There is more than one way to structure an essay, just as there is more than one way to cook an egg; but if you’re in that exam hall, under pressure, with just half an hour to write your essay, then you’re going to want a sure fire reliable structure.
If I were you, I’d go for the classic five-paragraph essay.
The first paragraph goes as so:
- Hook – Get your reader interested in what you are talking about
- Topic – Outline just what your topic is
- Thesis Statement – Outline how you will be discussing this topic, and perhaps what you will cover
Here’s an example for an exam question about whether the voting age should be reduced to 16:
(1)We’re all young once, and all wanted to be heard; but should we be able to vote? (2)The question of giving 16 year olds the vote has returned, and this time it is being taken quite seriously. Would the effects of this amount to much more than politicians offering a few more youth groups or extending park opening hours, or would the effects be more serious? (3) I believe they would, and that these effects would not benefit the whole of society, and nor would it actually benefit teenagers.
So the hook (1) here is an appeal to the fact that everyone is young once, followed by a plain question for the readers to ponder. Hardly inspired, I know – but it does the job. The next few sentences(2) really introduce the topic, and explaining what the main points of controversy – a common sentence here is ‘Many people these days are discussing… while some think X, some think Y. The thesis statement (3) should show your readers what the essay will cover. This can be very explicit or more general. An explicit thesis statement would run ‘This would have profound implications for young people, for parents and for the whole political system [so I’m going to write a paragraph about each.]’ A more general thesis statement would say ‘This would have some profound implications for all of us’.
The second, third and fourth paragraphs form the detail of your argumant. Each paragraph should be focused on one general point, usually signposted in a topic sentence, and this point will be supported or developed in the rest of the paragraph. Here is an example:
It is easy to imagine how politicians would try to tempt younger voters. They could promise them free bus travel and cheap access to leisure facilities. As a teenager, I would find these things very gratifying…but part of me wonders whether I need them as much as older parts of society. I am a young, fit man – if I don’t have money for the bus, I can walk; if I can’t afford to go to the gym, I can jog. But these options are not open to older, weaker people. The money to give freebies to teenagers must come from somewhere. Is there not a danger it could come from funds that should be directed at the most vulnerable parts of our society?
The above paragraph is about how politicians may try to appeal to young people, and this is declared in the first sentence, the ‘topic sentence’. This idea is supported with two examples of how they will do this – bus travel and leisure facilities, and a discussion of whether they are necessary. The paragraph is not simply factual, just adding information and examples to its main point, but it develops a line of argument, querying the idea of the need for teenagers to receive the politicians’ freebies. The last sentence is a little different again, and could function as a ‘transition sentence’ to the next paragraph, which would deal with the idea of priorities in public spending – and perhaps go on to link the idea of voting with that of contribution to society.
In the second to last paragraph (usually the fourth) of the essay, you might choose to add here a counter-argument and refutation to deal with the opposite point of view. This shows that I’m aware of opposing arguments and able to analyse them – and not prone to one-sided argument or ‘straw-men’ . This paragraph might look something like this:
Some people would argue that 16 and 17 year olds are intellectually developed and mature enough to consider the issues that are being voted on, and they are often more passionate about politics than their elders. This is true to some extent, but not perhaps of all teenagers – many have little knowledge about politics. Extending the vote to teenagers would be bringing a lot of uninformed voters into the electorate. Those who are well-informed tend to be idealistic, and this is no doubt a good thing. But it could be argued that idealism is, for most people, a stage in a process of political awareness. Shouldn’t young people be given time to think carefully about their views before they are given the responsibility of a vote?
This brings you to your conclusion. You should restate your main ideas, and here you should be snappier and more forceful. These should lead you (and your reader) to your ‘conclusion’ – here we mean the conclusion in the sense of the final decision you have reached about the question.
Teenagers are not adults: it would be better to describe them as ‘adults-in-training’. It is great that many are interested in politics, and we should encourage that. But giving them the vote would not benefit them in any meaningful way, and it could have some pernicious effects on the political culture of the country. Let them live a little more and experience a little more before asking them to know their own minds.
Write a 5-part essay on the following question:
Many countries require young adults to participate in a year or more of military service. Should this country do the same?