Although essays have different topics and purposes, they all share a similar structure. When we refer to essay structure, we mean the way the essay looks on the page and the specific paragraphs used to create that look.

If you look at an essay, you will see that it is made up of several paragraphs. It is easy to tell where a new paragraph begins because they are indented. In Word, we create an indentation by pressing the “Tab” button. In APA, the indentation should be 0.5”, which is the default in MS Word. If your indentation looks too large or small, it can be helpful to check this default.

The paragraphs that make up any essay fall into three categories: introduction, body, and conclusion.

The introduction is the first paragraph of an essay. Its purpose is to introduce a reader to the topic of the essay and to present the specific point of the essay. In long assignments, the introduction may end up being more than one paragraph in length, but for most of your academic course work the introduction will be one paragraph long.

Even discussion posts and shorter assignments benefit from having an introductory paragraph. Your reader needs this background information no matter the length of the final essay.

Body paragraphs are what make up most of the essay. An essay may have three body paragraphs or may have ten. The number of body paragraphs depends on the purpose and required length of each assignment.

All body paragraphs, however, do have a few things in common:

  1. Each body paragraph focuses on one main idea. Paragraphs can be seen as pieces of the overall essay. Each piece is one part of the larger work.
  2. Each body paragraph is organized in a logical way. If you are writing a paper about a historical event, it makes sense to have each paragraph appear in chronological order. If you are writing a plan to improve a law, it makes sense to have paragraphs appear in the order of steps one would have to take.
  3. Each body paragraph connects to the thesis, or main idea/topic, of the essay. It is important that all body paragraphs work to develop the main idea of the essay and that none of them go off topic.

The conclusion is the last paragraph of the assignment. This is the place where you end the essay by wrapping up the ideas of the essay and finishing with a final point. Just like with introductions, even short assignments and discussion posts benefit from having a conclusion at the end.