4:52 am - Sunday April 20, 2014

Academic Essays

Organization of academic essays varies greatly from culture-to-culture, and rarely are two ways the same.  Second language English students will often write their English essays using the same rhetorical organisation as their native tongue.  Unfortunately, when expressed in English this will sound strange or just disorganized when read by a native speaker.  It could also leave the reader with a negative impression of the writers intellect or linguistic ability.

In my sample essays, under the TOEFL/IELTS blog tag, I have tried to provide examples of how native speakers might approach TOEFL type topics under the time constraints offered by the exam (30 minutes).  Here, I will explain the basics of any essay, with a few simple “sign posts” that native speakers use to express rhetorical purpose.

Essays in English tend to reflect the way we think.  That is linearly.  This means that all essays should follow the simple SSS method.  This means: Say what you are going to say, Say it, then Say it again.  As a result, academic essays should have a minimum three paragraphs, as follows:

  1. Introduction (Say what you are going to say)
  2. Body (Say it)
  3. Conclusion (Say it again)

Each paragraph serves a different purpose, and as a rule, should be followed carefully if you want your essay to be easy to follow and be understood.  I like to use the analogy of a book when describing essay construction: The front and back covers are represented by the introduction and conclusion paragraphs, while the body paragraphs hold the main the content, or story contained in the pages of the book.

Introduction paragraphs

These paragraphs should contain the following ideas to help set the context for the reader:

  1. Background
  2. Detailed background
  3. Thesis
  4. Outline

These paragraphs provide background to the theme and introduce the writer’s way of thinking, and opinion, if it is an argument essay.  In the essay below, I have started with a general background statement followed by an example and, whereas this can be succeeded by an opinion, I have chosen to leave my opinion open at this stage.  At this stage, the thesis statement for the essay is set; “there are arguments both for and against students taking part-time jobs.”  The essay will discuss both sides of the argument, and it must not deviate (move away) from this topic, any sentences that are not related to the thesis must be re-written, edited out or simply erased.  They will confuse the reader and weaken the unity of the writing.

Body paragraphs

These paragraphs must follow the guidelines below:

  1. Topic
  2. Example
  3. Discussion
  4. Conclusion

Here, the writer is free to explore the topic, as he or she sees fit.  This is where you, as a writer, can be creative, and get to task, arguing for or against an idea, or proving or disproving opinions and events.  The only thing to remember are the topic sentence, clear examples and a clear conclusion.  As with the thesis statement in the introduction paragraph, the topic sentence sets the scene for the body, and all succeeding sentences must relate to it.  The expressions in bold clearly demonstrate the topic “First, let’s Look at my friend Kazuto,” the example “For example, on a work day he finishes college at four thirty…”  the discussion “However, he gets paid enough money to pay for his education…,” and the conclusion “It is obvious from this example that he needs to do both”.

Conclusions

  1.  Summary
  2. Re-statement of thesis
  3. Prediction/Recommendation

In this paragraph, it is important to re-state or paraphrases the main arguments presented in the body paragraphs.  This ensures that there is a sense of completion and closure, and the essay has gone full circle. In the example I have written, I have also included a recommendation which serves to leave the writer with an after thought or a way to relate the argument to future events.  Other final sentences might include a well-known quote or an expression that nicely defines what you have tried to say throughout the essay.  What ever you decide to write, try to make it memorable!

The following sample essay has four paragraphs, with two body paragraphs which help to explore two sides of the argument in question.  Here is the essay, in its entirety, with the rhetorical signposts marked in bold for ease of comprehension:

Question:  In some countries, teenagers have jobs while they are still students.  Do you think this is a good idea?  Support your opinion by using specific reasons and details.

Introduction Paragraph

1 It is common today, to see high school and university students working in part-time jobs, for example, convenience stores, super markets or in karaoke parlours.  2  This can be seen in big cities everyday from five o’clock in the evening to the early hours of the morning.  It is difficult to balance study and work, and 3 there are arguments both for and against students taking part-time jobs.  4 I will explore both sides of the debate in this essay.

Supporting Paragraph 1

1 First, let’s Look at my friend Kazuto.  He is second year student who works in a drug store three times a week.  2 For example, on a work day he finishes college at four thirty and works from six until ten o’clock in the evening and after work he is tired, so he cannot complete his homework or extra study that day, and his results and progress inevitably suffers.    3 However, he gets paid enough money to pay for his education; without his job he could not study. 4 It is obvious from this example that he needs to do both, that is to say, if he does not work, he cannot pay for his study and if he does not study he cannot get a good job in the future.  But, on the other hand, his grades are suffering due to long hours and little sleep before morning lectures or classes.

Supporting Paragraph 2

1 Second, let’s look at Masami.  She is a full time student who does not have a job.  2 On the one hand she can spend a lot of time studying after school, but on the other hand, she has little money for the important things in life, such as food, clothing and housing expenses.             3 While  she can give her full attention to the task of studying, she often finds herself distracted by the stress of day-to-day living, such as paying the rent and bills, having enough money for food and clothing.  This stress of paying for the essentials could in fact have an adverse affect on her studying, and as with Kazuto, in the first example, her grades are likely to suffer.  4 However, if she were to get a part-time job she may be able to ease these anxieties, and possibly improve her grades!

Conclusion

1 Following the analysis of the topic above, it is clear that there is a link between a student’s grades in college and their personal situations outside of college.  2 Yet, it is still difficult to decide whether students should take part-time jobs or not, because it is like a double edge sword.  Work will ensure you can pay the bills, but takes time away from the main purpose of  studying, while those without work become preoccupied with the stress of not having much money.  3 Thinking about all the evidence considered, it might be fair to say that working conditions for students should change to enable them to maintain a better work and study life-style.

 

Final Words

By following the above simple SSS idea, you should start to see an immediate improvement in your essay writing organization.  Like anything in life, it will take a lot of time, practice and patience to get to a level that you are completely happy with your writing ability.  But, even when you are happy, there will always be more that you can do to improve your prose.

Over the coming weeks and months I will add to this section with more examples of introductions, bodies and conclusions.  In the meantime, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.  ross@mbaenglihsonline.com

Good luck with your writing!

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