Tip 2: Structuring Work
Structuring your work is about how you put it together. It’s about expressing yourself clearly and making sense of the information you have gathered throughout your studies. It’s also an opportunity to clearly show what you have learned. Writing is a process that can sometimes help you to think about a topic in a new way. By putting ideas together on paper and making links between them you can often learn something new. Here we will give you some tips on how to structure an essay or piece of writing.
You can use brainstorming and mind-mapping to start to plan your essay. Aim for about one A4 sheet of paper to start you off. Creating a page of notes should help you decide what you want to include, what to leave out and how to order your work. It might also help you to identify the gaps in your own knowledge and understanding of the topic of the essay. If you do find that there are gaps then refer back to your notes, do some further research or – if you’re stuck – speak to your lecturer during a tutorial.
Your writing will be split into three parts:
1. The introduction
2. The main body
3. The conclusion
Depending on the length of the writing you should make a number of key points in the main body of the essay in response to the instructions you have been given for the task. In a shorter piece of writing you might make one or two key points, whereas in a longer one might you include more.
- Your introduction should tell your reader what your key points are going to be and give an overview of the information you will be covering within the essay.
- Your main body will include all the key points, with supporting evidence and a full explanation of each point.
- Your conclusion should draw together the strands you have introduced throughout the essay and try to make sense of them.
Your introduction shouldn’t be too long. About 10% of the total word count is a good rule-of-thumb.
Your introduction is about saying what you’re going to say. It will:
- Outline the key points you’ll be making in the main body;
- Introduce key ideas, concepts, thinkers and literature;
- Say how you’re responding to the instructions in the task.
A good introduction should:
- Provide some relevant background about the topic;
- Include definitions of key terms or phrases;
- Highlighting the importance of the key points you are making in the main body.
After you’ve finished your main body and conclusion you will be much clearer about what your starting point is. You will know what your key points are, and what key ideas, concepts, thinkers and literature you have used.
It’s often much easier to approach the introduction this way. Although you may have set out with the intention of writing something in particular, often the focus or the points you’ve made will change during the writing process. Doing your introduction last means you can reflect what you’ve actually put into your main body.
In your main body you will create a series of paragraphs, with one key point in each paragraph.
It might be helpful to use the PEE model when thinking about putting together paragraphs:
‘PEE’ for paragraphs
P – Point
Include a sentence outlining what the point is that you’re making. It’s a good idea to start the paragraph with this sentence. However, it could come at the end, after your explanation and evidence.
E – Evidence
To underpin your point you will need to include evidence that supports what you are saying. What literature have you read that echoes your point? What will add credibility? How does your point link to the existing body of knowledge (the current ideas, concepts, thinking and literature)?
E – Explain/Examples
Linking together your point and the evidence, you should take your reader through your thinking. A useful thing to do here is to include an example or examples to illustrate the point you are making and how the example/s link to the point and the evidence you have included.
A good idea is to keep track of the key points you’ve made. If you can create a series of bullet-points summarising each key point – one for each paragraph – then it will allow you clearly see the points you have made and whether you have missed something important.
Having a list of the key points you have made will also help you to write the conclusion and the introduction.
Don’t forget about your conclusion. It is often overlooked by students. It is not simply a point at which to say: ‘The End’.
Your reader will arrive at the conclusion with an expectation that you will be putting forward something to summarise or bring together everything in the main body: all the key points you have introduced, all the evidence and the explanations and examples you have written about.
Although it may be a relatively small part of the writing – around 10% – it can make the difference between a very good essay and a really great one. It is an opportunity to:
- Summarise the content you have included. It should provide a brief re-cap of the key points;
- Outline the learning or new understanding you have gained through the writing;
- Introduce key questions that are raised as a result of the piece of writing.
Note: Studying for a degree is a process of learning and writing is a way of expressing that learning. When you come to the end of a piece of writing you may be more confused or conflicted than when you began. As you investigate a topic you may become more and more aware of conflicting ideas and concepts and how they link – or don’t link – together. These points are really interesting and can be expressed in your conclusion.
Your conclusion should:
- Recap your key points and anything that stands out within the main body;
- Follow logically from the body of your essay – it should aim to ‘tie-up’ the key strands that you have introduced in the main body;
Give a brief account of the learning or new understanding that you have gained during the writing, including the conflicts and questions that remain.