Some assignments have a standard format, such as lab reports or case studies, and these will normally be explained in your course materials. For other assignments, you will have to come up with your own structure.
Your structure might be guided by:
Essays are a very common form of academic writing. Like most of the texts you write at university, all essays have the same basic three-part structure: introduction, main body and conclusion. However, the main body can be structured in many different ways.
To write a good essay:
Reports generally have the same basic structure as essays, with an introduction, body and conclusion. However, the main body structure can vary widely, as the term ‘report’ is used for many types of texts and purposes in different disciplines.
Find out as much as possible about what type of report is expected.
There are many ways to come up with a structure for your work. If you’re not sure how to approach it, try some of the strategies below.
During and after reading your sources, take notes and start thinking about ways to structure the ideas and facts into groups. For example:
It’s a good idea to brainstorm a few different ways of structuring your assignment once you have a rough idea of the main issues. Do this in outline form before you start writing – it’s much easier to re-structure an outline than a half-finished essay. For example:
Eventually, you’ll have a plan that is detailed enough for you to start writing. You’ll know which ideas go into each section and, ideally, each paragraph. You will also know where to find evidence for those ideas in your notes and the sources of that evidence.
If you’re having difficulties with the process of planning the structure of your assignment, consider trying a different strategy for grouping and organising your information.
Your writing will be clear and logical to read if it’s easy to see the structure and how it fits together. You can achieve this in several ways.
Most of the types of texts you write for university need to have an introduction. Its purpose is to clearly tell the reader the topic, purpose and structure of the paper.
As a rough guide, an introduction might be between 10 and 20 percent of the length of the whole paper and has three main parts.
If the main body of your paper follows a predictable template, such as the method, results and discussion stages of a report in the sciences, you generally don’t need to include a guide to the structure in your introduction.
You should write your introduction after you know both your overall point of view (if it is a persuasive paper) and the whole structure of your paper. You should then revise the introduction when you have completed the main body.
Most academic writing is structured into paragraphs. It is helpful to think about each paragraph as a mini essay with a three-part structure:
The topic sentence introduces a general overview of the topic and the purpose of the paragraph. Depending on the length of the paragraph, this may be more than one sentence. The topic sentence answers the question 'what's the paragraph about?'.
The body of the paragraph develops this topic. It may elaborate directly on the topic sentence by giving definitions, classifications, explanations, contrasts, examples and evidence.
The final sentence in many, but not all, paragraphs is the concluding sentence. It does not present new information, but often either summarises or comments on the paragraph content. It can also provide a link, by showing how the paragraph links to the topic sentence of the next paragraph. The concluding sentence often answers the question ‘so what?’, by explaining how this paragraph relates back to the main topic.
You don’t have to write all your paragraphs using this structure. For example, there are paragraphs with no topic sentence, or the topic is mentioned near the end of the paragraph. However, this is a clear and common structure that makes it easy for the reader to follow.
The conclusion is closely related to the introduction and is often described as its ‘mirror image’. This means that if the introduction begins with general information and ends with specific information, the conclusion moves in the opposite direction.
The conclusion usually:
This material was developed by the the Learning Hub (Academic Language and Learning), which offers workshops, face-to-face consultations and resources to support your learning. Find out more about how they can help you develop your communication, research and study skills.
See our Writing skills handouts.