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Academic Essay Structure

Essay Structure

Academic writing, including argumentative essays, tends to follow a standard structure that includes an introduction, body, and conclusion. A strong overall essay structure provides a clear map for your argument, allowing you to lead the reader through your ideas. Without this map, your reader can easily get lost and lose track of your argument.

An essay will include an introductory paragraph, body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph, which can be seen in this illustration:

The introduction comes first. It includes a grabber, background, and thesis.

The body paragraphs go in the middle. They each include a topic sentence, evidence, analysis, and concluding sentence.

The conclusion goes at the end. It includes a restatement of the thesis, summary of key points, and a clincher/call to action.



  • There is no rule about how many body paragraphs an essay needs (unless you are given a specific number from your instructor).
  • You can split one main point into two body paragraphs if you have more than one topic to discuss. This approach can help keep your paragraphs more focused. Just make sure that each topic sentence clearly connects to the main point listed in the thesis. See an example in our sample paper below.


Use the following sample essay and essay template to help you better understand and follow effective essay structure:


Unity describes the way that all the ideas and components of an essay work together to prove the thesis. An essay with strong unity will stay focused and have clear connections between different paragraphs.  

Here is an example of how the first body paragraph connects to the thesis:

The topic sentence of the 1st body paragraph connects to the first main point in the thesis.


Creagan, E. T., Bauer, B. A., Thomley, B. S., & Borg, J. M. (2015). Animal-assisted therapy at Mayo Clinic: The time is now. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 21(2), 101-104. 
Hall, D. (2018). Nursing campus dogs: A pilot study. Teaching and Learning in Nursing 13(4), 202-206 


Cohesion describes how specific sentences and ideas are connected. There are various cohesive devices you can use to help tie ideas together in your writing and lead your reader from one idea to the next:

Transition words and phrases are useful tools to help create cohesion in your writing. Here are some transition words and phrases that are commonly used in academic writing:

Transition Words
Meaning Function
to introduce an additional idea Also, besides, furthermore, moreover, in addition, another (+ noun), an additional (+ noun)
to introduce an opposite idea on the other hand, however, in contrast, instead, nevertheless, nonetheless, in spite of
to introduce a comparison Similarly, likewise, also, too
to introduce an example for example, for instance, to illustrate,
to emphasize Indeed, another, even more, above all, indeed, more importantly,
to introduce a conclusion or summary in conclusion, in summary, to conclude, to summarize,
to clarify chronological order first (second, etc.), next, last, finally, first of all, meanwhile, after that, since then, previously, then, later, before, to begin,
to indicate order of importance more/most importantly, above all,
to introduce an alternative Otherwise, alternately, conversely, nevertheless, however,
to introduce a cause or reason as a consequence of…, as a result of…, the effect of x on y is…, because of…, due to…
to introduce an effect or result Accordingly, thus, as a result, therefore, as a consequence, consequently,
to introduce a concession However, nonetheless, of course,
to introduce strong contrast However, in contrast, in / by comparison, on the other hand, on the contrary,
to summarize or conclude in summary, in brief, therefore, as a result, to sum up, in conclusion, altogether, as has been mentioned,

Repeating key words helps tie together the flow of thoughts in an essay. Although repeating a few key words can be useful, don’t overdo it!

Using appropriate pronouns (he, she, it, you, they…) connects ideas while avoiding needless repetition. Check for pronoun/antecedent agreement to make sure you have used the correct pronoun.

Using demonstratives, or pointing words, like this, these, and those helps you refer back to concepts, ideas, research, etc. that you previously mentioned in your writing, allowing you to create more connections for your reader. Be sure to include a noun after the demonstrative so it is clear what you are referring to.


… because petting animals encourages the production of chemicals essential to brain function, like prolactin, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. These mood-stabilizing chemicals assist…

Order of Body Paragraphs

When choosing the order of your body paragraphs, it is always important to think about what will make the most sense for your reader. Here are three strategies you may choose to adopt for your essay:

Chronological Order

If your paper...

examines a topic over time, it may be ideal to use a chronological structure. This means that your body paragraphs would 

  • move from past to present, and possibly to the future or
  • describe a process from beginning to end.

The ideas move from past to present to future or first, second, then third.

Ideal for... 

Narrative essays, process essays, and historical analyses.

Thesis Example

XYZ Inc.’s initial product line, effective marketing, and future plans for expansion demonstrate that it will continue to be a key player in the technology field.

(This paper examines the company from past to future.) 


Logical Order

If your paper...

has ideas that build on each other. Your reader may need information/context from one of your body paragraphs in order to understand another.

Point 3 builds on point 2, which builds on point 1.

 Ideal for... 

Analytical (cause and effect, compare/contrast, classification,) and argumentative essays

Thesis Example

Poor sleep can lead to negative consequences for students, including chronic drowsiness, depression, and learning difficulties. 


(Constant drowsiness may impact mental health, and both drowsiness and depression cause learning difficulties.)

Strategic Order

If your paper...

doesn’t benefit from a chronological or logical approach, you can be strategic and highlight your strongest points. Generally, the reader is going to remember your first and last body paragraph the most. If you have one or more paragraphs that aren’t as strong, “hiding” them in the middle can help put more emphasis on those really great paragraphs!

The first and last point will be highlighted more than the second/middle point.

Ideal for... 

any type of essay that doesn’t require a chronological or logical approach. 

Thesis Example

Using public transportation in major Ontario cities will help individuals save money, reduce stress, and lower the province’s CO2 emissions. 

(Imagine that I didn’t find as much research for my point about reducing stress. I can choose to place that paragraph in the middle.)



Headings are used in some papers to separate or group different sections. 

Most argument and analytical essays do not require headings. However, headings can be a useful organizational tool for some papers, especially reports and case studies in which your ideas don't follow a single argument. For example, a paper that uses a statement of intent might benefit from headings to help group information. Ask your faculty for their preference. 

Headings are used to group multiple paragraphs that have a similar theme or that answer the same question from your assignment. The main topics or themes that you introduce in your statement of intent would likely work well as headings. 


Consider this statement of intent:

This report establishes a need for expanded student mental health programs at Conestoga College, assesses the benefits and drawbacks of therapy dog programming as a possible solution, and offers recommendations for the program’s implementation based on this analysis.

This statement of intent suggests the paper will accomplish four tasks:

  1. establish a need for expanded student mental health programs at Conestoga College,
  2. assess the benefits of therapy dog programming,
  3. assess the drawbacks of therapy dog programming, and
  4. make recommendations. 

Therefore, this paper could use the following  four headings:

  • Challenges: Student Mental Health,
  • Benefits,
  • Drawbacks, and 
  • Recommendations.

It is also possible to use subheadings to break these sections up even further. For example, if the paper's "Drawbacks" section focuses on two benefits: health concerns and inclusivity, these could each be included as subheadings of that section. See the Sample Report-Style Essay to see how different levels of headings can be used. 

The format of headings will depend on the style guide you are using. Learn more about how to format headings according to APA. 



  • Use the assignment instructions to help establish main topics/headings. For example, if you are asked to complete multiple tasks or address multiple topics in your paper, each of these topics could have its own heading. 
  • Use consistent formatting for headings:
  • Use only key words or phrases for your headings to keep them short and simple. Your reader should be able to read headings quickly and easily. 
  • Only use headings when they will truly benefit the reader. Remember: their purpose is to group information rather than replace effective essay structure.
  • Check out the sample report to see an example of how headings can be used in a paper.