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Essay Organization | Developing a Thesis  

Essay Writing  

What is an essay?

An essay is a focused piece of writing about a single topic. An essay is more than just a collection of information; an essay presents your views—your argument—about a topic and provides support for your argument. 

This general principle of argument and support applies whether you are arguing for a total ban on cigarette smoking, illustrating the differences between Victoria and Vancouver, or arguing about the importance of maintaining culture and heritage.  An essay will contain your views because you choose the information you want to include, but it is not simply an expression of your personal opinions.  Your arguments must be backed up—supported or explained in some way. 

The basic approach to essay writing according to Sheridan Baker is to "Make your point and back it up."  You make your point in your thesis statement and in your body paragraphs you provide evidence for your point of view.

An essay is a way of thinking about a topic that is different than simply talking about it. 

Essay writing requires that you organize and express your thoughts clearly.  The same models of development that you used for writing paragraphs—classification, cause and effect, etc.—can be used for writing essays.  

Essay Organization

At the most basic level, an essay has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  These serve different purposes and should be distinct sections.  A more formal model of essay organization follows.

Essay Organization: Parts of an Essay


Parts of the Essay  

Each Part

Should Include:  

Purpose of Each Part  

Introductory Paragraph  

  • Lead in sentence  or sentences

  • Thesis statement  


  • Introduce your topic

  • Capture the reader's interest

  • State your thesis—the main point you want to make about your topic

  • Set the tone  


Body Paragraphs 

1, 2,3, or more 


  • Two or more supporting paragraphs

  • Topic sentences for each paragraph— each paragraph should focus on a distinct point

  • Paragraphs provide evidence to support the thesis statement

  • Transitions for continuity between ideas and between paragraphs  

  • Provide evidence to support and/or to explain your thesis statement

  • Include examples, facts, descriptions, statistics, etc.— whatever helps support your thesis  





  • A reference to the thesis statement but not an exact restatement

  • A summary statement, question, suggestion, etc., to wrap up the essay  

  • Leave your reader with a clear impression of the main idea of your essay  



Sample Student Essay: Process


Parts of the Essay  

Sample Essay  


  • Provides a hint about the content.  Catches the reader's interest  


High Style, Low Budget  

Introductory paragraph  



The writer uses questions to attract the reader's interest. Establishes a light, playful tone.

Transition to thesis.

Thesis statement  


     Are you a student or a perennially starving artist?  Do you feel you have more style in your little finger than most people have in their entire being, but just not enough cash?  Living on a tight budget doesn't have to mean living like a pauper.  With a little bit of creative ingenuity, any financially challenged young person can transform three major aspects of his or her meager existence—housing, clothing, and food— into an enviable lifestyle.  

First Supporting Paragraph  


Topic sentence  



Supporting points  


     As trite as it sounds, the number on thing you can do to improve the space you call home is something your mother told you: "Clean your room!"  Admittedly, many of us are card carrying members of the Bourgeois Failure club and resist cleaning our rooms or going to bed at a decent hour just on principle.  But there is certainly something to be said for finding that term paper or sketchpad exactly when you need it. On a more exciting note, decorating your space, whether it is a room or a whole house can be an inexpensive and satisfying creative endeavour. Enlist your friends; organize a house painting party and offer to help paint their place next time. Frequent thrift stores and develop an eye for discarded treasures that would make one-of-a-kind furniture.  You can reveal your artistic side by recycling everything from old fabric to driftwood to create a unique space you can truly call your own.  And don't forget lighting.  An armful of candles from the dollar store will transform any room into a cozy, magical place.  


Second Supporting Paragraph  


Topic sentence  





Supporting sentences  





      Happily, it doesn't have to cost a fortune to dress stylishly.  Thanks to the current passion for retro and vintage clothing, (and mainstream culture's surprising embrace of the "new individuality) anyone can put some creative skills to work and look like a fashionista without breaking the bank.  There are at least three avenues to go to get panache for pennies.  First, there's the consignment store/thrift shop route.  The secret is to go often, and know what you are looking for.  It helps to have a look in mind and to familiarize yourself with the components of that look.  Then, there is the all black wardrobe.  The trick here is that any a few good pieces are needed and these can be mixed or matched easily without an additional outlay of cash for more colors or passing trends.  Finally, and probably the most fun, is organizing a clothes swapping party.  Gather together a few good friends, a bottle of wine, and any items that you haven't worn in the last six months to trade in for something new and exciting.  


Third Supporting Paragraph  


Topic sentence




Supporting sentences  


 Once you've upgraded your housing and your wardrobe, it's time to focus on food. It's one of the biggest budget items, but there's no reason anyone should have to subsist on a diet of Kraft Dinner now matter how strapped for cash.  The most helpful thing you can do is to start off with a shopping list and buy staple that have a long shelf life and can be used in a variety of meals.  It's also worth investigating the world of ethnic cooking both as a source for economical nutritious meals and for the variety of tastes and textures to discover.  Finally, there is the ubiquitous potluck.  The potluck dinner has saved many an impoverished young person from culinary boredom or near starvation.  


Concluding Paragraph  


Brings the essay to a close by summarizing or acknowledging the points made in the body of the essay  



Living well is a state of mind; it depends more on using one's imagination than on the amount of money one has.  It's actually more of a challenge and more personally satisfying to think up alternative way to solve life's problems.  Living in style on a tight budget forces you to be creative, and you develop all sorts of new skills in the process. Becoming a gourmet ethnic cook, making your own funky furniture and acquiring a knack for choosing timeless good quality clothing are but a few effects.  These skills will last a lifetime and may come in handy later when money is (hopefully) not so much of a concern.  



Developing a Thesis

A thesis is a clear statement of the main point you are making in your essay; it is more than just a simple statement of fact.  To say many people are stressed out these days is simply a statement of fact.  Your reader expects to learn more.  Why are people stressed out?  What is the effect of stress on people's lives? 

A thesis statement will not only state the topic, but it will offer a point of view or an opinion about the topic. A better thesis statement would be: Stress is having a serious impact on people's social, personal and work lives.  In this example, you can see that the thesis statement also plays a role in determining the overall structure of your essay. It can provide a preview of your essay. 

You are preparing the reader—and yourself—for an essay that deals the effects of stress on three clearly defined areas of people's lives.  

An essay without a clear thesis will feel flat and unconvincing no matter how much evidence you present.  Essayist Sheridan Baker suggests that an essay without a thesis is simply a "tour of the miscellaneous".  Your reader will quickly become bored and uncertain of the point you are trying to make.  You must invite and interest your reader and your starting point should be a clear thesis. Your writing will be stronger and more clearly focused if you recognize that the core of your essay is an argument in support of some idea.

You should be able to state the thesis of your essay readily to someone who asks what your essay is about.  If you know what your essay is about—the main idea you are trying to get across—then your essay has a better chance of staying on track.  It is more useful to say that your essay is about arguments against capital punishment than simply to say it is about capital punishment.

If you are writing an essay about cars, it is not enough to say "Cities today are filled with cars".  Everyone knows this.  A more provocative thesis statement might be "Our obsession with cars is ruining the quality of life in our cities".  Then you certainly have the attention of all those car lovers and you've laid out the basis for a clear and stimulating argument.  

You could go one step further and outline the specific points you are going to make in your supporting paragraphs. For example: Our obsession with cars is making us lazy, contributing to the destruction of the environment, and destroying the character of our cities.

Note that Narrative and Process essays do not generally follow a three-point pattern. A narrative relates a sequence of events, while a process relates a series of steps.  

Sample Introductory Paragraph

In this sample first paragraph the thesis statement is in bold.

North Americans have long been obsessed with their cars.  For many car owners, cars are expression of their identity.  The owner of a sleek red sports car is trying to tell the world that he or she is young and exciting, and likes to live life in the fast lane.  There is no doubt that cars are both fun and a great convenience.  However, our love affair with the automobile has had a serious effect on the quality of life in our cities. Our obsession with cars is making us lazy, contributing to the destruction of the environment, and is destroying the character of our cities.

Developing a thesis statement from a topic

The examples below show how general topics have been formed into clear thesis statements.  

1.    Topic: Japanese cars and American cars

Thesis statement: Because of their reliability, styling, and high resale value, many buyers are choosing Japanese cars over American cars. (division)

2.    Topic: Technology and modern life

Thesis statement: In many ways technology has made our lives worse rather than better. (persuasive)

3.    Topic: Parenting styles.

Thesis statement: Parents can be grouped according to the parenting styles they practice: the strict, the liberal, and the hands-off. (classification)

Sample Student Essay: Cause and Effect

The Causes of Small Business Failure

Small businesses are a huge part of the Canadian economy.  Some small businesses are quite successful, while others cannot even get off the ground or fail shortly after they have started.  There are many reasons why businesses fail. The cause for small business failure can be found with employees, products, management, location, and even the owner.  These all play a major role in the success of a small business, and if any one factor is overlooked, it can spell disaster for the business.

Employees are the forefront of any small business.  They give primary attention to the customers in the store, while properly managing the products by organizing and displaying the merchandise. They provide the appropriate information about the store's services and products insuring that sales are made to produce revenue. With all that responsibility falling on employee's shoulders, it is essential that they do a good job.  If employees are bitter or unhappy with their job, employer, or working conditions, they may revolt by providing poor customer service, or by being just downright rude to potential customers. These offended customers will tell others of their bad experience to ensure that they don't shop there. Poor employee performance and behaviour will push away customers who will spend their money elsewhere.

In order for small businesses to do well, they need to have a variety of products to choose from. Small businesses need to take a niche in the market they want to tap so they can compete with the big chain stores.  When managers or owners become too aggressive and try to compete on a larger scale, they spread themselves too thin, sometimes buying products that are not needed or that their clientele doesn't want.  Having too much stock or inventory is essentially money that is ties up in products that can't be sold or that have to be sold at a discount.  Those products become lost revenue for the business, putting owners in a tight money situation and making it difficult to buy newer and better products.  Overstocked stores lose their appeal by being too crowded, which makes shopping difficult and causes customers to become bored looking at the same old items.

Business owners rely on themselves and their mangers to communicate with their employees.  This communication is vital. It lets the owner know what is happening on the sales floor. A good manger ensures that the worker's needs, wants, and demands are recognized and an communicated to the owner, and not overlooked.  They can then work together to improve sales performance and customer service.  Poor mangers may make employees feel that their ideas are not being heard, and that they are not able to get their ideas across to the owner.  Furthermore, a poorly managed store may have high employee turnover as a result of mismanagement.  Employee turnover can effect sales because customers may have become accustomed to specific sales people and don't want to deal with new or inexperienced employees. 

Another key element in small business success is location.  The store must be easily accessible to its patrons.  Good location alone can create awareness of the sore and help promote business.  Even though many prime locations can cost a fortune to lease or rent they may be worth it. A good location alone can make or break a small business.  Sometimes new stores try to save on rent and end up in out of the way locations that have no walk by traffic. Good location is especially important if the business relies on impulse buyers or sells non-specialty products that customers can find elsewhere.

The final ingredient in small business success is the owner.  Owners have to have their wits about them.  A good business plan can help the owner make key decisions. Owners need to be very attentive to the market they are involved in and be willing to make changes to give themselves a competitive edge.  An owner who is unwilling or unable to make changes and respond to demands from employees and the marketplace will fail, thus losing his or her dreams and investment.

For some, being the owner of a small business can be a dream come true, but for others it can become a nightmare if managed poorly. There are many ways to succeed at running a small business, but there are just as many ways, if not more, to fail. In spite of the challenges, those businesses that maintain a high quality of employees and products, hire effective mangers, are in good locations, and have responsive owners stand a good chance of becoming successful.  

Sample Student Essay: Classification

Garage Sales and the People Who Run Them

As the sunny days of summer draw nearer and the temperature rises, like flowers, garage sales begin to pop up in front yards across the city.  If you go for a walk or for a drive on a sunny weekend, you will certainly come across one or more garage sales.  Colourful balloons and handwritten signs attract bargain hunters.  Whenever I pass a garage sale, I always stop and check things out.  Eventually, I have come to realize that there are several kinds of garage sales.  Generally garage sales and the people who hold them can be divided into four groups: the let's-have-fun garage sale, the wanna-make-money garage sale, the semi-professional garage sale, and the everything-must-go garage sale.

The first type is the let's have fun garage sale.  Cheerful and energetic housewives usually operate this kind of sale.  Their purpose for having the sale is to have fun.  Like little girls who pretend to be shop owners, they enjoy playing salespeople at their own garage sales.  If you ask the price of one of their items, they often begin to tell you a history of the item of family memories associated with the item instead of the price.  Basically, they are generous and respond to your offer politely, for having fun is the most important thing for them. They are likely to say, "Take it, it's a garage sale!"  After the sale, they usually give unsold items to a charitable organization.

The second kind of garage sale is the wanna-make-money garage sale. The purpose for this garage sale is strictly to make money.  People who have this kind of sale are not so smiley or friendly and give you sharp looks.  The prices of their items are usually higher than at other garage sales.  Some of the prices are ridiculously high for secondhand goods.  You may get a sense of greed from these people.  They won't give in while negotiating a price with you, and in most cases, will refuse your offer.  Even if they end up not selling much of their stuff, they are not easily discouraged. They will continue to hold garage sales until they sell all of their pricey items.

A more sophisticated type of garage sale is the semi-professional garage sale.  This kind of sale is similar to a trading business.  One of my neighbours holds this kind of sale.  He goes to other people's garage sales and buys things at low prices and then sells them at his garage sale at a profit.  He goes all over the place and collects saleable items, and then adds a few dollars on each price.  For people like him, garage sales are like a second job.  The proprietors of these sales are usually friendly and know how to talk to their customers like good salesmen. They know the prices and value of items and they can convince people that something is a good deal.  Occasionally, they will sell you something at a give-away price when they sense it's time to get rid of old stock. 

Finally, there is the everything-must-go sale.  Mostly, people who are moving out of town hold this kind of sale.  Everything in this case means everything.  In extreme cases, even their dogs are for sale.  These people usually don't close their sales after one day. The sale continues until they leave town. At the beginning, they are concerned with making money, but as their departure date draws closer, they drop their prices.  It's important to have a nice chat with these people to find out when they are leaving.  In the end, they will be desperate to dispose of their items and will give you a really good price. 

Besides finding good deals at garage sales, observing the operating styles of the people who run them is entertaining. Garage sales reveal a part of their owners' lifestyles and tastes, and the style of the sale shows what kind of people they are.  Analyzing the styles of garage sales and the people who hold them is for me a fascinating way to observe human behaviour.  

Sample Student Essay: Compare and Contrast

Skateboards: Professional Versus Generic Equipment  

The sport of skateboarding is bigger than ever.  Its popularity has grown so rapidly that the demand for products has opened up a huge opportunity for anyone who wants to make skateboarding equipment.  Unfortunately, this demand for skateboarding equipment has resulted in an influx of cheap and inferior products which compete with professional equipment in the retail market.  Although inexpensive gear has put more kids on skateboards, it's giving them products that are substantially inferior in design, quality and performance to professional gear. The design and quality of the decks, trucks and wheels is being overlooked in the production of the cheaper equipment. 

Skateboard decks can vary greatly in quality.  Professional skateboard decks are made from the highest quality laminated maple wood and the lightest and strongest glues available.  This combination of wood and glue results in a deck that is strong, lightweight, and has ample amounts of life or "pop".  Generic decks are made from plywood, which has no real strength and wears out more rapidly than the maple on professional decks.  The deck's strength, life, and shape gives the skater an advantage in learning new tricks.  Cheaper decks have very plain shapes and don't offer the same feel as a pro deck. Pro decks offer skaters a variety of shapes, concaves, widths, and lengths, giving skaters a more personalized piece of  equipment for their style of skating.  Even the griptape on generic decks is of a lesser quality, offering for less traction than the grip on a pro board.

As for the variety of professional and generic trucks on the market, there are also drastic differences in quality. The trucks are the component of the board to which the wheels attach.  They let the skater turn the deck. Metal trucks have a true pivot point and flexible bushings that give skaters the ability to turn smoothly while they set up for their maneuvers.  Pro trucks turn substantially better than cheap ones.  Pro quality trucks off the skater more selection, higher quality metals, and cleaner cast mold designs.  Trucks offered on cheaper boards are usually made from low grade metal or plastic that breaks easily even when used to perform basic skateboarding tricks like the grind.   The price of a set of pro trucks is 20 to 30 dollars higher than generic ones, but the advantages and durability justify the cost.

Finally, skaters should not overlook wheels in the purchase of a complete skateboard.  Wheels are as important as decks and trucks. Skaters should examine their options carefully. A good set of wheels allows the board to run smoothly on all sorts of terrain.  There are drastic differences in the construction quality and materials used in the wheels of pro quality and generic boards.  Good wheels are made of urethane, while the majority of blank wheels on cheap boards are made of plastic.  There are many different grades of urethane which vary in durability, but all will outlast plastic.  Plastic wheels start to disintegrate and lose bits over time, giving the skater a bumpy ride.  Unlike plastic wheels, professional ones come in a large variety of widths and diameters. Pro wheels also offer different levels of hardness which can really make a difference to a seasoned skater.

Now that skateboarding is so popular, there is a considerable stream of new products onto the market.  With such a variety of equipment, it can be tough for someone to make an informed decision when buying a skateboard.  The sheer quality of professional equipment really makes a difference even for skaters who are just learning the basics.  Undoubtedly, pro gear has advantages over cheaper skateboarding equipment because the people designing and developing this gear are skaters who make great products because they love the sport and care about its progression.  

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