Organizing An Essay Often student writers are taught short-term solutions to the problem of organizing an essay. The most common short-term essay is the “five-paragraph essay” format. The five-paragraph essay uses the following organization: 1. Introduction–Background and thesis 2. First Body Paragraph–The first reason why the thesis is true 3. Second Body Paragraph–The second reason why the thesis is true 4. Third Body Paragraph–The third reason why the thesis is true 5. Conclusion–Recap of essay
It is important to understand that the five-paragraph essay is not necessarily bad. However, most student writers are led to believe or falsely believe that all essays must follow the five-paragraph essay format. Just a little thought makes clear that format is very limiting and limited and does not provide an adequate organization for many types of writing assignments. That is why I have crossed-out the description of the five-paragraph essay, so that you won’t make the mistake of thinking that it is the best way to organize your essays.
Instead, student writers should see that the form of an essay (its organization) needs to match the purpose of the essay. To begin with, we should look at one of the most common tasks student writers are asked to perform and the one of the organizational strategies effective for this task. Explaining Cause and Effect Often writers are asked to explain how certain conditions or events are related to the occurrence of other conditions or events. When a writer argues that “one thing leads to another,” he or she is making a cause-and-effect argument.
For example, in an Economics class, students might be asked to explain the impact of increasing oil prices on the nation’s economy. Inherent in the question is the assumption that increasing oil prices is a cause, which produces specific effects in the rest of the economy. So, higher oil prices produce higher gasoline prices raising the cost of shipping goods. Higher oil prices produce higher jet fuel costs raising the cost of travel, and so on. Higher oil prices” is the cause, and increased shipping costs and travel expenses are among the effects. Writing tasks involving cause and effect analysis usually take one of two forms: explaining how a known cause produces specific effects; explaining how specific effects are produced by a previously unknown cause (which the writer has discovered). The second type of analysis is commonly referred to as root-cause analysis. The first type of analysis is what the technology and privacy topic requires.
To argue that certain conditions will lead to other conditions (that the loss of privacy will lead to something else), first the writer needs to define clearly what those conditions are, and then the writer needs to make clear how those conditions lead to other conditions. Finally, the writer needs to explain what this cause-and-effect relationship means. This type of essay then has five parts (not paragraphs! ), with each part corresponding to a specific task the writer needs to perform, and each part consisting of one or more paragraphs.
Essay Part| Scope| Purpose (not all necessary for every essay)| Introduction| General| * Background for the topic * Setting out the issues * Focusing the argument—the purpose of the essay| Description of the “Cause”| Begins general; becomes increasingly specific| * What the specific conditions are * Specific illustrations of these conditions * How these specific illustrations are representative of (can stand in for) other situations In this first part of the analysis, the writer needs to provide enough detail for the reader so the reader can understand the present situation.
In addition, the writer needs to focus the description of the situation in such a way as to prepare for the “effect” that the writer is arguing for. For example, if the writer wants to argue that the loss of privacy has led to (or will lead to) a loss of individual freedom, then the description of how technology affects our privacy should focus on technologies that affect an individual’s freedom to act. Description of the “Effect”| Begins general; becomes increasingly specific| * What the specific effect is (or effects are) * How we get from the specific conditions to the specific effects * Specific illustrations of these effects * How these specific illustrations are representative of (can stand in for) othersIn this second part of the analysis, the writer needs to walk the reader through the logical steps the writer has used to move from cause to effect. For example, if the writer rgues that loss of privacy leads to loss of individual freedom, the writer needs to explain carefully how privacy and freedom are linked. So perhaps the writer might claim that privacy allows an individual to be free from the observation of others. With our privacy becoming increasingly limited by surveillance, we are no longer free from the observation of others. If we believe that we are always being watched, we will probably change our behavior and be less willing to take chances or act independently.
If we feel we cannot act independently then we are no longer free. | Explanation of the meaning of the cause-and-effect relationship| More General| * Why this analysis is important * How we might act upon the ideas the writer has presentedIn this third part of the analysis, the writer argues for the importance of the argument’s findings, often by putting in perspective the short-term or long-term consequences of the “effect. ” In addition, in this part the writer usually makes some sort of recommendation (what we should do).
So if the writer is arguing that loss of privacy leads to loss of freedom, in this part the writer might speculate one what might happen if this trend towards further loss of privacy continues. In addition, the writer might describe some of the specific actions we can take to safeguard our existing privacy, or how legislation might provide such safeguards. | Conclusion| General| * Summing up * How our understanding of the larger issue might be changed by the writer’s analysis * Appeal to the reader—how this situation affects us|
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