Essay Writing Guide

Opening Paragraph

  • Hook: name the author(s) and title(s), and hint at the theme or topic of the essay
  • Thesis: a claim, in one sentence, that all your sections support
    • stated as if readers do not agree with you yet
  • Expanded Thesis: thesis + list your sections (give them titles)
  • Overview: list your sections (give them titles)
    • NB: if you have an expanded thesis, you do not need an overview
  • Background (optional): key definition or fact pertinent to all your sections;
    • put it here only if it doesn’t fit anywhere else)


Body Paragraphs (Sections)

  • Topic Sentence: first sentence of every paragraph states its main claim
  • Support: examples, illustrations, quotations, facts, statistics
    • quote whenever possible
    • paraphrase if you have no other option
    • always cite
  • Interpretation: explain how this evidence supports the topic sentence
  • Significance: explain how this evidence supports the thesis of the essay
  • Transition: explain how this paragraph/section leads to the next one

*  Repeat for as many paragraphs/sections as is necessary for your essay! *


Closing Paragraph

  • Review: summarize the paragraphs/sections of your essay
    • i.e., major pieces of evidence and arguments
  • Conclusion: rephrase the thesis as if readers now agree with you
  • Memorable Statement: say something witty or pithy, raise questions unaddressed in the essay, etc.



  • what you’re essay is arguing
    • the conclusion that you came to after analyzing the evidence
    • not how you came to your conclusion (that goes in the body paragraphs)
    • not a summary of the whole argument
    • don’t argue yet; state what your argument is going to be
  • a truth claim, an assertion
    • verb in the simple present tense: e.g., is, shows, demonstrates, etc.
    • not a hypothetical: e.g., would, could, might, may…
    • not subjective reasoning: e.g., I think, I believe, it seems to me, etc.
  • must be controversial, begs to be proved
    • cannot be obvious/well-known or a statement of fact
    • cannot be a generalization (a claim about a universal rule)
    • no generalizing terms (always, forever, all, etc.)
  • simple thesis: one clause, a single assertion (one thing that is true)
    • no evidence (examples, quotations) or argument (reasoning, logic)
  • expanded thesis: includes reasons why the thesis is true
    • an expanded thesis must reflect the outline of your essay