8 Organizing an Essay

Organizing an Essay

Carol Lynn Moder

When you are asked to write longer assignments, you will need to consider what your topic will be and what you want to say about it. In many academic contexts, longer assignments may be in the form of an informational essay that will present several points in support of one main idea about the topic. The writer’s main purpose is normally stated in a thesis statement. Depending on the type of essay you are writing and your purpose, you may have a choice of whether to put your thesis statement in the introduction or in the conclusion. In informational essays, most American academic audiences prefer you to state the main purpose of the essay explicitly at the end of the introduction.

When a thesis statement appears in the introduction, it not only states the writer’s purpose, but typically it also gives the reader a preview of the main points of the essay and the order in which the writer will present them. For example, if the thesis statement is: “in this paper I will discuss the three main factors that affect success in college prior education, motivation, and the time devoted to assignments,” the reader expects you to discuss these three factors IN THE ORDER YOU MENTIONED them:

  1. Prior education
  2. Motivation
  3. Time devoted to assignments.

You should give some thought to what order will be most effective for the information you are presenting. Be sure that your thesis statement presents that order clearly and then follows that order in the body of the paper.

Following the introduction, it is typical to present each of your main points in a single unified paragraph. The most coherent way to organize the paragraphs in your writing is to introduce each paragraph with a TOPIC SENTENCE. As its name suggests, the topic sentence is usually a single sentence that states the topic, that is, the main point that the paragraph will illustrate or discuss.


Sample Thesis Statement & Topic Sentences:

Thesis Statement:

In this paper I will discuss the three main factors that affect success in college: prior education, motivation, and time devoted to assignments.


Paragraph 1 Topic Sentence:

Most research concerning success in college focuses on the importance of a student’s prior educational background.


Paragraph 2 Topic Sentence:

Although prior educational background plays an important role, the amount and type of motivation that a student has can make a greater difference in college success.


Paragraph 3 Topic Sentence:

A final important factor in Student Success is the amount of time a student actually devotes two assignments.



If we consider the sample thesis statement and topic sentences, we see that they have more than one function. As we have said, they explicitly state the main point or points of the essay, but they also help the reader to understand how the writing will develop. They tell the reader what to look for in the writing. These sentences are like directions you give to help a person find a particular place. If you give clear directions that highlight the upcoming turn in the road, it makes it easier for the reader to follow the path of your thoughts. A third important function of the thesis statements and topic sentences is to make connections and show the relationships among the points. If we look at the sample topic sentences for paragraphs 2 and 3, we see that they use words that make connections to other ideas in the writing. The words and phrases involved in the sample help the reader to follow the path of the argument and make sure that the reader is on the right road. Using these connecting phrases leads readers to understand how you, the writer, wants them to put their ideas together.

Once you have introduced the main point of a paragraph or the topic sentence, you then must develop the paragraph with examples, details, or anecdotes to illustrate and develop the point. The kind of details or examples you use depend on the purpose and requirements of the assignment.

After you provide these examples, you may want to continue to help the reader to follow your reasoning, by the end of the paragraph for the summarizing sentence or two that connects the example to the overall purpose of the essay. Such sentences are sometimes called “wrap & tie” sentences. If your paragraph is a package that contains one of the main ideas, the final sentence wraps up the package and ties a nice bow on top. The purpose is to make sure your reader understands how you want him or her to interpret your examples and what conclusions you intend. If you do not use a wrap and tie sentence, you are leaving the “package” open and your reader can put whatever he or she wants inside. In American academic writing, readers usually expect a writer to make his or her interpretation is clear and explicit as possible.

When you have developed your writing with an introduction and the appropriate number of body paragraphs, you then need to draw a final conclusion. The conclusion typically appears in a separate paragraph. Like “wrap & tie” sentences, the purpose of the conclusion is to direct the reader to the interpretation that you intend. The most basic conclusion reiterates the main points of the writing. It may also highlight some of the key examples. It must connect these to the purpose stated in the thesis statement and draw a final conclusion.

As with all kinds of academic writing, before you begin to develop your content you should look carefully at the assignment. Sample assignment 2 requires the writer to develop content about food that would compare and contrast food practices in the US with food practices in his or her home country. To gather information about American food practices, each student interviewed an American student. The assignment requires the writer to use information from the interview. The purpose of the comparison is to relate food practices to cultural or individual identity. It requires students to use three themes from the interview to illustrate the main point.


Sample assignment 2

Compare and contrast to food practices, yours and that of a person you interviewed, focusing on the way that food relates to cultural or individual identity. Include at least three themes in your essay. Compare aspects which are similar and contrast aspects which are different.


Sample Introduction 1

What Food Tells us about the US and Saudi Arabia

Societies are often complicated to any stranger. They are hard to understand completely for an individual who does not live in that society, yet there is a way to understand them. The products of a society tell a lot about it. For example, artists express the views, ideas, beliefs and important issues of their society using their passion in doing certain art. Music, paintings, statues, and poetry convey the background of an artist. Such works of art carry an enormous amount of information that need to be analyzed by an expert, which brings us back to the complexity issue again. Foods are the products of each society that can be easily understood. According to Rozin, (2005) food takes a wider role than just nutrition, and identifies where people are from and what ethnicity they are. Food and food practices tell a lot about one’s culture and identity (p. 108). Cooking food, just like art, explains many aspects of a society but in a simpler way. To gather information about American food and culture, I interviewed Mike, an American student. Through the conversation, the similarities and differences between the two cultures, his and mine, emerged. Food cuisines are significantly impacted by immigration in both Saudi Arabia and the United States. Also, in both countries there are foods that are associated with particular events and celebrations. However the involvement of fathers in food is different from that in the United States.


FOCUS: Introduction & Thesis Statement

Look at Sample Introduction 1.

  1. Is the title informative? Interesting?
  2. How does the writer introduce the topic?
  3. What does the writer do to capture the reader’s attention?
  4. Underline where the writer cites a published source.Why does the author use this source here? What does it add to the introduction?
  5. Underline the sentences that indicate the writer’s focus for this paper.What three themes will the writer describe?  In what order will the reader expect to see these themes discussed?
  6. Look at Sample Assignment 2. Does the writer address all parts of the assignment?
  7. What do you expect to see in the rest of the essay?


Sample Introduction 2

Differences of Food Between Different Countries

Today we all live in an increasingly diversified world. That not only means differences in economy and politics, but also means the diversification of food cultures. Even though we all live in the same world, there are many differences and similarities and different countries and areas. In order to find the differences of food between two different countries, I have interviewed Sandy, an American girl from a small city in the Midwest. Through the half-hour interview, we talked about many aspects about food.


FOCUS: Critiquing the Introduction

Look at Sample Introduction 2 and Sample Introduction 3 and evaluate how effectively each one:

  • Identifies the topic
  • Captures the interest of the reader
  • States the main purpose of the essay
  • Specifies the themes that will be discussed
  • Outlines how the essay will develop
  • Meets the requirements of the assignment

What should each writer do to improve each introduction?


Sample Body Paragraph 1: Differences of Food Between Different Countries

Immigrants bring their cuisines with them to the country they move to. In the US the number of immigrants is enormous. It is almost a country that was populated by immigrants and it is the country where the salad bowl metaphor is perfectly applied. Their food cuisine is a mixture of different cuisines from around the globe. For example, Mexican, Italian, Chinese and Japanese dishes are popular in the US. When I asked Mike to tell me more about the cuisine in his home state of Florida he said:

Since the Spanish came to Florida originally you have that influence. So you have Spanish cuisine there. You also have a lot of people from New York who come down to Florida to retire because the weather is a lot nicer in Florida, so they Regional food is common.

According to Mike, immigration plays a role in Florida’s cuisine. Similarly, Saudi Arabia is a country where Muslims from around the world come to practice rituals throughout the course of the year. Moreover, some stay for the rest of their lives in Saudi Arabia. Also, a small fraction of the immigrants come to work in Saudi Arabia. Those immigrants, just like others, bring their own unique dishes with them. They become popular with time. For instance, Egyptian, Moroccan, Pakistani, and Indian dishes are common in Saudi Arabia. Although the numbers of immigrants vary, both countries have been impacted in the same manner.


FOCUS: Body Paragraph 2

Look at Sample Body Paragraph 2:

  1. Underline the topic sentence. Does the topic sentence clearly identify the topic of the paragraph? Does it connect to the thesis statement? Does it connect to the idea in Body Paragraph 1?
  2. What examples or details does the writer use to support his main point in this paragraph? Do all the details contribute to the main point? Are any details not related to the topic of the paragraph?
  3. Underline the wrap & tie sentence. What interpretation of the examples does the writer offer in the sentence? Does this interpretation support the thesis statement?
  4.  What improvements could the writer make?


Sample Conclusion: Differences of Food Between Different Countries

The US and Saudi Arabia have similarities and differences when it comes to food and food practices. Both had an immigration era that impacted their food significantly. Also, both countries link food items to special occasions, which tells a lot about their past and roots. Finally food preparation responsibilities and habits are different, conveying that the family structure and dominance are different too. To sum this up, food is a good was to understand and even compare to cultures. Moreover it is easier and much more fun to understand a society by food than it is by art.


FOCUS: Conclusion

  1. Read the Sample Conclusion.
  2. What information does the first sentence provide?
  3. How is the information in the conclusion related to the body paragraphs?
  4. How does the writer link the Introduction and the Conclusion?
  5. Consider the final sentence. What information does it convey? How effective do you think this concluding sentence is in highlighting the writer’s main point?


Sample Comparative Essay
Changing Food Practices in Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Informative Title
Food practices illustrate a complex relationship between tradition, environment, and individual behavior. College students show this relationship well because they often make adjustments in their food habits when they are away from home in a new place. In this paper, I will describe my food experiences in Saudi Arabia and in the US and compare my experiences to those of Peter, an American student I interviewed. Our experiences show that food is shaped by traditional culture and family but new environments can lead to change in individual food practices. Introduction

Topic Overview

Describe Method

Thesis Statement

Food practices are usually based on what we learn from our culture and our families. And Saudi Arabia, my family’s food practices followed typical Saudi Arabian gender roles. My father was responsible for purchasing food at the local market, but all the food preparation was done by my mother and three sisters. Because of these typical roles, I never cooked when I was at home. In my interview with Peter, he said that some American families followed similar traditional roles, where the mother was responsible for all the cooking, but he said that in other families he knew the father did a lot of cooking. And his family, his mother was the main preparer of food, but his father sometimes cook special items, like chili or grilled steak. Even so, like me, he never learned to cook when he was at home. From this, we can see that each of our families followed a pattern of food preparation that was common in our culture. Body Paragraph 1

Topic Sentence


Example: Saudi Arabia


Example: USA



Wrap & Tie Sentence

Although our food preparation practices come from our family and culture, new environments can lead to change. When I got to America, I could not find any traditional Arabic foods where I was living. I really missed those foods. I decided that the only way to satisfy my longing was to learn how to cook some traditional dishes myself. I called my mother and asked her to tell me how to cook some simple items. Soon, I was cooking lunch for myself everyday. When I was in Saudi Arabia, I didn’t like to cook, but now I cook, because I want to eat the famous dishes from Saudi Arabia. Since Peter is studying in his home country, he is able to find foods he likes, but he said that he misses some of the foods that his family used to cook. The food on campus is not as tasty as the food he had at home. He called father and asked him to tell him how to cook chili. Peter does not cook it everyday, but sometimes he cooks it on the weekend as a special treat. From this we see that each of us has adapted to our new college environment by learning how to cook. For me, this was new, since men do not usually cook and Saudi Arabia. Peter learned how to cook the dish his father made, so for him the adjustment was not so big. Both of us enjoy this change and plan to continue cooking. Body Paragraph 1

Topic Sentence


Example: Writer in USA compared to Saudi Arabia


Example: Peter in the USA at home compared to at university



Writer & Peter


Wrap & Tie Sentence

A new environment can also lead to changes in social food practices. Here at university in the United States, the way people eat and interact is very different from what I did in Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia eating is part of social gatherings. Families sit together during meals, and you also eat with your friends. In the US, most of the time I eat alone. If I ask someone to eat with me, that person is often too busy. Peter said that at home he was also used to eating meals with his family at dinner time, but for breakfast and lunch he just ate something fast. At the university, he seldom sits down for a real meal. Usually, he just picks up something quick and eats it on his way somewhere. He says that he and his friends are usually too busy to eat, which is why they eat so much fast food. Both Peter and I eat on our own a lot here at the university. This does not seem to bother Peter, maybe because he thinks it is a typical American thing to do. For me, I don’t like the change. Eating with friends and family is too important for me to give up the Saudi custom easily. One way I try to keep it is to invite my friends over to my house for traditional Saudi food on the weekend. The environment can lead to change only to the extent that it does not affect practices that reflect strongly-held cultural values. Body Paragraph 2

Topic Sentence

Example: Writer in US compared to Saudi Arabia


Example: Peter at home compared to at university



Peter & Writer


Wrap & Tie Sentence

Overall, food illustrates that while certain cultural expectations, such as gender roles and social rituals, form the foundation for individual food practices, individuals adjust these traditions in new surroundings. Some of these changes may only be temporary, especially if we think the traditional practice was really valuable and important. For example, I will be very happy to return to more social interaction during meals when I am back in Saudi Arabia. Other changes may lead to more permanent changes. For example, I’ve discovered I like to cook, so I plan to surprise my friends and family with this new skill when I go back to Saudi Arabia. Even though we may value the traditional practices of our families and culture, our desires and our environment do not always agree.  The way we react to new situations highlights the complex relationship between tradition, environment, and individual behaviors. Conclusion

Summing up main points

Highlighting key details, examples



Final concluding sentence



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Organizing an Essay by Carol Lynn Moder is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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