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Home > Business > Free Essay Tips and Advice > Creating Structure


Creating an Outline
Point-for-Point Structure
Structural Segmentation
The Example Essay
Chronological Structure
Narrative
Descriptive
Compare and Contrast
Cause and Effect


Now that you know what you want to say in each of your essays, it is time to start writing. First, set a time limit of no more than one day for each essay. The longer your time frame, the more difficult it will be to write your first draft. The point is to not allow yourself to sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. As one admissions officer said, some of the worst writing ever crafted has been done under the guise of inspiration.
Relieve some of the pressure of writing by reminding yourself that this is just a draft. Rid yourself of the notion that your essay can be perfect on the first try. Don’t agonize over a particular word choice, or the phrasing of an idea -- you will have plenty of time to perfect the essay later. For now, you just need to start. The most important thing is to get the words on paper.

Creating an Outline

The easiest way to sabotage all the work you have done so far is to skip this step. Writing is as much a discipline as it is an art, and to ensure that your essays flow well and make sense, you need to construct solid outlines before you write. Unless you conscientiously impose structure around your ideas, your essay is likely to be rambling and ineffective.
Based on the information you have developed throughout the last chapters, choose one essay and construct an outline that contains the central idea as well as its supporting points. At its most basic, an outline will be as simple as this:

Introduction (which contains the central idea)

Paragraph #1

Topic sentence that ties into the central idea
Supporting Point #1

Paragraph #2

Topic sentence that links the above paragraph to the next
Supporting Point #2

Paragraph #3

Topic sentence that links the above paragraph to the next
Supporting Point #3


Conclusion (which reiterates the central idea and takes it one step further)

An outline should make sense on its own, in that the ideas should read logically in the order that you list them. As you add content around these main points, it should support and reinforce the logic of the outline. Finally, the outline should conclude with an insightful thought or image. Make sure that the rest of your outline reinforces this conclusion. The transition into the final paragraph is critical. If it is not clear how you arrived at this final idea, either you have shoehorned a conclusion into the outline or your outline lacks focus.
There are many different ways to take this simple outline structure and apply it to the material you have. Hopefully your points and examples will fall into a natural and straightforward sequence on their own, without being forced. For ideas on how you might modify this general structure, read the examples of different essay categories below and see if your essay falls naturally into one of the structures used.
Point-for-Point Structure

This type of essay structures itself directly in response to the question asked. It is usually applied in response to questions that ask multiple things at once. A good example of this type is the "Why an MBA?" question. You may be asked to describe in a single essay your past experience, short-term goals, long-term goals, reasons for wanting an MBA, and reasons for attending that particular school. When you are saddled with so many tasks at once, an easy way to organize your answer is to let the question itself become your outline and answer each part of the question in the order it is asked, dedicating one paragraph for each response. Look, for example, at the following. The writer’s use of this structure can easily be spotted without even reading the essay, just by looking at the first line of every paragraph:

Question: Specifically address your post-MBA short- and long-term professional goals. How will Darden assist you in attaining these goals?

Paragraph 1: (answers short-term goals) "My short-term post-MBA goal is to continue developing my general management skills while working in an intellectually challenging environment."

Paragraph 2: (answers long-term goals) "My long-term goal is to be the CEO of a corporation, possibly my own."

Paragraph 3: (supports and explains goals with further evidence) "My new job as quality manager has convinced me that I should pursue a career in general management."

Paragraph 4: (answers why an MBA) "I believe that the entire MBA experience will be central to my future success and achievement for two reasons."

Paragraph 5: (answers why Darden) "Darden will assist me in attaining my goals in many ways, but three characteristics of the school stand out to me."

Closing Sentence: (sums up and emphasizes final point) "In sum, I am applying to Darden because of its integrated curriculum, its focus on ethics and honor, and its impressive community of students and faculty"
Structural Segmentation

Another way to apply a structure to your essay using the question itself as a guide is to segment your essay into titled sections according to the number of points you plan to make. This is most often done in response to a question that asks for a specific quantity of examples, such as "Discuss two situations where you have taken an active leadership role," or "Describe your three most substantial accomplishments." Many applicants choose to do this because it legitimately eliminates the need to write an introduction, conclusion, and transitions. It also can save you from having to start with the tired approach of repeating the question in the first sentence, like: "The two situations that I believe demonstrate my leadership abilities are…."
One of the essays found in our samples contains the two segments: "Teaching as a Teach For America Corps Member" and "Raising Funds for Teach For America." Another essayist is less traditional. This writer doesn't use sections to demonstrate isolated points or experiences. Instead, he uses them to build action and create momentum for his opening story by using titles such as: "The Lead-In," "The Situation," and "The Test."
The Example Essay

This is a very traditional and useful type of essay that presents a series of specific examples to define and support the idea being communicated. This approach is one of the most common and is recommended in response to almost any kind of question. Many questions call for this type specifically when they ask you to list a number of examples demonstrating a skill, ability, or accomplishment. Take a look, for example, at the organization inherent in the following, keeping in mind that she has provided a specific situation to demonstrate every point:

Question: If we had met you five years ago and then met you again today, how would we say that you have changed? Include specific examples that characterize your development.

Paragraph 1: (sets up the scene) "Five years ago I was twenty years old, just finishing up my first semester of my sophomore year in school."

Paragraph 2: (answers how she has changed) "Now I live in a rowdy, crazy, colorful, slightly shady neighborhood in Washington, DC…"

Paragraph 3: (deepens exploration of change) "But the biggest changes have been in how I relate to my work and the people around me."

Paragraph 4: (first example) "I learned how to learn."

Paragraph 5: (second example) "I’ve learned to enjoy the small moments of joy that every day contains."

Paragraph 6: (third example) "I’ve learned to forgive myself."

Paragraph 7: (fourth example) "I’ve learned to be a positive member of the team."

Paragraph 8: (conclusion/summary) "In five years I’ve grown more confident, more secure, and more at ease…"
Chronological Structure

To facilitate smooth transitions, you might apply a chronological approach to your outline. The sequence of events will help reinforce flow from one stage of the essay to the next. One downfall of this approach is that you may create an essay that reads like a ship’s log. Be sure that the element of time does not stifle the message you want to convey through the story. Do not feel obligated to tell more of the story than you need to adequately convey your point.
The chronological method does not have to span many years or even months. The first lines of each paragraph in the following show the chronology of the event:

Question: Describe an ethical dilemma you experienced firsthand. How did you manage and resolve the situation?

Paragraph 1: (sets up the situation in a general time scheme) "In late 1994 I worked on an equity offering for a Houston-based client with whom [investment bank] had built a very strong working relationship."

Paragraph 2: (begins the action at lunch) "This odd situation came to a head late in the deal during a lunch I attended in the executive dining room."

Paragraph 3: (moves to that evening) "I spent that evening in my hotel room wondering how I could, and if I should, continue working for clients with such prejudice…"

Paragraph 4: (the next day) "The next day I discussed my concerns with the client manager, reminding him that [former chairman] had unequivocally stated the firm’s motto as…"

Paragraph 5: (jumps to the last weeks of the project) "True to my convictions, I did all of my work from New York during the last few weeks of this project…"

Closing Sentence: (concludes with present day) "Appropriately enough, this client is currently under compliance review…"
Narrative

This is an essay that tells a story. A narrative essay can be structured in many ways. The chronological essay above, for example, is a kind of narrative. But in its purest form the narrative essay does nothing but tell the story. It begins and ends with the action. A more common use of the narrative approach is at the beginning of an essay as a means of drawing the reader in. One essayist does this by beginning with a hockey story. His first line takes us directly into the thick of the action: "I carried the puck up the left wing and couldn’t find a teammate as I reached the offensive zone." He doesn't step out of the story until his last paragraph, which begins with the distancing and authoritative: "Leadership is not appointed, it is earned."
Descriptive

A descriptive essay is similar to a narrative essay, but it appeals to the senses of the audience without necessarily drawing on the action of a story. There is no inherent structure found in this type of essay – it relies purely on vivid imagery and sensory detail. One essay, for example, describes with a high level of acuity and detail the writer’s personal experience of running: "my breath escapes my lungs in short gasps; I can feel my heart pounding in my chest to the rhythm of my shoes hitting the pavement; and although it’s a brisk thirty-eight degrees outside, sweat races down my face." This essay is pure description from beginning to end. It is not a narrative essay because it does not tell a story or build to a climax. The power of this essay lies in its ability to leave the committee with a single, vivid image. Single images are easier to remember than a list of points, qualities, traits, or qualifications, no matter how impressive any one or all of them are.
Compare and Contrast

This essay usually depicts a before-and-after experience. Many questions call for this approach specifically, such as the question in the previous example, which asks you to describe how you have changed in the last five years. The failure question, on the other hand, does not specifically ask for this structure but employing it can be a very good way to demonstrate how you have changed and learned from the experience. A good example of this is when one writer describes an experience that did not turn out well. She then pivots with the sentence "After the disastrous turnout at Yale, I did the only thing I could do: make certain that the same thing didn’t happen at Harvard." She then compares the first experience to a very similar one that ended in success.
This essay compares using a block style, thoroughly covering a point in the first half of the essay and then comparing it with another point in the last half. You can also compare and contrast specific situations point-by-point one after the other. An example of this can be found in the following:

Question: If we had met you five years ago and then met you again today, how would we say that you have changed? Include specific examples that characterize your development.

Paragraph 1: (introduces the subject) "In many respects, my life has changed dramatically in the past five years."

Paragraph 2: (compares/contrasts first point) "First, there is a marked contrast in my career focus between five years ago and today."

Paragraph 3: (compares/contrasts second point) "Another area of my professional life in which I have experienced tremendous growth is my ability to communicate and deal with many different types of people."

Paragraph 4: (compares/contrasts third point) "Finally, if you had met me five years ago, you would have found that my life goals were quite different from today."

Paragraph 5: (expands and expounds on last point) "My goals were to attain a comfortable life for myself, and to have time for my personal leisure. Since then, I have become a Christian…"
Cause and Effect

Cause and effect is most often used in response to questions about influence and failure. It is used to demonstrate that you know how to hold yourself accountable for your actions; in other words, "I caused this and know that I am responsible for the effect, which is...." Additionally, it can show that you appreciate the effect that other people and situations have on your growth, development, and maturity.
This structure can be used in many other instances as well and is good to demonstrate in any response to any question that you know how to take action and create change. One essayist, for example, tells of how her father’s sickness and subsequent death resulted in her passion for volunteering and philanthropy. Another demonstrates similar effects in reaction to her dilemma about the homeless situation. Both use the loose structure of X-cause prompting them to take action to bring about Y-effect.
 
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