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Home > Undergrad > Free Essay Tips and Advice > Creating Structure

Creating an Outline
The Example Structure
The Chronological Structure
The Description Structure
The Compare and Contrast Structure
The Cause and Effect Structure
Telling a Story
Structuring Creative Essays

Now that you know what you want to say in each of your essays, it is time to start writing. First, set a time limit of no more than one day for each essay. The longer your time frame, the more difficult it will be to write your first draft. The point is to not allow yourself to sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. As one admissions officer put it, some of the worst writing ever crafted has been done under the guise of inspiration.

Relieve some of the pressure of writing by reminding yourself that this is just a draft. Rid yourself of the notion that your essay can be perfect on the first try. Don’t agonize over a particular word choice or the phrasing of an idea – you will have plenty of time to perfect the essay later. For now, you just need to start. The most important thing is to get the words on paper.

Creating an Outline

The easiest way to sabotage all the work you have done so far is to skip this step. Writing is as much a discipline as it is an art, and to ensure that your essays flow well and make sense, you need to construct solid outlines before you write. Unless you conscientiously impose structure around your ideas, your essay will be rambling and ineffective.

Based on the information you have developed throughout the last chapters, choose one essay and construct an outline that contains the central idea as well as its supporting points. At its most basic, an outline will be as simple as this:

Paragraph #1

Introduction, which contains the central idea

Paragraph #2

Topic sentence, which ties into the central idea
First supporting point
Evidence for point

Paragraph #3

Topic sentence, which links the above paragraph to the next
Second supporting point
Evidence for point

Paragraph #4

Topic sentence, which links the above paragraph to the next
Third supporting point
Evidence for point

Paragraph #5

Conclusion, which reiterates the central idea and takes it one step further

An outline should make sense on its own in that the ideas should follow logically in the order that you list them. As you add content around these main points, it should support and reinforce the logic of the outline. Finally, the outline should conclude with an insightful thought or image. Make sure that the rest of your outline reinforces this conclusion.

There are many different ways to take this simple outline structure and apply it to the material you have. There are multiple ways to modify it according to the type of essay you want to write. To get some ideas for the best way to structure yours, read through the descriptions and examples of some of the basics provided below.
The Example Structure

This is a good structure to use when you want to make a single, strong point. Its power lies in its simplicity. Because it allows you to neatly present several points in support of a single claim, it is especially useful when you are trying to be persuasive or make an argument, although it can certainly be used in response to almost any kind of question.

An example of this structure can be found in an essay in our database written about the Middle East peace process. The writer takes the first two paragraphs to introduce his argument. He probably could have done without the first. He states his position in the last sentence of the second paragraph: "… I adhere to the views of the Likud (opposition) party, which opposes the peace process." The next paragraph addresses the first example of arguments against his position: "the accusation… of promoting war and violence." The next addresses the second: "the question of whether they have the right to influence Israeli policy." The fifth paragraph addresses the third example: being "identified with condoning the assassination [of Yitzhak Rabin]." The last paragraph summarizes and restates his argument and then takes it one step further by concluding that the debate has: "demonstrated the necessity of objectiveness and removal of emotions from the discussion."
The Chronological Structure

To facilitate smooth transitions, you might apply a chronological approach to your outline. The sequence of events will help reinforce flow from one stage of the essay to the next. One downfall of this approach is that you may create an essay that reads like a ship’s log. Be sure that the element of time does not stifle the message you want to convey through the story. Do not feel obligated to tell more of the story than you need to adequately convey your point.

The chronological method does not have to span many years or even months. It was used in one of the essays in our database to demonstrate the events of a single day. It begins with an introduction stating his main point, time-management skills. The second paragraph begins at the start of his day, 6:45 a.m. It proceeds through to 7:30 a.m., when he is in his first class, then 4:00 p.m., when he is heading into the computer lab. He begins the last paragraph at 9:30 p.m. and concludes by restating his argument. He takes it one step further by stating that he wishes he could do even more in one day. He finishes in the last sentence with a catchy and clever statement: "If only I had a University of Michigan engineering degree to help me design a solution to that problem."
The Description Structure

This is similar to the chronological structure except that instead of walking step by step through increments of time, it follows step by step through a description of a place, person, or thing. An example of this would be one writer who takes the reader through a tour of his bedroom. The first paragraph gives an introduction describing the general feel of the room. The second describes "the room’s workspace, my desk and computer." The third turns to the "relaxation area, commonly referred to as a bed." The last paragraph completes the tour by stepping out (literally) with: "after exiting my room, I would hope my visitor learned a few important things about me…" and offering a brief conclusion of what the room says about him.
The Compare and Contrast Structure

Some questions make using this structure a natural choice, such as the personal growth and development question that asks you to compare yourself now to the way you once were. One of our essayists uses this structure by comparing the author’s two favorite book characters to the person he would like to become and to the person his grandfather was. Another example is the essayist who introduces a comparison in the third paragraph: "with one hand on the tiller and the other holding the mainsheet, I see that my hands are in the same position when I play my bass guitar. Comparisons between the two mesh together in my mind as I realize the similarities between bass guitar and sailing." After comparing the two activities point for point, he sums up with: "bass guitar and sailing do not seem to relate to one another, but I discover the similarities…"

Like this example, you can structure a cause and effect essay point for point by comparing one aspect of the object or situation at a time. Or you can choose to employ the block method by thoroughly covering all the points of the first object or situation in the first half of the essay and then comparing it with all the points of the other in the last half.
The Cause and Effect Structure

Cause and effect essays usually depict a before-and-after experience and are often used in response to questions about influence. Using this structure can highlight that you understand and appreciate the effect that other people and situations have on your growth, development, and maturity.

The writer of one of our essays, for example, wrote about the effect that playing football had on him. Before football, he writes, he was "shy, had low self-esteem and turned away from seemingly impossible challenges." But his success at the game and the "months of tough practices" taught him "what it takes to succeed," and gave him a work ethic and self-confidence.

If you decide to use this structure, be sure you don’t write yourself out of the equation… try to make the point that you were the catalyst between the cause and the effect. That way you demonstrate that you know how to take action and create change.
Telling a Story

Structuring your essay as a narrative (by telling a story) is a common and effective method for keeping the reader’s interest. This is the structure your essay will take if you have decided to focus on a single event in your life. A narrative essay can itself be structured in many ways. The example of the chronological essay about time management is a type of narrative. But in its purest form, the narrative essay does nothing but tell the story. It begins and ends with the action.

The following are all examples of pure narrative taken from the essays from our packages:

Example 1: Tells the story of a martial arts competition. Begins with the writer’s getting some sleep the night before. Follows him through breakfast and is with him as he drives to the competition. Climaxes with the actual competition as he "drove a solitary fist to its mark." Very action oriented. Spans one day. (This essay can be found in the Athletes Package.)

Example 2: About attending the National High School Orchestra. Starts with her boarding the plane for Cincinnati. Is with her as she picks up her room key and makes her first friends. Tells about practicing, auditioning, having dinner in the cafeteria, and finding the results of the audition. Continues with the second day with rehearsals, and climaxes with the playing of the orchestra: "…my emotion soared, wafted by the beauty and artfulness of the music, bringing goose-bumps to my skin and a joyful feeling to my soul." Spans several days. (This essay can be found in the Artists, Musicians, and Writers Package.)

Example 3: Tells of a hospital visit to see grandmother. Begins with writer and grandmother smiling at each other. Moves to conversation between mother and grandmother and the writer’s thoughts about each. Climax of action is the writer’s hand moving to touch the grandmother’s forehead, followed by the doctor’s announcement that her tests turned out negative. Time span: minutes. (This essay can be found in the Grab Bag Package.)

Notice the variety of circumstances this type of essay can be applied to when comparing these essays. A narrative can span a lifetime or a moment. It can be filled with action or with subtle looks and movements. It does not have to be filled with Hollywood style action to hold interest. The briefest and simplest of events can take on meaning when told effectively. What makes all of these essays effective is their use of detail, description, and direction. If you are going to take the narrative approach, learn from these examples by: 1) keeping events moving forward; 2) describing events, people, and places in specific terms, e.g. she flew to Cincinnati, he drove for two hours, hands knitted bright tri-colored scarves; and 3) not adding reflective conclusions or introductions describing what you learned… start and end with the action and have everything take place within the context of the story.

Narrative can be combined with other structures for an approach that is less risky but still interesting. Beginning an essay with a brief story is the most common and effective method of doing this.

Another twist on the narrative essay is one that describes a single place, person, or action in great detail. It appeals to the senses of the audience without necessarily drawing on the action of a story. There is no standard structure found in this type of essay – each is differently organized, but all rely purely on crisp imagery and sensory detail. It does not tell a story or build to a climax. When done well it leaves the reader with a single, vivid image. Single images are easier to remember than a list of points, qualities, traits, or qualifications, no matter how impressive any one or all of them are. Still, this is a risky approach and is best employed when you have to provide multiple essays for one school; you can structure your other essays more traditionally.
Structuring Creative Essays

You might be thinking: "But I am writing a creative essay, I don’t need to have structure!" Wrong! All essays need structure – even creative ones. Being creative or unusual does not give you license to be sloppy or careless – not if you expect to make a good impression. If you are going to take a creative approach, do it with the same kind of planning and organization that you would put into any other important piece of writing.

On a similar note, you do not need to be dry, boring, or academic to appear logical and well-ordered. What makes an essay interesting and inventive is its topic, word choices, and imagery – not its lack of organization. And remember, the most creative and colorful writing in the world – poetry – can also be the most structured, planned, and precise.
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