Writing an academic essay means fashioning a coherent set of ideas into an argument. Because essays are essentially linear—they offer one idea at a time—they must present their ideas in the order that makes most sense to a reader. Successfully structuring an essay means attending to a reader's logic.
The focus of such an essay predicts its structure. It dictates the information readers need to know and the order in which they need to receive it. Thus your essay's structure is necessarily unique to the main claim you're making. Although there are guidelines for constructing certain classic essay types (e.g., comparative analysis), there are no set formula.
Answering Questions: The Parts of an Essay
A typical essay contains many different kinds of information, often located in specialized parts or sections. Even short essays perform several different operations: introducing the argument, analyzing data, raising counterarguments, concluding. Introductions and conclusions have fixed places, but other parts don't. Counterargument, for example, may appear within a paragraph, as a free-standing section, as part of the beginning, or before the ending. Background material (historical context or biographical information, a summary of relevant theory or criticism, the definition of a key term) often appears at the beginning of the essay, between the introduction and the first analytical section, but might also appear near the beginning of the specific section to which it's relevant.
It's helpful to think of the different essay sections as answering a series of questions your reader might ask when encountering your thesis. (Readers should have questions. If they don't, your thesis is most likely simply an observation of fact, not an arguable claim.)
"What?" The first question to anticipate from a reader is "what": What evidence shows that the phenomenon described by your thesis is true? To answer the question you must examine your evidence, thus demonstrating the truth of your claim. This "what" or "demonstration" section comes early in the essay, often directly after the introduction. Since you're essentially reporting what you've observed, this is the part you might have most to say about when you first start writing. But be forewarned: it shouldn't take up much more than a third (often much less) of your finished essay. If it does, the essay will lack balance and may read as mere summary or description.
"How?" A reader will also want to know whether the claims of the thesis are true in all cases. The corresponding question is "how": How does the thesis stand up to the challenge of a counterargument? How does the introduction of new material—a new way of looking at the evidence, another set of sources—affect the claims you're making? Typically, an essay will include at least one "how" section. (Call it "complication" since you're responding to a reader's complicating questions.) This section usually comes after the "what," but keep in mind that an essay may complicate its argument several times depending on its length, and that counterargument alone may appear just about anywhere in an essay.
"Why?" Your reader will also want to know what's at stake in your claim: Why does your interpretation of a phenomenon matter to anyone beside you? This question addresses the larger implications of your thesis. It allows your readers to understand your essay within a larger context. In answering "why", your essay explains its own significance. Although you might gesture at this question in your introduction, the fullest answer to it properly belongs at your essay's end. If you leave it out, your readers will experience your essay as unfinished—or, worse, as pointless or insular.
Mapping an Essay
Structuring your essay according to a reader's logic means examining your thesis and anticipating what a reader needs to know, and in what sequence, in order to grasp and be convinced by your argument as it unfolds. The easiest way to do this is to map the essay's ideas via a written narrative. Such an account will give you a preliminary record of your ideas, and will allow you to remind yourself at every turn of the reader's needs in understanding your idea.
Essay maps ask you to predict where your reader will expect background information, counterargument, close analysis of a primary source, or a turn to secondary source material. Essay maps are not concerned with paragraphs so much as with sections of an essay. They anticipate the major argumentative moves you expect your essay to make. Try making your map like this:
- State your thesis in a sentence or two, then write another sentence saying why it's important to make that claim. Indicate, in other words, what a reader might learn by exploring the claim with you. Here you're anticipating your answer to the "why" question that you'll eventually flesh out in your conclusion.
- Begin your next sentence like this: "To be convinced by my claim, the first thing a reader needs to know is . . ." Then say why that's the first thing a reader needs to know, and name one or two items of evidence you think will make the case. This will start you off on answering the "what" question. (Alternately, you may find that the first thing your reader needs to know is some background information.)
- Begin each of the following sentences like this: "The next thing my reader needs to know is . . ." Once again, say why, and name some evidence. Continue until you've mapped out your essay.
Your map should naturally take you through some preliminary answers to the basic questions of what, how, and why. It is not a contract, though—the order in which the ideas appear is not a rigid one. Essay maps are flexible; they evolve with your ideas.
Signs of Trouble
A common structural flaw in college essays is the "walk-through" (also labeled "summary" or "description"). Walk-through essays follow the structure of their sources rather than establishing their own. Such essays generally have a descriptive thesis rather than an argumentative one. Be wary of paragraph openers that lead off with "time" words ("first," "next," "after," "then") or "listing" words ("also," "another," "in addition"). Although they don't always signal trouble, these paragraph openers often indicate that an essay's thesis and structure need work: they suggest that the essay simply reproduces the chronology of the source text (in the case of time words: first this happens, then that, and afterwards another thing . . . ) or simply lists example after example ("In addition, the use of color indicates another way that the painting differentiates between good and evil").
Copyright 2000, Elizabeth Abrams, for the Writing Center at Harvard University
Related AWA Resources:
I took the GMAT twice and scored 6.0 each time. I did put a lot of time in it the first time....too much actually. Being a non-native speaker and having not written a damn essay (of any kind) in many many years, I was very scared of the AWA. So, I went through every guide that I could find and wrote nearly 25-30 essays. Even had a friend grade them for me.....Pathetic, huh?
Anyway, for my second time, I just looked over my templates I created and wrote one of each the day before test just to refresh my memory on faster typing without making too many typos......
So, here it is....Enjoy, and please do not blame me if the 6.0 percentile goes down to 80 soon
AWA GUIDEby Chineseburned
1. General Structure
Intro - Restate argument, point out flaws or state intention to discuss them below
1st Para - First,...
2nd Para - Second/In addition,...
3rd Para - Third/Finally,...
Conclusion - The argument is flawed/weak/unconvincing because of the above -mentioned...Ultimately, the argument can be strengthened if/by...
2. Structural Word (should be all over the essays)
- Supporting examples - for example, to illustrate, for instance, because, specifically
- Additional support - furthermore, in addition, similarly, just as, also, as a result, moreover
- Importance - surely, truly, undoubtedly, clearly, in fact, most importantly
- Contrast - on the contrary, yet, despite, rather, instead, however, although, while
- Decide against - one cannot deny that, it could be argued that, granted, admittedly
- Ying-yang - on the one hand/on the other hand
- Concluding - therefore, in summary, consequently, hence, in conclusion, ultimately, in closing
The argument claims that ....(restate)
Stated in this way the argument:
a) manipulates facts and conveys a distorted view of the situation
b) reveals examples of leap of faith, poor reasoning and ill-defined terminology
c) fails to mention several key factors, on the basis of which it could be evaluated
The conclusion of the argument relies on assumptions for which there is no clear evidence. Hence, the argument is weak/unconvincing and has several flaws.
First, the argument readily assumes that......
This statement is a stretch....
The argument could have been much clearer if it explicitly stated that...
Second, the argument claims that....
This is again a very weak and unsupported claim as the argument does not demonstrate any correlation between....and...
In fact, it is not at all clear...rather....
If the argument had provided evidence that.....then the argument would have been a lot more convincing.
(pose some questions for the argument).....Without convincing answers to these questions, one is left with the impression that the claim is more of a wishful thinking rather than substantive evidence.
In conclusion, the argument is flawed for the above-mentioned reasons and is therefore unconvincing. It could be considerably strengthened if the author clearly mentioned all the relevant facts....
In order to assess the merits of a certain situation/decision, it is essential to have full knowledge of all contributing factors. In this particular case....
Without this information, the argument remains unsubstantiated and open to debate.
4. Going from the templates to full-fledged essays
The following appeared in the editorial section of a national news magazine:[/b]
"The rating system for electronic games is similar to the movie rating system in that it provides consumers with a quick reference so that they can determine if the subject matter and contents are appropriate. This electronic game rating system is not working because it is self regulated and the fines for violating the rating system are nominal. As a result an independent body should oversee the game industry and companies that knowingly violate the rating system should be prohibited from releasing a game for two years."
Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. Point out flaws in the argument's logic and analyze the argument's underlying assumptions. In addition, evaluate how supporting evidence is used and what evidence might counter the argument's conclusion. You may also discuss what additional evidence could be used to strengthen the argument or what changes would make the argument more logically sound.
The argument claims that the electronic games rating system, although similar to the movie rating system, is not working because it is self regulated and violation fines are nominal, Hence, the gaming rating system should be overseen by an independent body. Stated in this way the argument fails to mention several key factors, on the basis of which it could be evaluated. The conclusion relies on assumptions, for which there is no clear evidence. Therefore, the argument is rather weak, unconvincing, and has several flaws.
First, the argument readily assumes that because the electronic game rating system is self regulated, it is not working well. This statement is a stretch and not substantiated in any way. There are numerous examples in other areas of business or commerce, where the entities are self regulated and rather successful. For instance, FIA, the Formula1 racing organization is self regulated. Yet, the sport is very popular and successful, drawing millions of spectators around the world each year. Tickets are rather expensive, races are shown on pay-per-view, and nearly all drivers are paid very well. Another example is the paralleled movie rating system that the argument mentions. The author fails to clarify whether it is working well, but it is clear that the movie rating system is pretty well received by people, who often base their decisions to go see a movie with kids or not on the movie rating. It has never been a case when someone would feel cheated by the movie rating and express disappointment afterwards. Since the movie rating system is also self regulated, it follows that this regulatory method is working pretty well and it is not obvious how it can be the reason for the poor electronic game rating system. The argument would have been much clearer if it explicitly gave examples of how the self regulatory system led to bad ratings and customer dissatisfaction.
Second, the argument claims that any violation fees for bad electronic game ratings are nominal. It thus suggests that this is yet another reason for the rating system not working. This is again a very weak and unsupported claim as the argument does not demonstrate any correlation between the monetary amount of the fines and the quality of the electronic game rating system. In fact, the argument does not even draw a parallel with the mentioned movie rating system and its violation fines. If any such correlation had been shown for the movie rating system, which supposedly works well, then the author would have sounded a bit more convincing. In addition, if the argument provided evidence that low violation fines lead to electronic game manufacturers to ignore any regulations with respect to the game rating system, the argument could have been strengthened even further.
Finally, the argument concludes that an independent body should oversee the game industry and companies that violate the rating system, should be punished. From this statement again, it is not at all clear how an independent regulatory body can do a better job than a self regulated one. Without supporting evidence and examples from other businesses where independent regulatory bodies have done a great job, one is left with the impression that the claim is more of a wishful thinking rather than substantive evidence. As a result, this conclusion has no legs to stand on.
In summary, the argument is flawed and therefore unconvincing. It could be considerably strengthened if the author clearly mentioned all the relevant facts. In order to assess the merits of a certain situation, it is essential to have full knowledge of all contributing factors.
5. Final tips
- During the tutorial type in a few sentences in the mock essay window to get used to the keyboard.
- Again during the tutorial, jot down on your notebook the basic structure of your essays or the opening sentences in case you get too nervous and forget them when the clock starts ticking.
- Write as much as you can. Try to write at least 500 words per essay.
- Always have the e-rater in mind as your potential reviewer. Remember that the human rater will make every effort to grade just like the e-rater. In that sense, keep your structure and volume in mind over actual quality/content.
- Be careful of spelling mistakes. Double check words that you normally know you misspell (e.g. exercise). Try to finish 2-3 minutes before time is up so you can slowly re-read your essay for the purposes of spell checking. Do not reorganize/delete sentences/paragraphs with less than 2 min left.
- No matter how great you thought your essays went, try to stay humble and focused - remember this was just a warm-up and the real stuff hasn't started yet!
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Chinese Democracy is misunderstood...at your nearest BestBuy.
Best AWA guide here: http://gmatclub.com/forum/how-to-get-6-0-awa-my-guide-64327.html
Last edited by bb on 14 Nov 2017, 22:18, edited 10 times in total.
Added the template as image