Click on the superscript numbers to read notes about that part of the sample essay.
The Big Fake Essay
Essays are one of the most common forms of academic writing and can be quite easy to construct once the basic form is understood.1 When writing essays one must pay attention to overall essay structure, paragraph structure and sentence structure. While these may seem complicated at first, the patterns involved are easy to learn and provide a useful checklist for ensuring a well-crafted essay. This does not, however, ensure that the essay is actually good, as the content is also important.2 The combination of carefully considered research and attention to structure are vital for creating a quality essay.3
The essay structure is very formulaic, which makes it easy to produce.4 While there are various essay formats that are acceptable, the five-paragraph structure is one of the most common taught in high schools, and is still frequently used at an undergraduate level5 (Cismas, 2010; Vardi, 1999).6 This style of essay consists of an introductory paragraph, three paragraphs that flesh out the ideas raised in the introduction and a concluding paragraph, which summarises the main points of the essay and reaffirms the thesis that was established in the introduction (Turner, Krenus, Ireland, & Pointon, 2011). The paragraphs also follow a particular structure. Each paragraph consists of a topic sentence, several points to explore the topic (and the references to support those points) and a clinching or concluding sentence, which is designed to tie the paragraph to the rest of the essay (Oshima & Hogue, 2007). For a well-written essay, it is important for the paragraphs to be coherent – not only in terms of making sense within themselves, but also by fitting coherently with the other paragraphs in the essay (Barnet, Bellanca, & Stubbs, 2013).7 A good writer should also ensure that each sentence follows a clear and correct sentence structure, with a clear subject and verb in every sentence. There is a clear and simple structure at the heart of every sentence, paragraph and essay, and good writers must be aware of these structures in order to create well-written essays.
These structures can act as a checklist to assist writers with basic editing.8 If the writer knows every essay must contain an introduction, a body and a conclusion, he or she can quickly check to make sure the essay has a proper introduction or a complete conclusion. The knowledge that each paragraph must contain a topic sentence and a clincher sentence, and that each sentence within the paragraph should logically and coherently relate to the topic and clincher sentences, gives the author a framework to ensure that each paragraph is complete and makes sense. Since each complete sentence must make sense on its own and contain at least one verb and a clear subject for each verb, the writer can easily check each sentence to make sure it is following a correct structure (Oshima & Hogue, 2007; Rose, 2007).9 Therefore,10 writers can use these structures to keep control over the mechanics of writing an essay. However, it is important to note that a perfectly structured essay can still be poorly written if equal care is not given to the content.11
The purpose of an essay is to explore a given topic or answer a question, so the content must adequately fulfil this purpose. The writer needs to consider the audience for the paper, the task that has been set and the topic that needs to be covered (Soles & Soles, 2005). He or she needs to understand the topic well, through reading widely and critically, in order to write clearly and comfortable in an academic style (Caron, 2008). For a research essay, it is important to find a wide variety of information from various sources and to use it effectively in the body of the essay – as well an ensuring it has been cited correctly (Barnet et al., 2013;12 Drew & Bingham, 2010). Appropriate and correct referencing is important for avoiding plagiarism, which is a concern for undergraduate students and their markers (Löfström, 2011). A good writer must be critical and thoughtful in regards to the research presented in his or her essay and present the best information that could be found. While some essays may require the author to provide their own experiences and opinions, for most academic essays it is normally expected that the writer will consider the topic objectively (H. Hooper, personal communication, February 201313). One can conclude that14 choosing appropriate academic language, as well as offering a well-researched and carefully considered argument, is important. The composition of the essay relies as much on the content as it does on the structure.
A good essay is the combination of content and structure.15 It should consist of a reasoned and considered argument that is supported by research and answers the question posed by the task. By following simple, formulaic structures at the sentence, paragraph and essay level, a writer can stay in control of the style and make sure the content is presented well.16 A writer must pay careful consideration to the structure of the essay and the appropriateness of the content to ensure that the essay is well written, well composed and worth reading.17
Barnet, S., Bellanca, P., & Stubbs, M. (2013). A short guide to college writing. New York: Pearson Education.19
Caron, T. (2008). Teaching writing as a con-artist: When is a writing problem not? College Teaching, 56(3), 137-139. doi: 10.3200/CTCH.56.3.137-139
Cismas, S. C. (2010). Educating Academic Writing Skills in Engineering. In P. Dondon & O. Martin (Eds.), Latest trends on engineering education (pp. 247-225). Retrieved from http://www.wseas.us/e-library/conferences/2010/Corfu/EDUCATION/EDUCATION-42.pdf 20
Drew, S., & Bingham, R. (2010). The guide to learning and study skills: For higher education and at work. Burlington, VT: Gower.
Löfström, E. (2011). “Does plagiarism mean anything? LOL.” Students’ conceptions of writing and citing. Journal of Academic Ethics, 9(4), 257-275. doi: 10.1007/s10805-011-9145-021
Oshima, A., & Hogue, A. (2007). Introduction to academic writing. White Plains, NY: Pearson/Longman.
Rose, J. (2007). The mature student's guide to writing (2nd ed.).22 Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan.
Soles, D., & Soles, D. (2005). The academic essay: How to plan, draft, revise, and write essays. Somerset, United Kingdom:23 Studymates.
Turner, K. (2011). Essential academic skills. Melbourne,24 Australia: Oxford University Press.
Vardi, I. (1999). Developing critical writers at the undergraduate level: Some insights from critical thinking pedagogy and linguistics. Paper presented at the HERDSA Annual International Conference, Melbourne. http://www.herdsa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/conference/1999/pdf/Vardi.PDF25
 The first sentence in the Introduction is designed to give a general introduction to the topic that will be discussed in the essay. It orientates the reader towards your topic and provides background information. Statements should be kept brief.
 The following sentences within the introduction provide more details and aspects of the topic being covered in the essay. Here it clearly outlines the fundamental aspects of writing essays. Such sentences within an introduction will indicate what subtopics will follow in the body paragraphs of the essay. These sentences preview the paragraphs in the body – what we are about to read.
 All essays should have clear thesis statements. A thesis statement identifies your position on the chosen topic – if you only had one sentence to answer the essay question, this would be it.
 Each paragraph in the body starts with a topic sentence, which shows which aspect from the introduction this paragraph will cover. It’s usually quite general.
 The following sentences elaborate on the topic and offer evidence.
 This sentence drew from information that was covered by two different sources: Cismas 2010 and Vardi 1999. This is formatted according to APA style – note the authors go in the same order in which you would find them in the reference list, and there is a semicolon between them.
 Each referencing style has rules for what to do when you have more than one author. Make sure you know what your style requires.
 There should be a logical flow between your paragraphs. The last sentence of one paragraph should lead into the first sentence of the next, so people can see the relationship between your ideas.
 Even when the paragraph largely deals with your own thoughts, you should make sure you bring in some evidence to back you up – if you have an entire paragraph without citations, you should reconsider.
 Words like “therefore” and “however” show the links between concepts
 The “clincher” sentence for each paragraph has three jobs: it ties up the thoughts of that paragraph, links to the next paragraph and reminds us of what’s important in terms of the essay overall.
 This is the second reference to a paper with 3-5 authors. With APA 6th, you mention all three authors the first time, but then use the first author and et al. for subsequent citations. The rules are different for 6 or more authors. Check your guide to see what you should do.
 Personal communication isn’t published – no one else can find it unless you give it to them. So APA doesn’t want you to include it in the reference list, only in the text.
 Hedging expressions are a way to acknowledge that this is an idea you are proposing, not an absolute fact that you are stating.
 The final paragraph of an essay is the conclusion. It should open with a sentence that clearly and concisely restates the overall position
 The conclusion should have a number of sentences that summarise the key points/arguments put forward in the essay to support the overall position.
 The final sentences within a conclusion should indicate the significance of the findings – drawing some conclusions of why it is important to explore content and structure when writing essays. Specific implications can be presented and often the writer leaves the reader with an idea of what might occur as a result of the research or what might need to follow on (gaps in research or make a connection back to the broader field or discipline). The very last sentence should leave your reader with a well-crafted thought – end with a “bang”.
 For APA 6th style, the references should be on a new page – we have kept them here for ease of reading. Note that APA has a hanging indent for the reference list (the first line of each reference is flush with the margin, every other line is indented). You can do this easily in Word by highlighting your reference list and pressing Ctrl+T (or Command+T on a Mac)
 This is an example of a book, in which all of the chapters were written by the same authors – you simply cite the book as a whole. This is a print book, so we include the publication details. Remember to check what you should do when you have more than one author.
 This is a chapter of an edited book – each chapter is written by different people, so you have to cite the chapters separately. This is an eBook, so you do not have the publication details but you do have the web address (if you had a DOI, you would use that instead of the URL).
 This is a journal article. Note that the title of the journal is the ONLY title in APA that is in title case – all other titles are in sentence case. Also, note that the title of the journal and the volume number is in italics. When looking at a style guide, make sure you pay attention to the punctuation and formatting.
 When the book is not the first edition, you include the edition information. Note the punctuation – these are the little details that people often overlook.
 With APA 6th, you only ever abbreviate US state names, everything else is written in full. You also only use states for works published in the US, all other countries have the name of the country.
 In the book, they listed the place of publication as “South Melbourne”, but you only use cities for APA, not suburbs.
 This is a paper presented at a conference, but not published. If it was published in book form, you would cite it as a chapter of a book (see the example above).
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