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The English Critical Essay
by Linda Hutcheon and Nancy Kang


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2. The Structure of an Essay

2.1 Title

Your title should reflect the THESIS or central argument of your essay. Avoid repeating the TOPIC as assigned (or selected).

2.2 Opening Paragraph

Begin with a statement about the general TOPIC and proceed to your particular THESIS and approach to it. This structure will orient your reader. Avoid giving a summary of what is to follow. Summaries are best left to conclusions. Avoid writing about your essay; write only about your subject. (In other words, avoid such statements as: "In this section I shall discuss x." Simply discuss x.)

2.3 Body

The middle section of the essay should be divided into carefully connected paragraphs, each consisting of four to eight sentences. Avoid overly long or short paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain one major point, and must be related logically and grammatically to the preceding and following ones. Use connecting words (such as: however, therefore, in addition, nevertheless, and so on) to ensure smooth and clear transitions between points and paragraphs. Make sure that the argument progresses in a manner that is both coherent and convincing. Never apologize. Avoid too such statements as "in my opinion," since the entire essay is assumed to be your opinion -- that is, an opinion based upon and supported by material from the texts.

2.4 Conclusion

Since the argument has built up to your strongest point, your conclusion should begin with what your argument proved -- your THESIS. A brief and reworded summary of your main points could follow for emphasis, but a plodding repetition should be avoided. End with an "opening outwards" to the general implications of your findings, remembering that the reader should be left with a feeling of your conviction, not your doubt or hesitation.


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