When teaching essay writing, teachers of English should firstly make students aware of the basic requirements: structure, balance and coherence to their writing. Students must learn to observe the structure of an essay which is organized into paragraphs.
The first paragraph represents the introduction, the next two or three function as the main body and the last one represents the conclusion. What is essential to understand is that each paragraph represents a complete unit in which students have to deal with only one aspect of the problem under discussion and that each paragraph has its own structure.
Once the text has a coherent structure, it will automatically bring about a balanced essay which means that all the composing parts fit as a whole. For example, a for-and-against essay on watching television should have separate paragraphs with points for the issue and paragraphs with points against that issue.
When all the facts and details of an essay relate to the title and topic, they will lead to the principle of unity required by a good essay. Each main idea should be supported by examples and justifications. The ideas in a paragraph should flow smoothly from the previous ones in a logical succession and with adequate linkers.
As far as stylistic unity is concerned, the writer should adapt the language they use to the topic and approach. In general, the tone should be neutral and the overall attitude, impersonal; therefore they should avoid using too personal comments.
Another sine qua non condition is represented by coherence. In order to achieve a sense of logical development, writers should connect each new sentence to the previous one with the help of transitional words and phrases e.g. as well as, not only … but also etc. Paragraphs should also interconnect with an appropriate use of linking words. In this way the language used is fluent and the transition from one paragraph to the other is smooth.
The Structure of the Essay
Shakespeare once said that “the pen is mightier than the sword”. The pen may be powerful, indeed, but is it enough to make an effective essay? Is inspiration alone enough if we want to attract the reader’ attention and if we want to ‘tell’ the world about what we think? The answer is obviously a negative one if we reflect on the complexity of its structure. The alleged fact is that the structure itself is the one that makes things easier since it makes order among inspirational thoughts. The traditional and conventional structure of the essay makes the reader find the most relevant information very quickly and easily.
The first paragraph functions as an introduction whose main purpose is to present the position of the writer (that is the thesis or argument). But if you want your introduction to be more effective to the reader, then you should also use the techniques of ‘grabbing the reader’s attention; therefore you may want to start with a quotation or some striking statistics. Only then, should you move to the thesis. The strongest and the most concise part of your essay should be the thesis; therefore it must be given a lot of attention. Only a short and clear thesis will strike to the point and make it obvious to the reader what the writer’s firm position is.
The main body usually consists of two or three paragraphs in which the main ideas briefly presented in the thesis, are given equal importance and length. Each argument is presented fully and persuasively in separate paragraphs.
The second paragraph contains detailed background information and it is usually longer than the introduction. This paragraph consists of a topic sentence – to expose the problem, and three or four supporting sentences- to describe and illustrate the problem. The last sentence is usually the conclusion of the paragraph whose role is to refer to or to link to the next paragraph.
The third paragraph presents the second argument, the topic sentence, the supporting sentences and a summary of the points presented in the paragraph. This last sentence, again, makes the transition to the next paragraph.
Conclusion. The last paragraph’s main role is to round up the essay by summarizing the key points of the essay. It restates the writer’s initial position presented in the introduction. The closing paragraph should give the reader the feeling that the writer has made his point and that he was persuasive enough.
Vizental, Adriana, Strategies of Teaching and Testing, Editura Orizonturi Universitare, Timisoara, 2003.