Writing an Essay

An essay is a piece of writing several paragraphs long instead of just one or two paragraphs. It is written about one topic, just as a paragraph is. However, the topic of an essay is too complex to discuss in one paragraph. Therefore, you must divide the topic into several paragraphs, one for each major point. Then you must tie all the separate paragraphs together by adding an introduction and a conclusion.

An essay has three main parts:
1. An introductory paragraph
2. A body (at least one, but usually two or more paragraphs)
3. A concluding paragraph

The Introductory Paragraph
The introductory paragraph has four purposes:
1. It introduces the topic of the essay
2. It gives a general background of the topic.
3. It often indicates the overall “plan” of the essay.
4. It should arouse the reader’s interest in the topic.

The introductory paragraph consists of two parts:
1. a few general statements about your subject
2. a thesis statement

Introductory Paragraph

General statements

Thesis statement

General statements
introduce the topic of the essay
give background information on the topic

The first sentence in an introductory paragraph should be a very general comment about the subject. Its purpose is to attract the reader’s attention and to give background information on the topic. Each subsequent sentence should become more specific than the previous one and finally lead to the thesis statement.

The thesis statement states the main topic often lists the subdivisions of the topic or subtopics may indicate the method of organization of the entire paper is usually the last sentence in the introductory paragraph

The thesis statement is the most important sentence in the introduction. It states the specific topic and often lists the major subtopics that will be discussed in the body of the essay. Furthermore, it may indicate the method of organization such as chronological order or order of importance.

Here are some examples of thesis statements with no subtopics mentioned: Being the oldest son has more disadvantages than advantages. Young people in my culture have less freedom than young people in the United States. The large movement of people from rural to urban areas has major effects on cities.

In the following thesis statement, the subtopics are named:
The large movement of people from rural to urban areas has major effects on a city’s ability to provide housing, employment, and adequate sanitation services.

When listing two or more subtopics in a thesis statement, a colon (:) is often useful: Prejudice arises from three basic causes: childhood conditioning, ignorance, and fear.

Correlative conjunctions (both…and, not only…but also, neither…nor, either…or) are also useful in thesis statements listing two subtopics: Young people in my culture have less freedom than young people in the United States not only in their choice of lifestyle but also in their choice of careers. Puppies, like children, need both love and discipline to become responsible citizens.

To sum up, an introductory paragraph is like a funnel: very wide at the top, increasingly narrow in the middle, and very small at the neck or bottom.

Exercise 1
Read the following introductory paragraphs, each of which is in scrambled order. Rewrite each paragraph, beginning with the most general statement first. Then add each sentence in the correct order until the introduction becomes more specific. Write the thesis statement last.

Paragraph 1
(1) If done properly, a handshake gives the impression of strength and honesty, and if done improperly, it conveys weakness and dishonesty. (2) In some cultures, people bow, and in others, they shake hands. (3) In English-speaking countries, shaking hands is the custom. (4) A proper handshake has four ingredients: pressure, pumps, eye contact, and verbal message. (5)The way people greet each other when they meet for the first time varies from culture to culture. (6) How one shakes hands sends an important message about one’s character.

Paragraph 2
(1) However, in others, the nuclear family is the norm, with only the parents and young children sharing the same house. (2) People in different cultures all over the world have different systems of family life. (3) In most cultures, people live in extended families, in which several generations share the same house. (4) If this new system becomes widespread, it could have enormous effects on American society. (5) On the positive side, living together might reduce the divorce rate in the United States; on the negative side, it might lead to the eventual disintegration of the traditional family unit altogether. (6) In the United States, some couples are experimenting with yet another system of family life: living together without marriage.

Paragraph 3
(1) Although scientists have experimented with different methods of prediction, from observing animal behavior to measuring radio signals from quasars, no method has proven successful. (2) Earthquakes are the most destructive natural disasters known to humans, in terms of the millions of deaths and billions of dollars in property loss that they cause. (3) Despite these heavy losses, scientists are still unable to predict earthquakes. (4) This paper will review the history of the science of earthquake prediction, then discuss each of the prediction methods in more detail, and finally present data indicating the success-failure ratios of each method.

Exercise 2
Study these thesis statements from two different essays on the topic of the status of women in Xanadu, an imaginary country. Which method of organization (chronological order or comparison and contrast) does each one indicate?

1. Beginning in World War II and continuing through to the period of economic boom, the status of women in Xanadu has changed remarkably.

Method of organization:__________________________________________

2. Although the status of women in Xanadu has improved remarkably in recent years, it is still very low when compared to the status of women in the countries of the industrialized world.

Method of organization:__________________________________________

Exercise 3
In each of the following two thesis statements, both the method of organization and the major subdivisions of the topic are indicated. Each subdivision will itself become the topic of a separate paragraph in the body of the essay. How many paragraphs will the body of each essay probably
contain? Underline the topics of each paragraph.

1. The status of women in Xanadu has changed remarkably in recent years due to increased educational opportunities and changes in the country’s laws.

Probable number of paragraphs:__________

2. The status of women in Xanadu has improved remarkably in recent years in the areas of economic independence, political rights, educational opportunities, and social status.

Probable number of paragraphs:__________

Exercise 4
Locate the main topic and subtopics in each of the following thesis statements. Underline the subtopics. Draw a circle around the words or punctuation marks that are used to introduce the subtopics.

Capital punishment should be abolished not only because it deprives another person of life but also because it does not stop crime.

1. Women generally live longer than men for two main reasons: they tend to take better care of their health, and they have better resistance to stress. 2. Drug and alcohol abuse among teenagers can be traced to the following causes: lack or parental supervision, lax enforcement of drug laws, and the social and psychological problems of teenagers themselves. 3. In choosing a major, a student has to consider various factors, such as personal interest, job opportunities, and the availability of training institutions. 4. An architect should be both an artist and an engineer.

The Concluding Paragraph
The final paragraph in an essay is the conclusion, which tells the reader that you have completed an essay. First, you write a summary of the main points discussed in the body of the essay or rewrite the thesis statement in different words. Then you add your final comments on the subject – food for thought. Take this opportunity to make a strong, effective message that the reader will remember.

The concluding paragraph consists of:
1. A summary of the main points, or a restatement of your thesis in different words 2. Your final comment on the subject, based on the information you have provided.

Turn back to page 1 and reread the model introductory paragraph. Then study the following concluding paragraph for the same essay. Is the concluding paragraph a summary of the main points of the essay, or is it a paraphrase of the thesis statement? Is there a final message for the reader?

Concluding Paragraph

The concluding paragraph then is an inversion of the introduction. It begins with the points you have already raised or a restatement of your thesis statement and then broadens out to more general information.

The Essay Body
The body of the essay consists of one or more paragraphs. Each paragraph develops a subdivision of the topic, so the number of paragraphs in the body will vary with the number of subdivisions or subtopics. The body is the longest part of the essay and can contain as many paragraphs as necessary to support the controlling ideas of your thesis statement. You can organize the paragraphs in an essay by chronological order, logical order, comparison and contrast, etc.

Planning the body of your essay is essential. The best way to do this is to make an outline. While the outline is generally for your own reference, you may be required during the course of your academic writing career to produce a formal outline. The number system for a formal outline is illustrated in the model that follows.

Notice that subtopics that form the body of the essay are indented to the right. As you move to the right, the ideas become more and more specific.

Study the following model outline for an essay on modern technology. In this outline, the introduction contains only the thesis statement, and the conclusion is abbreviated. The body of the essay, however, is developed in detail.

Essay Outline

Transition Signals between Paragraphs
Transition signals are important between paragraphs. If you write two or more paragraphs, you need to show the relationship between your first and second paragraph, between your second and third paragraph, and so on. The transition signal may be a single word, a phrase, or a dependent clause that repeats or summarizes the main idea in the previous paragraph(s).

Paragraph Transitions

Introductory paragraph

Body paragraph 1

Body paragraph 2

Body paragraph 3

Body paragraph 4

Concluding paragraph

Exercise 5
Connect the ideas in the following paragraphs by adding a transition word, phrase, or clause to the topic sentences of the third, fourth and fifth paragraphs. Try to vary the linking expressions that you use. You may rewrite the topic sentences if necessary.

Icebergs – A Potential Source of Water
The supply of fresh water has not been a major problem for most countries in the world because a rainy season is part of their yearly climatic conditions. However, in countries where the rainfall is very sparse, scientists must constantly seek ways to increase supplies of this precious element. Government planners in South America and the Middle East have been trying to devise new ways of increasing their nations’ supplies of fresh water. The first method being considered is the use of desalinization plants, which would remove salt from sea water. Another method being considered is the towing of icebergs. According to this method, large icebergs from Antarctica would be wrapped in cloth or plastic, tied to powerful tugboats by strong ropes, and towed to the countries needing fresh water. While this plan may have some potential, there are certain practical problems that must be solved.

The first problem______________________________________ is the expense. According to estimates, it would cost between $50 and $100 million to tow a single 100-million-ton iceberg from Antarctica to, for example, the coast of Saudi Arabia.

________________________________________________________ is the possibility that the iceberg would melt en route. No one knows if an iceberg could be effectively insulated during such a long journey. At the very least, there is the possibility that it would break up into smaller pieces, which would create still other problems.

_______________________________________________________ there is the danger that a huge block of ice floating off an arid coast could have unexpected environmental effects. The ice could drastically change the weather along the coast, and it would probably affect the fish population.

_______________________________________________________ the cost of providing fresh water from icebergs would be less than the cost of providing water by desalinization, according to most estimates. It would cost between 50¢ and 60¢ per cubic meter to get water from an iceberg, as opposed to the 80¢ per cubic meter it costs to get the same amount by desalinization.

In conclusion, before icebergs can become a source of fresh water in the future, problems involving cost, overall practicality, and most importantly, environmental impact must be solved.

Exercise 6
Add transition words, phrases or clauses to the topic sentences in the paragraphs in this essay. Rewrite the topic sentences if necessary.

Medicine and Ethics
Recent advances in the fields of medicine and biotechnology have brought about situations that could scarcely be imagined only a generation ago. Battery-operated plastic hearts can be implanted into people. People can be kept alive indefinitely by machines. Exact duplicates of animals can be made. While such scientific achievements may ultimately benefit humankind, they have also created complex legal and ethical issues.

__________________________________________________________ involves doctors’ abilities to intervene in human reproduction. A well-known example is the case of Baby M. A man paid a woman to bear a child for him and his wife, who could not have children. They signed a contract, but after the baby was born, the woman wanted to keep the baby. The father said the baby was his, but the woman said it was hers. It took the courts many months to decide who was right.

_________________________________________________________________, another ethical dilemma has arisen because doctors are now able to keep people who are in comas alive for years by attaching their bodies to machines. This gives great power and great responsibility to the people who control the machines. How does a person decide whether another person whose heart cannot beat on its own and whose lungs are pumped by a machine is still alive or not? As a result of this power, society has had to develop a new definition of death.

____________________________________________________________ is the ability to transplant organs from one person to another. Doctors are now able to transplant hearts, lungs, livers, and kidneys from one human to another. Should doctors also be allowed to transplant organs from animals to humans? Such an operation was actually performed in 1987, when doctors transplanted a baboon’s heart into a dying human baby. The ethics of this experiment is still being debated.

_____________________________________________________________, the ability of biotechnologists to produce new forms of life in their laboratories is another area with profound ethical consequences. Isn’t a scientist who creates, for example, a new bacterium “playing God”? Furthermore, is it even safe to introduce new life forms into earth’s atmosphere? Is there a risk that such life forms could get out of control? Some people fear so.

_________________________________________________________________, scientists are now able to duplicate living organisms, cell by cell, through a process called cloning. Recently, the world was stunned by the successful cloning of an adult sheep. How long will it be before biotechnologists can clone people? Should they be allowed to? Who should control this?

_______________________________________________________ revolutions – political or technological – cause upheaval and force change. Our new ability to create and prolong life is raising questions and forcing changes in our very concept of life, an issue involving not only legal but also profound moral considerations.