Essay Patterns and Structure

If you are a naturally talented writer and you’re getting frustrated by the rules of essay organization, you are not alone. Many talented writers get very frustrated when it comes to following a standard structure or format. Diane H. Wong, a content writer at domywriting, says that this is especially true for the more creative types;  it simply goes against the grain for many good writers to follow a format. It just doesn’t seem right or natural.

Nonetheless, good students find themselves writing essays that are to be graded, and the reality is that graders are usually looking for a logical and standard format.

While it is tempting to rebel against the five-paragraph structure, for example, it’s usually not a good idea to stray from that format if that format is the expectation.

Here is the good news that every good writer discovers in time: you can be wonderfully creative working within any guidelines or instructions.

Why Have Standard Structure?

Structure is important because our brains need a framework for understanding. Think of each sentence of your essay as a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. If you toss all the pieces on a table, your brain sees a jumbled mess. Once you put those pieces in a specific place, the picture becomes clear.

When writing an essay, some structure is needed so our words don’t seem jumbled and rambling. Without an introduction, for example, your brain won’t know why it’s receiving the details or evidence that appears in body paragraphs. Without transition words, the brain may not understand how one point is connected to another.

Types of Essays and Expected Structure

There are generally four types or categories that your assignments will fall under.

These are called modes of discourse, and they include narration, description, exposition, and argument.

A Narrative Essay

The writer tells a story and provides an account of events. An autobiography or a personal essay are assignments that require a narrative essay.

For this type of essay, it is most logical to provide details in a chronological order. Otherwise, the story will seem jumbled and confusing.

A Descriptive Essay

It provides the reader with details that appeal to the senses. The writer gives information about what an event or object looks like, smells like, behaves like, resembles, sounds like, or feels like.

The introductory paragraph of a descriptive essay should inform the reader about the subject that is to be described. The details can come in many patterns: you can structure them spatially (from left to right or top to bottom) or chronologically.

The descriptive essay could also be written as a narrative that describes something through sensory experiences. There will often be some blending when it comes to modes of discourse.

An Expository Essay

It is one that explains, defines, or informs. You will use an expository essay to explain your knowledge of a subject, like history, science, or geography. There are many options for structuring an expository essay.

For example, you might be required to write an essay about the US Civil War.

You could write a chronological account, which details each battle in a timeline, or you could write a descriptive account, which describes how groups or individuals were impacted by the war.

You could also write in cause and effect structure, or you could write in a compare and contrast style, by comparing this war to a civil war in another country.

An Argument Essay

It makes a claim or takes a position on a controversial topic. The structure is somewhat flexible, but it must contain certain elements.

  • You must provide introductory information to set the stage for your thesis.
  • You must make the claim in a thesis statement.
  • You must provide background information.
  • You must provide evidence to back up your claim.
  • You must address opposing arguments and refute them.

The number and order of your points can vary, so you should use your assignment instructions as a guideline. 

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