How to write an essay 1

This page discusses two common ways to structure a persuasive essay and has a full essay example.


An essay (or composition) is a formal piece of writing about a particular topic, containing an introduction, a body and a conclusion. There are several different types of essay. For example: Compare and contrast, Cause and effect, Problem and solution.There is a list of all the essay types on Wikipedia.

The type that is discussed on this page is usually called a persuasive essay or an argumentative essay.

Note: If you prefer to listen to advice rather than to read it, go to the next page in this section. It contains numerous short videos on the various aspects of the persuasive essay, as well as of three other common essay types.

Persuasive essay

@ The title of a persuasive essay is often a controversial statement to which you have to respond. ~ In the body of this kind of essay you have to discuss arguments for and against the statement. And then in the conclusion you should make it clear which arguments you think are the stronger.

As an example, consider the statement: Students at this school should be required to wear a uniform. In the body of your essay you should discuss the arguments for and against. And you should conclude by making it clear if you agree with the statement or not.

There are two main ways to organise the arguments in a persuasive essay.

Organisational Type 1

One way to organise is to follow each separate argument with a counter-argument as below:

  • argument ↔ counter-argument
  • argument ↔ counter-argument
  • argument ↔ counter-argument
  • argument ↔ counter-argument

Organisational Type 2

Alternatively, you could discuss all the arguments in favour of the statement together in one block, followed by all the arguments against, as below:

  • argument 1
  • argument 2
  • argument 3

  • counter-argument 1
  • counter-argument 2
  • counter-argument 3

Discussion of the two organisational types

The first way is probably better if each argument for is balanced by an argument against. For example, a uniform is expensive (argument) ↔ designer clothes are even more expensive (counter-argument). If the arguments have no clear counter-argument, then the second organisational type is preferable.

In both cases, however, it is best if your personal opinion is contained in the counter-arguments (i.e. the arguments that are listed second.)

Example of organisational type 2

Let's look at how you could organise an essay according to Type 2 on the statement: Abortion is a crime. An outline response from someone who disagreed with the statement could look like this:


  • what is abortion
  • short history
  • very controversial issue
  • some murders of doctors

Arguments for statement

  • foetus is living thing
  • foetuses will become humans
  • we do not kill animals, babies after birth or retarded children
  • many childless people, baby can be adopted


  • abortions within few weeks, not a human - collection of cells
  • if not aborted, terrible life
  • what about if mother in danger?
  • what about pregnant through rape?
  • woman has right to choose what to do with own body


  • not a crime, a personal choice


@@ An important aspect of a good essay is the appropriate use of transitions. ~~ Transitions are the words and phrases you use to show the development and connection of your ideas. Firstly, finally, in addition, furthermore, in contrast, consequently are all examples of transitions.

The Online Writing Lab at Purdue has a good list of transitional devices.

In-text citations

You will often want to include in your essay the ideas of researchers and experts in the topic. Sometimes you will paraphrase their ideas, and sometimes you will quote them directly.

Every time you do this, you need to include an in-text citation. Otherwise you are guilty of plagiarism. There are strict rules for how exactly to write in-text citations, depending on which system you are expected to use. Your teacher should advise you on this.

Here you can use an interactive page to generate in-text citations formatted according to MLA rules.

Full essay sample

Below is an example of a complete essay with the title: Is it acceptable to cause the extinction of a butterfly in order to build a factory in a poor area?


Palaeontologists believe there have been many periods in earth's history when large numbers of animals have suddenly become extinct. For example, the entire class of dinosaurs was wiped out over 60 million years ago. Another mass extinction happened at the time of the last ice age. Scientists believe, however, that the extinction we are experiencing now at the beginning of the 20th century is on an even larger scale and at a vastly more rapid speed. It is said that 3 to 4 species of plants or animals are becoming extinct every hour. One of the main reasons for the current extinction rate is the spread of industrialization all over the world. The building of a factory in a previously unspoilt habitat can lead to the destruction of another 3 or 4 species. Is this an acceptable price to pay for providing poor people with jobs?

Arguments against

There are many strong reasons to leave the habitat untouched and thus spare the butterfly from extinction. Butterflies are creatures of this earth just as humans are, and have the same rights to existence. Imagine what we humans would feel if a superior alien race informed us that they needed to use our planet as a massive factory to build their supersonic spaceships. Surely it is the duty of humans to protect more vulnerable species, not to destroy them.

Another powerful argument for leaving the butterfly in peace is that all creatures are part of a great linked chain. If one link is destroyed, then other parts of the chain are destroyed too. farmers know this only too well. If they drive away all the birds from their fields that are eating their seed, then there is no protection from an invasion of insects. Furthermore, very many important medicines have been developed from the parts of plants or animals. If we destroy the butterfly, we may also be destroying to chance of a cure for cancer or AidS.

There is a further argument against building the factory. A factory would not only destroy the immediate habitat but would also bring pollution to the whole area. This would affect the health of the people who worked in the factory and their children. The possibility of making money from tourists who come to a beautiful area to see a rare species would be gone.

Arguments for (counter-arguments)

There are also many powerful arguments for building the factory. As stated above, many species are lost every day so one more is not going to make a big difference. There are thousands of butterfly species still in existence, and it may even be possible to transfer the endangered colony to another habitat. This has been done successfully with other animals. Even is this is not possible, lepidopterists could collect samples of the butterflies before they disappear, and exhibit them in museums for anyone who wanted to see them.

A more powerful argument is to consider what would happen if the factory was not built. Without work, the poor people of the region would not have enough food to live a healthy life. We have seen the results of this in many deprived parts of the world. The people cut down the forests to provide wood for housing and heating. They also poach the animals to sell as trophies, pets or to make medicines, or simply to eat them. Alternatively, they may try to migrate and find work in Europe or North America. We can see the results every day on television as hundreds of illegal immigrants are stopped at the borders, or suffocate in container ships bringing them across the sea.

It is easy for someone who is rich, with a good job and a comfortable home, to plead for the protection of an animal species in a habitat far away from where he lives. It would be a different matter if he was poor and unemployed, and could not feed his children. When the poor people of the region have attained a reasonable standard of living, they are much more likely to start considering how they can protect the environment in which they live.


Although there are powerful arguments for saving the butterfly, I believe that the factory should be built. Whatever anyone says, humans are a higher form of life than insects and have greater rights. Of course, we must do everything we can to protect our fellow creatures, but this does not mean that we should return to a way of life like 300 years ago before industrialization.

Note: The above may or may not be my personal view on the issue.


The two essay organisational types discussed above are common for persuasive essays. But there are other kinds of essay and other ways to organise them. You are strongly advised to follow the Writing Process when writing an essay or indeed any other extended piece of writing.

For more information and advice on essay-writing, I strongly recommend the resources offered by the Online Writing Lab at Purdue (OWL). The OWL provides excellent advice on all writing matters.

Another excellent site for older and more advanced students is Using English for Academic Purposes. It contains everything you need to know to achieve academic success.