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How to structure a winning essay

How to structure a winning essay

A well-structured essay is a guaranteed way to get top marks and make the best of your research and ideas.

But too many students either fail to plan ahead or don’t understand what’s expected from their essay.  As a result, they often lose valuable marks by failing to structure their essays clearly and concisely

So how do you structure academic writing? What’s the best essay structure format? This article provides valuable tips to help you:

  • understand what an appropriate and effective essay structure looks like
  • put this knowledge into practice by following academic conventions
  • make wise decisions about your structure
  • organise your text logically

The fundamentals of essay structure

Every well-written essay has three main parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

To nail the structure of your essay, you need to give sufficient time, care, and thought to all three of them. Let’s discuss each part one by one.

How to write a good introduction

Key takeaways

  • Generally, a single paragraph or 10% of word count
  • Presents your topic
  • Provides background information and explanation of key terms
  • Gives an essay overview

Every paragraph and sentence of your essay matter. But there is something especially important about introductions. Like you’re going out on a first date, you want the introduction to be just about perfect. You want to start strong and impress your reader (and marker) as much as possible.

You might need to introduce and establish the background of your essay topic. Here you can paraphrase the essay title. Set out the aims of what you’re about to write. Explain what the essay seeks to achieve and summarise some of the main points you will make. To do this, use a phrase like the following:

“This essay will……….describe/analyse/discuss/evaluate etc.”

Generally, your introduction will be a single paragraph. However, an essay longer than 3,000 words or a dissertation will most likely need 2 to 3 introductory paragraphs.

Don’t elaborate on any of your key points. An entire paragraph will cover these in the body of your essay. Aim to give the marker a summary of your argument and demonstrate that your thinking is analytical and coherent.


You have been given this assignment:

How did the reform period in the Ottoman Empire affect the relationship between Islam and the state?

A solid introduction reads something like this:

The period between 1839 and 1876 is known as the Tanzimat (restructuring) period in the Ottoman Empire. It included a wide range of governmental reforms intended to centralise and modernise Ottoman rule and secure more tax revenues for the military defence of the Empire. In being the first movement towards secularism, the Tanzimat dramatically affected the relationship between Islam and the state. This essay seeks to illustrate that the Tanzimat era was a major westernisation project—albeit not a hugely successful one—that interrogated the authority of traditional Islamic law. The essay will first discuss the centralisation and secularisation of administration. It will then move to the assertion of the equality of Muslim and non-Muslim Ottoman subjects, and finally, acknowledge the limitations of the movement.

Note that this introduction:

  • ✔ It describes the broader topic of the essay
  • ✔ It explains key terms used (Tanzimat)
  • ✔ It tells you what the essay plans to do and in which order
The essay overview

The essay overview allows the reader to immediately understand what will be covered in the essay and in what order. It’s necessary to Introduce longer essays and optional for shorter ones.

To craft an essay overview, use phrases like:

This essay aims firstly to examine […]

Secondly, it addresses key […]

This essay aims firstly to examine […]

Finally, […] will be analysed in order to establish […]

I recommend you write it in the present tense. It sounds more vivid and authoritative.

How to write a good essay body

Key takeaways

  • 80% of word count split into paragraphs for each point
  • Outlines your main arguments and analysis
  • Presents evidence (e.g., quotes, references, data)
  • All paragraphs support your thesis statement

The second and longest part of your essay is the body. Typically, a short essay (think 1,200 words) will have at least three full paragraphs; an extended essay considerably more. Like your paper, paragraphs too have to follow a certain structure.

For many students, the trickiest part of structuring an essay is deciding how to organise information within the body.

It’s good to avoid long, overwhelming paragraphs (e.g., one-page long paragraphs). They are hard to read. From an aesthetic point of view, it’s in your favour to give your reader some white space rather than a long block of text. It will help them focus better and distinguish different sections.

Each paragraph broaches with one idea, one point. This way, you clearly show the examiner the structure of your argument. Also, each paragraph begins with a signpost sentence setting out the main point you’re exploring. Every couple of paragraphs it’s helpful to refer back to the essay topic or question in the signpost sentence. This way, you remind the marker of the relevance of your point.

NOTE: Signposting means guiding the reader through your essay with language that describes or hints at the structure of what follows.  It can help you clarify your structure for yourself as well as help your reader follow your ideas.

Here’s a signpost sentence example:

I will now discuss another way in which the Tanzimat reforms disputed Islamic (sharia) law: through the recognition of equal rights to all Ottoman subjects regardless of religion.

Further sentences in this paragraph will elaborate and support your point in greater detail and with specific examples. The paragraph should not contain Information that Is not immediately related to what Is outlined in the signpost sentence.

How to write a good conclusion

Key takeaways

  • Approximately 10% of word count
  • Ties together your main points
  • Restates your thesis statement
  • Shows why your argument matters
  • Ideally, leaves the reader with something to consider

A well-structured essay ends with a comprehensive conclusion. Like your introduction, your conclusion Is a single paragraph in shorter papers. In longer essays or dissertations, It might take two to three paragraphs.

A conclusion recapitulates the main points of your argument and reminds the reader of the significance of your argument or findings. Excellent conclusions connect the essay topic to broader issues or areas of study. If unsure how to show the wider implications of your essay, do not go into vague or erroneous statements. Restating your argument and its key points are good enough.

Do not introduce any new ideas in the conclusion. It may be useful to refer back to the title to show the market that you have understood and answered the question.

Here’s an example of a successful essay conclusion:

In exploring how the Tanzimat’s secularising agenda affected the relationship between Islam and the state, this essay indicated that the reforms increased the power of the state while authorising equality of all citizens—Muslim and non-Muslim—before the law. Despite the external and internal factors that overwhelmed the movement’s achievements, the Tanzimat should be seen as a remarkable effort to restructure the Ottoman state and separate it from Islam. Much of what the Tanzimat initiated would bear fruit under sultan Abdülhamit. And while Abdülhamit would neglect key aspects of the Tanzimat, like justice and political participation, these would be taken up again by a new generation trained in the Tanzimat’s academies and the 1908 constitutional revolution. Crucially, the achievements and shortcomings of the Tanzimat movement in many ways determined the emergence of modern Turkish republicanism.

Note how this conclusion:

  • ✔ Condenses the points analysed in the essay
  • ✔ Restates the key argument
  • ✔ Situates the argument and discussion in a larger context by linking the reform period of the Ottoman Empire with the emergence of Turkish republicanism.

How am I supposed to start?

OK, you know what a typical essay structure is, but you might still be confused about which Information to include in each part of your essay. There’s no right or wrong way to go about It. From my experience coaching dozens of students, I suggest that you

  1. Write out an essay plan. If you write down (in bullet points) which details or information each section will cover, you will save yourself time and effort.
  2. Use an essay template, which includes all three essay parts. This will make your life easier and help you avoid writing blocks.
  3. Do the body paragraphs first. Because each body paragraph addresses one main point, once you know your key points, these can be summarised in your introduction and conclusion. I suggest writing the introduction after the conclusion.

If you struggle to make words flow, are unsure about how well you’ve done, or want to score those extra marks, Nail Your Writing Is here to help. We can put together a robust essay plan, making writing more effortless. I can also help you Implement It and coach you throughout the writing process.

1390 782 Vicky


I work closely with you to achieve your educational and career ambitions, one word at a time. When I’m not writing or reading, I can be found swimming at the local swimming pool or going on backpacking trips with friends.

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