Basic Essay Format

I work at a community college, and helping students understand how to write a basic essay is top priority in an English composition course.   There are elements required in most basic essays.  They can vary from instructor to instructor, but for the most part, the items listed below are standard in most basic essays.

Topic – Your topic may be given by instructor, or you may be allowed to choose your own topic.  Narrow the topic so that it can be covered adequately depending on the length of your essay assignment.

Audience—Determine to whom you are addressing your argument and choose language appropriate to the audience. 

Purpose—Decide on your purpose for writing your essay—to inform, to entertain, to persuade. 

Introduction— Listed below are strategies to lead into your introduction:

  • Begin with a short anecdote or narrative.
  • Begin with an interesting fact or statistic.
  • Begin with a question or several questions that will be answered in the paper
  • Begin with relevant background material
  • Begin with a definition of a term that is important to your essay.  Avoid simple dictionary definitions.  Create an expanded definition that explains how the term applies to your topic and essay.
  • Do not begin with “I am going to tell you how…”  This is boring and a cliché lead-in sentence.

 Basic Introduction Format

  • The first sentence provides the necessary background information on the subject or topic of your essay.
  • Each succeeding sentence in the paragraph narrows the topic even further.
  • The last sentence of the introductory paragraph is the thesis of the essay–what will be proven in the essay.

Thesis Statement—The thesis statement is the main idea of the entire essay.  It states exactly what will be proven in the essay and lists the major points that will be discussed in the body of the essay.  It is the last sentence of the introductory paragraph.

Transition Words—These words or phrases are used to introduce each body paragraph.  They help the reader transition from one major point to the next.  They also help the reader transition from one paragraph to the next.

Topic Sentence—The topic sentence is the main idea of each paragraph.  It states broadly what will be discussed in the body of the paragraph.  The topic sentence relates directly to the thesis statement.

Major Details—The major details are the main points that will be discussed in each paragraph. 

Supporting Details—The supporting details further explain, support, or back up the main points in each paragraph in the form of examples, evidence, personal experiences, facts, figures, statistics, etc. 

Closing Statement– a sentence at the end of the paragraph, which summarizes the information that has been presented in the paragraph.

Conclusion—Strategies for writing effective conclusions:

  • Suggest specific actions that the reader should take in light of the information you’ve provided.  
  • Speculate about what your thesis implies for the future.  
  • Make a brief remark that sums up your feelings.
  • Offer a call to action to encourage your reader to do something about your topic.

Understanding how to organize a basic essay will help students write better essays in college or in any writing environment.


About Katrina Parker Williams

Katrina Parker Williams teaches English composition and grammar at a community college. She is a Barton College graduate with a B.S. in Communications and a Masters of Education in English from East Carolina University. She is also the author of a fictional novel titled Liquor House Music. Her works have appeared in Charlotte Viewpoint, Muscadine Lines, Usadeepsouth, and on the Wilson Community College website. Her writings have recently been published at The Saints’ Placenta and All Things Girl and is forthcoming in Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and Muscadine Lines.
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