The word ‘essay’ comes from the Latin word ‘exagium’, meaning the presentation of a case.

When you write an essay you are making a case for a particular point of view, analysis, interpretation, or set of facts or procedures.

There are many types of essays. Some of the more common types are listed below.

This is the most common type of essay assignment you will write at university. In response to your essay question, you will pose an argument to your reader, and defend it throughout the body of your assignment.

Descriptive essays focus very specifically on a topic or issue. For example, if your essay was about dogs, you would describe the different breeds, the origins of the species, common traits, and as much other detail as possible.

As indicated by its name, a narrative essay tells a story. In this type of essay you can use emotive, descriptive language, and may choose to write in first or third person.

Again evidenced by its name, in this type of essay you are exploring the similarities (comparing) and differences (contrasting) between two (or more) events, objects or issues.

An analytical essay examines or critiques something in detail. For example you might analyse a play, identifying the themes, characters and language used to convey meaning.

Although the types of essays differ, they all have the common objective of presenting and defending a topic or stance to the reader.

Essay structure

An essay is typically made up of an introduction, body, and conclusion. The number and length of paragraphs within your essay is dictated by the word count allowed for your essay.

Follow this structure to write your essay.

image showing essay structure

What does the reader need to know to understand the argument you will present?

Prepare the reader for the topic of your paper with some background information which indicates why the topic is important. State your essay’s big idea in the thesis statement.

Write one main point in each body paragraph - support it with explanations, evidence and examples etc. Use the paragraphs to support your thesis statement and convince the reader of its validity. Link the paragraphs together to guide the reader through your argument.

Restate your thesis, summarise the main points in the body and finish with a closing statement on the topic.

The “premise” of each body paragraph is a different main point that supports your overall argument. Each premise needs to be backed up by credible evidence, and supported by explanations of what each point means, and how it relates to the broader topic. Making sure these premises relate to each other is vital to ensuring your essay flows logically, and makes sense to your reader.

Paragraph structure

Work through these activities to look at paragraph and essay structure.

The middle paragraphs support your thesis statement and build up the argument of your essay. Once you have developed your argument through the middle paragraphs, you are better able to write an opening paragraph (the introduction) that introduces your argument to the reader.

A middle or body paragraph’s structure is similar to the overall essay structure, with the middle sentences forming the body of the paragraph. Click on the options below to look at the typical structure of a body paragraph.

Note: There may be more or less than three middle sentences in your body paragraphs.

States paragraph’s main point, connects to the previous paragraph.

Provides explanation or clarification of the topic sentence or main point of the paragraph, and how it is relevant to your argument.

Provides examples, evidence, support and details.

Explains how example or evidence backs up or justifies the topic statement.

Closes the paragraph’s unit of thought, reinforces the main point, and links to the next paragraph.

Example body paragraph

Throughout your essay assignment you will be integrating the work of others, and citing your sources appropriately. For more information on how to do this effectively, check our our Citing in your writing or Writing with integrity programs.