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Essay Organization

While every essay is unique, there are a few basic rules-of-thumb to keep in mind as you are organizing your information in preparation for writing an essay.

You paper should always be thesis-driven, and so each paragraph and component of your paper should relate or refer to your thesis in some meaningful way.

For research papers, which include outside materials, it is always a good idea to prepare an outline before beginning to write .


Here is an abbreviated sample outline that will show you the basics of how to put together an effective research outline:

  1. Introduction paragraph-background/basics about the topic
    • Who
    • What
    • When
    • Where
    • Why
  2. ***The information in the introduction should logically lead up to your thesis.  What specific aspect of the topic are you focusing on and what argument are you going to make about it?

  3. First Body Paragraph-write out a topic sentence and make sure it connects with your thesis.

    • First point
    • Example, paraphrase, or quotation
    • Discussion of example, paraphrase or quotation
    • Reiteration of first point
    • Connection both back to thesis (overall argument) and forward to next paragraph and point you are planning to make

    ***the last sentence of this paragraph should, in many ways, mirror the topic sentence that started the paragraph

  4. Second Body Paragraph-write out a topic sentece that logically connects with the previous paragraph and makes a new point or adds to the point you made in the first body paragraph.
    • First point
    • Example, paraphrase, or quotation
    • Discussion of example, paraphrase or quotation
    • Reiteration of first point
    • Connection both back to thesis (overall argument) and forward to next paragraph and point you are planning to make
  5. Etc.....

Here is how the above outline would look if it was written for an American History research paper on the causes of the Revolutionary War.

  1. Introduction-Basics

    • Dates 1775-1783
    • Colonies upset that Parliament of Great Britain tries to govern them from abroad
    • Limits to American economy
    • Illegitimate British laws

    ***Thesis: Because of the political unrest rampant at the end of the eighteenth century, pinpointing a specific cause for the Revolutionary War is challenging, but, arguably, the biggest factors leading up to the American Revolution were the unfair taxation, specifically the increased taxes of 1764, the Quartering Tax and the Stamp Tax.

  2. First Body Paragraph-Increased Taxes of 1764

    Topic sentence: Although the British had continually threatened the newly developing American ecenomy with additional taxes and trade embargos, the tax increase of 1764 heightened the sense of civil unrest in the colonies and started the chain of events that would lead to the Revolutionary War.

    • Incredibly high taxes
    • Crippled the American economy
    • Colonists unable to pay
    • Quote from textbook
    • Discussion of quote

    ***Concluding point (mirrors topic sentence): Although there were numerous political issues going on in the early 1760s that contributed to a climate of unrest, the tax increase of 1764 paved the way for damaging future taxes to be levied on the colonies by their British overloards.

  3. Second Body Paragraph-the Quartering Tax

    Topic sentence (refers back to previous paragraph and introduces new information): Shortly after the 1764 tax increase, the British government further enraged the colonists by imposing a Quartering Tax in 1765.

    • Colonists forced to house and feed British forces serving in North America
    • British soldiers accused of crimes against colonists for which they were not penalized or punished
    • Bad blood increases between England and the colonies

    ***Concluding point: Clearly, as the Quartering Act came close on the heels of the 1764 tax increase, the colonists were being pushed to either submit to British rule or stand against a wave of unfair and unethical taxations at the hands of the British government.

  4. Etc...