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What Are the Different Types of Essay Structures?

Tara Barnett
Tara Barnett

There are several different types of general essay structures and many more types that are formally related to specific disciplines. Essay structures are simply formalizations of logical processes that tend to work well in specific circumstances. As such, they often take the form of the type of argument being made, such as compare and contrast or chronological explanation. Different languages also have different traditional essay structures, although styles of logic are typically similar in most academic contexts independent of language.

One of the most common types of essay structures in English is the so-called five-paragraph essay. This type of essay includes an introduction paragraph that contains the thesis, three paragraphs making points about that thesis, and a closing paragraph that summarizes the argument that has been made. Variations on this structure may include different numbers of paragraphs or may make multiple arguments in order to add up to a single complete point. Depending on the length of the essay, it is sometimes important to reiterate how the point being made relates to the thesis of the essay.

Students often learn essay structures in class.
Students often learn essay structures in class.

Another common type of structure for essays involves comparing and contrasting. This type of essay is also often in the standard five-paragraph form, but it may use paragraphs to break up the different aspects that are being compared and contrasted. Essays of this type are very common for younger students but become increasingly rare in college.

In specific disciplines, there are sometimes additional essay structures that are considered appropriate to the subject. This is particularly true in the sciences, where data must often speak for itself. The components that must combine to form a logical argument in the sciences are often quite different than in the social sciences, and it is important to ensure that a complete and coherent argument is being made.

One type of structure for essays involves comparing and contrasting.
One type of structure for essays involves comparing and contrasting.

Essay structures are almost always expansions on logical arguments. This means that any logical argument that can be expressed in prose can form the skeleton of an essay. It is important to understand the purpose of each paragraph, and many people can see the structure of an essay more easily when each paragraph is broken down into a sentence outline.

Essay structures are almost always expansions on logical arguments.
Essay structures are almost always expansions on logical arguments.

Given that different cultures have different rhetorical strategies and traditions, essay structure may be quite different across languages. In general, there is usually at least one structure that is considered acceptable by academic institutions in a country. Learning essay structures in a foreign language can be difficult, but reading essays in the target language can help identify what the underlying structure might be.

Discussion Comments


Essay structure outlines can definitely differ across academic disciplines. I was an art major in college, so I took a lot of art history classes as well as a bunch of english electives. I was used to writing essays a certain way for those classes.

Then I took a science class where I had to write a paper. It was so hard for me, because it was structured completely differently. It was almost like I was learning to write a paper all over again.

I think it would be easier if there were some standardized way to write an academic paper.


@KaBoom - I agree that the five paragraph essay structure example does work well for certain things. I remember writing a lot of five paragraph essays in high school using that format to support a statement about a book or a certain issue.

However, when you start writing other kinds of essays, it doesn't work as well. I took a class in college where I had to write some personal essays, and writing in chronological order worked a lot better for those. I didn't exactly have a thesis statement to support for those essays!


I must enjoy formula, because I always liked the five paragraph narrative essay structure when I was in high school. It was just so easy! All you had to do was think of a thesis and three main points, and you were set.

I also think this formula prepares you for writing longer papers in college. When I was in college, most of the longer papers I wrote still consisted of one paragraph for an introduction and one for a conclusion. Then all the other paragraphs would be centered on some supporting point. There would just be more than three supporting paragraphs!


One of the biggest problems I always encountered when I was in college was the best method of compare and contrast essay structure. Everyone will face an essay like this eventually where you have to talk about the different sides of a point.

I think the basic point of a compare and contrast essay is to pick out the pros and cons and relate them to an end solution. The problem I always ran into was whether it was best to group all of the pros together and discuss the merits followed by the cons or whether the best method was to take individual issues of the argument and discuss the pros and cons together.

I still don't know if there is any one most accepted way to do it. Personally, I usually go with the latter choice of doing the pros and cons of a single issue at a time. For me, at least, it's easier to write about and breaks up the monotony of the discussion. I think it is fair to say that the same problems would be had with cause and effect essay structure, too. Does anyone have any advice on the best ways to write these types of essays?


I had no idea that other cultures wrote essays any differently than they do in the United States. I think that a lot of it would probably have to do with the general "philosophy" of the countries. For example, most English writing is pretty straight forward and direct (or should be at least). In several Latin American cultures, though, it is more acceptable when you are talking to someone to be less forceful and indirect. I am just speculating based on what I know about verbal communication, but I would suspect you would find similarities in the writing.

I think the best part is that there is no proper essay structure. Different scenarios call for different writing styles. Just like the article alludes to, someone writing an essay about the scientific principles behind combustion would use a much different format and style than someone talking about a trip the the Grand Canyon.


@TreeMan - I agree with you. One of my old English teachers always used to tell us that the best writing guided readers along so that they never got bored or confused but always needed to read on to find the answers to their questions. I think with the five paragraph style it is easy to keep the reader on track, but I would just as soon skim the essay, find the main points, and move on. Using other styles makes the reader take in the whole essay rather than skimming for the first sentence or two of a paragraph to find the main point.

I do like that the article points out making some sort of outline when writing an essay. This was something I only started doing once I got to college, and it is a great help for a number of reasons. If you are in an exam setting, you are working with limited time. By deciding what points you want to cover with your answer, you can quickly decide the most effective order of presentation and write the essay from there.

If the essay is part of a writing assignment, the outline is good just to keep you on track with your writing. At least for me, I can tend to get a little off-topic if I don't have an outline to refer to and check my progress.


I will say that I personally hate the 5 paragraph essay structure. I find it to be too stilted and predictable if you are a reader. I admit that it is a good format for people in grade school or middle school, but once students get to high school, I think they should be weaned off of the system in favor of more logic-based writing.

I think the biggest benefit to the 5 paragraph structure is that it gives students a good basis for how essays are formed. For example, using the 5 paragraphs makes the student recognize the thesis and the main points. It also helps them specifically distinguish when they are discussing the different points.

In more advanced writing, however, the best writers don't need to have a system to guide their readers along. Great writing should use paragraphs and theme changes where it is most effective for the reader.

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    • Students often learn essay structures in class.
      By: Rido
      Students often learn essay structures in class.
    • One type of structure for essays involves comparing and contrasting.
      By: AlexOakenman
      One type of structure for essays involves comparing and contrasting.
    • Essay structures are almost always expansions on logical arguments.
      By: bramgino
      Essay structures are almost always expansions on logical arguments.
    • It can be difficult to learn essay structures in a foreign language.
      By: michaeljung
      It can be difficult to learn essay structures in a foreign language.