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By our guest writers EssayEdge. The Harvard educated admissions essay editors.

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Lesson Three: Example Essay Structures

The following structures are demonstrated and discussed:

Example Structure

The Example Structure follows the rules of a traditional academic essay: begin with a main argument or thesis statement, follow this with three pieces of evidence that support the argument, and wrap up by stating what the essay has shown. This is a good structure to use when making a single, strong point. Its power lies in its simplicity. Because it allows you to present several points neatly in support of a single claim, it is especially useful for making a persuasive argument. This format will be most helpful when writing short essays, but for longer personal statements, it might appear formulaic and dull. One of the more creative structures described below might draw attention more successfully to your writing.

Click here for a sample of an Example Essay.

Compare and Contrast

For some questions, this structure is a natural choice, as in the personal growth and development question, which asks you to compare yourself now to the way you once were. 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.

Click here for a sample of a Compare and Contrast Essay.

Narrative or Chronological Structure

If you have decided to focus on a single event in your life, you will want to use this structure. It can be filled with action, dialogue, and subtle details. Although, you should not confuse effective drama with overwrought, Hollywood-style melodrama. The briefest and simplest of events can take on meaning when told convincingly. Using a chronological or narrative structure over a long period of time (anything more than a day or two) can often read like a ship’s log. You don’t want to sound like you’re rattling off a schedule of events. Rather, take on the role of storyteller and provide great detail about a very specific set of events. The sequence of events will help reinforce flow from one stage of the essay to the next and will make the difficult task of transitioning between paragraphs very natural. While the narrative is one of the most effective forms of writing for an essay, it can also be difficult. Use the following tips as your write your narrative:

  • Make the reader aware of chronology and keep the story generally moving forward.
  • Don’t feel obligated to tell more of the story than you need to convey your point. Extra details distract from the main drive of the story.
  • Try not to use 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.
  • Describe events, people, and places in very specific, colorful terms.

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 of such methods. 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 on crisp imagery and sensory detail, leaving 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 may be. Still, this is a risky approach and is best employed when you have to provide multiple essays for one school so that you have a chance to structure your other essays more traditionally.

Click here for samples of Narrative Essays.

Descriptive 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. The first paragraph gives an introduction describing the general feel of the place, person, or thing. The body paragraphs offer in-depth descriptions of two or three particular aspects of the place, person, or thing. In the last paragraph, the writer steps out of the descriptive mode and offers a brief conclusion of what the place, person, or thing says about him or her.

Click here for a sample of a Descriptive Essay.

Cause-and-Effect Structure

Often times you will be asked for a life-changing experience or about someone or something that has had a great influence on you. This structure shows that you understand and appreciate the effect that other entities have had on your development and maturity. For these essays, you will want to use the body paragraphs to first describe the influence and then move onto how that has had an effect on you. You can either divide the essay into a “cause section” and an “effect section” or you can mesh the two together by taking each small description one by one and explaining the effect it has had on you. If you decide to use this structure, be sure that you don't write yourself out of the equation; 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.

Click here for a sample of a Cause and Effect Essay.

Continue to Sample Outline and Essay

From Essays that will get you into College, by Amy Burnham, Daniel Kaufman, and Chris Dowhan. Copyright 1998 by Dan Kaufman.  Reprinted by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

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