We the students of relentless (and perhaps loveless) labor, in order to adopt a stylized voice, communicate with interpretive clarity, and incorporate creative direction into our writing to ultimately stir the arbiters of our career pathways, do ordain that a strong essay needs a thesis in the introduction, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
For a reference that parodies itself, it’s a hyperbolic piece of advice for suggesting that there’s some sort of graded scale sitting at the round table of readers and writers who all concur that there’s a formula to “good writing." The good news is that you don’t always have to do any of that - the nature of the concept of “good" makes it fall outside of objectivity, and therefore, while the burden of assessment for the quality of your work falls upon someone else, their word isn’t law. The “bad" news is, well, that everyone still has to start their writing process somewhere.
As our teachers have traditionally taught us, we have three parts of a formal essay: (1) the introduction, (2) the body paragraphs, and (3) the conclusion. These are incredibly useful guidelines for organizing your thoughts on the prompt - this process will help you flesh out and rationalize your latent position on the matter.
Before you begin
It’s a good idea to create an outline of your essay. Formulate a reason that substantiates your opinion or position on the matter posited in the prompt. How you do it is up to you; create diagrams to help visualize your thought processes, use flow charts to record and track your line of reasoning, or even draw pictures. Doing so helps you create a point of reference for you to come back to throughout your writing process so you won’t have to worry about writing yourself into a hole of contradiction or losing your train of thought.
Write the introductory paragraph
The thesis statement is the bastion of your viewpoint. It should be a statement directly addressing the issue(s) raised that comprehensively articulates your proposal. Should community service be a part of pre-college curriculum so that we can teach our young students civic responsibility? Do we need a single-payer healthcare system since our private insurers create an obscenely expensive institution far too serpentine to navigate? Is Holden Caulfield the most intriguing character to ever grace the plane of classical literature because he’s a tangible anti-hero whose self-introspection guides us through an examination of ourselves? Tell your reader about your perspective in one or two sentences, and if you want, include a brief justification for your viewpoint. Be careful not to expand too much, however, because fleshing out your reasons is for the body paragraphs.
Begin your body paragraphs
This is where you don’t have as much creative liberty. To be convincing, you must be clear, and to be clear, you have to be concise. Your duty is to describe and argue the topic. If you’ve created an outline, the main points become your paragraphs. This may differ depending on whether or not you’re required to follow official formatting rules (MLA, APA, etc.), but you should either organize each paragraph to have a primary argument and counterargument, or, if you’re following formats, save the counterarguments for the final body paragraph.
The first sentence of each paragraph should introduce your reader to the main idea. Supporting ideas follow suit, then relevant information and examples. Think about what you want to communicate and don’t worry about whether or not you’ll be able to impress your reader with complicated vocabulary and syntax. While they do help, they shouldn’t be your priority, for a strong and proper command of things like word choice and grammar come from experience - not a thesaurus. In fact, having been one of those writers before, I can assure you that people see right through your rhetoric if the essay has no argumentative substance.
Try to assume the perspective of your reader. If you were on the other side of aisle on the opinion that a writer proposes, what do you think might move you to reconsider your decision? Would that be statistics from the Census Bureau to warrant a solution or demonstrate the need for what you propose? Is it an examination of historical events that exhibits how things that make sense in theory don’t necessary translate into reality? This analysis should also form the basis of your counterarguments. Maybe it’s a more complicated matter that doesn’t have empirical data behind it and could use anecdotes to convey a message on a more visceral level. Don’t forget to cite the reference materials you’ve used.
End on a strong note
Don’t check out yet! This part is as important as your introduction. The conclusion gives you the opportunity to sum up your ideas and state your conclusion. Make it short - three to five sentences. Don’t include any more information that would require more explanation, just focus on wrapping up your statement. Reaffirm your thesis once again (not verbatim!) and support your position.
Give your essay a final proofread - maybe get someone else to do it - and edit if necessary. Practicing these things over time can not only help you craft eloquent and persuasive essays, but can also be a substantial boon to your personal decision-making processes. The English language is incredibly inconsistent and broad in the scope of expressions it captures, so it’s a very daunting task for everyone to master - you’re not alone on this journey!