You’ve got your essay back and the teacher has said it reads like a shopping list; “Where is your voice? What is your argument?” You did a lot of research and included it all in your essay. Why can’t the teacher see what it all means?

Believe it or not, teachers aren’t mind readers. For them to understand why you have included all those other voices and how they contribute to your argument, you need to make your thinking explicit.

Academic writing should convey both an idea and the reasoning supporting it. Your reasoning can be made clear in a variety of ways: through your introduction; through the first sentence of each paragraph; and by the way you introduce evidence from the literature.

The introduction 

A good introduction is key to a good essay. It is like a road map, giving the reader a general view of where the essay is going. This “map” should include not just the means of transport, but the destination. The essay question needs to be answered; it isn’t enough to indicate that an answer will be given by the end of the essay.

To clarify this, here is an example using an unlikely essay topic:

What is the best flower? Give reasons for and justify your answer. 

This is how some students write their introduction:

 “There are many types of flowers in the world. Choosing the best is subjective but there are several factors that could be used to justify a selection. Some people might respond to colour while others will favour scent. Size of flowers can also be used to note the differences between all the various options. By analysing all the choices, I will determine what is the best flower.”

This introduction does not answer the question. There is no clue which flower will be argued is best, despite that being the point of the question. Much like a detective novel, we will have to wait till the end to find the answer. Academic writing doesn’t work this way; the answer needs to be apparent from the introduction, with the rest of the essay planned in a logical manner to explain the reasoning.

Compare the first introduction with this version:

 “There are many types of flowers in the world. Choosing the best is subjective, but by thinking about how flowers are used, it is possible to rationalise and justify the best. On this basis, it has to be the rose. It comes in a myriad of colours, so you can find the right rose for any occasion. Furthermore, the size is perfect for vases, so they can be used for home decoration. On top of this, the scent can help create a perfumed ambience.”

This introduction not only answers the question but lays out the structure for the essay. The subsequent paragraphs will deal with colour, size and scent with an explanation of how these attributes have contributed to my choice.

Body paragraphs and integrating other voices 

Once you have your argument (roses are the best), you need to carry the argument through the rest of the essay:

  • The first sentence of each paragraph will assist this process and is called the topic sentence. Ideally, this sentence will be in your voice so try to avoid quoting or paraphrasing others. You might then like to explain the significance of this sentence.
  • After that, bring in evidence or examples from your research.
  • The final sentence links to either your whole argument or to the next paragraph. This is called the TEEEL paragraph format.

More information on structuring paragraphs can be found here.

Here is a sample paragraph from my fantasy essay using this formula:

The choice of rose as the best flower can only be subjective as there are so many different factors that need to be considered (topic sentence). After all, not everyone is going to judge flowers based on their usefulness in home decorating (explanation) While some consider them useful for brightening a hallway or room (Wilcox, 2018; Patterson, 2018a), others consider them quite old-fashioned (Patterson, 2018b) (evidence). Despite this criticism, the rose is a popular choice of cut flower, perhaps due to the range of decor it can suit (transition to next paragraph).

So, here you have it. The structure of the essay is determined by your argument which is expressed in your introduction, carried through the topic sentences of each paragraph and supported by the way you use your sources.

Writer Natasha Amendola is a learning skills adviser at Caulfield Library.