way that your reader can understand. Without an effective organization, your essay can become confusing, and your main idea can get lost on the reader. Taking a few minutes to outline your essay before you begin writing will help you organize your ideas and group them effectively throughout your essay. This lesson explains the three major parts of the essay. The lesson provides tips for creating an outline with your main idea and subpoints. Lastly, the lesson explains how to use thesis statements and topic sentences.
The Three Parts of the Essay
Your essay will have three main parts:
1. Introduction: The introduction should be one paragraph. It should introduce the topic and main idea and preview the rest of your essay. The introduction will also include your thesis statement.
2. Body: The body is generally made up of three paragraphs. Each paragraph supports and develops (adds detail to) your main idea. To guide your reader, each body paragraph should begin with a clear topic sentence.
3. Conclusion: The conclusion is one paragraph. It summarizes the body paragraphs and concludes the essay.
Creating an Outline with a Main Idea and Subpoints
In Lesson 1, we discussed how to brainstorm ideas using idea maps and lists. We also discussed how to choose a main idea. It is most effective to select your main idea and subpoints before writing your essay because you can use your main idea and subpoints to make an outline.
Look back at the sample essay question and brainstorming methods from Lesson 1.
Sample Essay Topic
What is one important goal you would like to achieve in the next few years?
In your essay, identify that one goal and explain how you plan to achieve it. Use your personal observations, experience, and knowledge to support your essay.
From the example idea map and list in Lesson 1, it appeared that the main idea was getting a better job. The writer identified her main idea as follows:
An important goal I would like to achieve in the next few years is getting a better job.
The next step is to find subpoints that will support and develop this main idea. Again, we can look to the brainstorming methods this writer used to find possible subpoints. From her idea map and list, it was clear that other ideas the student writer listed--finishing school, learning a new language, preparing a resume, and searching for jobs--all connected to getting a better job.
The writer could choose finishing school, preparing a resume, and searching for jobs as her three subpoints, since each of these could be seen as steps to getting a better job. In other words, these three subpoints develop add detail to and support her main idea. Each body paragraph will focus on one of these subpoints.
Once you choose a main idea and three subpoints, it will be easier for you to create an outline for your essay. You do not need to spend a lot of time on this; you only have 45 minutes to plan, write, and proofread your work. Developing an outline will help you stay on track.
You know that you need to have an introduction and a conclusion—these will be the first and last paragraphs of your essay. What about the three paragraphs in between? How do you decide what order they should go in? Well, you have a number of options. A few of the most common options for ordering your body paragraphs are listed below.
In order of importance: You might feel like one of your subpoints is stronger than the other two, or even that one subpoint is most important, one least important, and one in between. If you are asked to argue something, it can be a good idea to put your subpoints in order of importance. You could begin with what you see as your weakest argument and then lead up to the strongest argument so that you drive home your main idea more and more with each paragraph. You can even use a signal phrase such as, “the most important reason,” when you get to your most important subpoint. Or you could frontload your most important idea to grab readers’ attention and persuade them early in the essay.
Chronologically: In some essays, you might find yourself describing a process and maybe even explaining the steps to something. If this is the case, you may choose to use a chronological order, meaning that you will focus on when things happen. If you use this organization, you can use signal phrases like “first, second, third” or “first, next, last” to guide your reader.
Compare and contrast: Many GED essay prompts will ask you to compare, contrast, or both. To compare means to talk about the similarities and to contrast means to talk about differences. You can divide your paragraphs into similarities and differences, so that each paragraph discusses only one similarity or one difference. If you are discussing all similarities or all differences, you can use signal phrases like “another similarity” or “another difference.” If you are discussing both similarities and differences, you can use a signal phrase like “on the other hand” to show your move from comparison to contrast.
For the sample essay topic, a chronological method of organization might be an effective organizing strategy, since achieving a goal often involves a series of steps. An outline for the essay might look like this:
I. Introduction: states the main idea (getting a better job)
II. Body Paragraph: first, finish school
III. Body Paragraph: next, prepare resume
IV. Body Paragraph: finally, search for jobs
In sum, the goal is to choose a main idea and three subpoints that support and develop this main idea. Next, you want to choose an organization that you feel works best for your topic. Finally, it is a good idea to compose a short outline you can follow while writing your essay. Using the idea map and list you created in Lesson 1, practice choosing a main idea and three subpoints that develop and support it. Then, choose a method for ordering your subpoints and write an outline like the one above.
The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-10 11:46:44
What is an argumentative essay?
The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.
Please note: Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved. The argumentative essay is commonly assigned as a capstone or final project in first year writing or advanced composition courses and involves lengthy, detailed research. Expository essays involve less research and are shorter in length. Expository essays are often used for in-class writing exercises or tests, such as the GED or GRE.
Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that she/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.
The structure of the argumentative essay is held together by the following.
- A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.
In the first paragraph of an argument essay, students should set the context by reviewing the topic in a general way. Next the author should explain why the topic is important (exigence) or why readers should care about the issue. Lastly, students should present the thesis statement. It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.
- Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.
Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse. Transitions should wrap up the idea from the previous section and introduce the idea that is to follow in the next section.
- Body paragraphs that include evidential support.
Each paragraph should be limited to the discussion of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. In addition, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph. Some paragraphs will directly support the thesis statement with evidence collected during research. It is also important to explain how and why the evidence supports the thesis (warrant).
However, argumentative essays should also consider and explain differing points of view regarding the topic. Depending on the length of the assignment, students should dedicate one or two paragraphs of an argumentative essay to discussing conflicting opinions on the topic. Rather than explaining how these differing opinions are wrong outright, students should note how opinions that do not align with their thesis might not be well informed or how they might be out of date.
- Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).
The argumentative essay requires well-researched, accurate, detailed, and current information to support the thesis statement and consider other points of view. Some factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal evidence should support the thesis. However, students must consider multiple points of view when collecting evidence. As noted in the paragraph above, a successful and well-rounded argumentative essay will also discuss opinions not aligning with the thesis. It is unethical to exclude evidence that may not support the thesis. It is not the student’s job to point out how other positions are wrong outright, but rather to explain how other positions may not be well informed or up to date on the topic.
- A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.
It is at this point of the essay that students may begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize the information presented in the body of the essay. Restate why the topic is important, review the main points, and review your thesis. You may also want to include a short discussion of more research that should be completed in light of your work.
A complete argument
Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of World War II and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the argument in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the conflict. Therefore, the argumentative essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.
The five-paragraph essay
A common method for writing an argumentative essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of (a) an introductory paragraph (b) three evidentiary body paragraphs that may include discussion of opposing views and (c) a conclusion.
Longer argumentative essays
Complex issues and detailed research call for complex and detailed essays. Argumentative essays discussing a number of research sources or empirical research will most certainly be longer than five paragraphs. Authors may have to discuss the context surrounding the topic, sources of information and their credibility, as well as a number of different opinions on the issue before concluding the essay. Many of these factors will be determined by the assignment.