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How to write a structured essay

During your academic work, or even as part of your application, you will have to write essays on different topics. It is well to know that the generally accepted way of writing these essays demands compliance to a number of «academic writing» rules, mostly related to the structure of the essay. Some of these rules are outlined below.

Even when assigned, the topics on which the essay should be written are generally quite broad, allowing the narrowing of the topic. You should first do some research and try to get an idea about what has been written on the topic so far. Most often, your essay will build on, analyse or criticize one or more pieces of work, while building an own position.

In the introduction, you should clearly state the subject you are going to deal with, the narrowed topic, if any, and the position you are going to take. Specifying the position (thesis statement) is one of the most difficult parts of writing a structured essay. In the end, you should be able to state in one phrase what your thesis is. It should be narrow, specific and clear. You should not promise to analyse, review, interrogate or examine a problem, but to find and defend a specific side in the debate. As an example, a good thesis sounds like «I will argue that the differences in economic status between the countries in transition are the result of economic policy options made at the beginning of the transformation process», rather than «I wish to analyse the differences in the economic well-being of countries in transition». Version A takes a stand, defends it and by introducing a new idea, contributes to the debate, while version B merely points to some facts. The thesis statement is one of the few places in the essay where it is acceptable to use the first person writing, while most of the rest should be written in the third person. Announcing the organisation of the essay is what follows the thesis statement in the introduction. Depending on the size of the essay, you will develop a number of arguments to defend your thesis. It is advisable to enumerate those arguments in the paragraph following the thesis statement. « Three arguments defending the thesis will be presented. First, it will be pointed out that ... . The second argument developed will be that ... . Finally, it will be proved that ... »

The body of the essay should discuss the arguments you presented, preferably in the order that you have announced. Each chapter/paragraph starts in a well-written essay with a «topic sentence», restating the argument and the author's position to it. In case you use chapters, give them names that respect the structure and make the lecture easier. The discussion should follow the statement of each argument in a manner resembling the overall organisation of the essay: facts, ideas, and opinions of authorities in the field, as well as own reasoning should be brought in the discussion one by one. In the end, it should be examined whether the argument survived the debate or not, inside a conclusive sentence/paragraph.

Conclusions. When all the arguments have been presented and discussed, the essay closes the end, and you should be able to present the conclusions. If the essay has been well written and organised, the arguments have been proved and, together, they prove your thesis. You only have to show that, note the progress that has been made in the research of the examined subject, mention its possible implications.

A possible, but not mandatory section, usually met in academic papers on more important dimensions, is the limitations. Here you can note the limitations of your reasoning, assumptions held true, but which if proved wrong could invalidate your conclusions, aspects that have not been brought under scrutiny, possible conditions that could limit the impact of your conclusions, etc.

The specified size of the essay is, unless otherwise stated, under the +-10% rule. That is, the entire text should not be shorter or longer than the suggested size with more than 10% of that size. Ex: for a 3000 words essay, it is acceptable to write 2700-3300 words. Use the Word's Word Count function to see the size of your essay measured in words.

In some, very very rare cases, it is very difficult to reduce your position in the essay to a thesis. It is acceptable in such cases, for reasons of clarity, to replace the thesis with a research question, that should meet the same requirements, with the exception of the fact that the author postponed taking a stand until the end of the paper. We do not recommend such an approach; still, if it happens, make sure you directly address and answer the research question in the closing of your essay. The reason we support these strict rules that, we admit, make writing rather boring, is simply put, quantity. Think how many essays will read the examiner or university recruiter, essays that have to say more or less the same thing. You surely want under these conditions, in order to increase your chances, to make the lecturer’s mission as easy and pleasant as possible, don't you? This is why we recommend you to enforce those rules.

An academic essay necessarily contains a bibliography, where you quote all the sources used. Western universities tend to be very rigid with plagiarism rules. So quote every source you have used. In the body of the essay, avoid lengthy citation, use paraphrasing - saying with your own words what other guy said before. If you quote, make it clear, and give the source! In any case, referencing should be used only to start discussing an argument, never to end it.

In some essays, like those that you write when applying for an MBA, you have to answer question like « What would you do if you were the manager of a plant and why ?». In this situation, the rules explained above do not apply that rigidly. You should maintain a clear structure, but a bibliography is no longer necessary, since your answer will be more practical-oriented than theoretical.

Good luck with this one as well!



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