Book reviews, literature reviews, literary analyses, ... different as they are, they also share a set of characteristics:

  • The introduction At a minimum, it announces and clarifies the topic. Often, it ends with the thesis statement, making a commitment that the rest of the essay delivers on.
  • The body The body of the essay develops the thesis and thus fulfils the commitment of the introduction. The paragraphs in the body develop the general points that support the thesis -the items that would be labelled with Roman numerals and capital letters in a formal outline. Each general point may take one paragraph (in short texts) or several pages (in longer papers), with the bulk of the content providing the details, examples, and reasons to support the general point and thus the thesis.
  • The conclusion This gives readers something to take away from the essay -a summary of ideas, for instance, or a suggested course of action.

If you are not used to reading and writing academic prose, its pattern of introduction and conclusion and the particular schemes may seem unfamiliar. For instance, instead of introductions that focus quickly on the topic and thesis, you may be used to openings that establish personal connections with readers or that approach the thesis indirectly. And instead of body paragraphs that first emphasize general points and then support those points with specific evidence, you may be used to general statements without support (because writers can assume that readers will supply the evidence themselves) or to evidence without explanation (because writers can assume that readers will infer the general points themselves). When writing academic prose, you need to take into account readers' expectations for directness and for the statement and support of general points.

There are a variety of ways to organise an expository essay, depending on your purpose. The most common strategies, or patterns, of organisation include development by example, process analysis, comparison & contrast, definition, problem/solution, and causal analysis. They are patterns that readers are used to, if only unconsciously, in paragraphs and essays. Because these patterns of organisation are familiar to readers, using them will help you communicate with an English-speaking audience more effectively. However, an essay is rarely developed completely by a single strategy: an essay developed by comparison and contrast may also contain examples; a classification essay may contain definitions, and so forth. There are, however, certain things that you should bear in mind when building your paragraphs.

Paragraphs, like chapters, should have a sense of unity, tension and balance and they should be coherent. They should also respect a certain order of arrangement. The coherence of a paragraph will depend on the way in which you have presented your topic sentence and the clarity with which you have explained or illustrated it. Used from time to time, comparison and contrast should give your paragraphs the necessary amount of tension and balance. The correct arrangement of the ideas in sentences and the skilful deployment of transition devices will give your paragraphs unity. The careful repetition of key words and terms will also contribute to that sense of unity. If you are using inductive or deductive reasoning, the sentences in your paragraph should follow and reflect the steps of that reasoning. If the chronology or history of events are important to your reasoning, then your paragraphs and sentences should be arranged accordingly.

General structuring principles

If a paragraph is not carefully structured, you may find yourself moving back and forth between elements. For instance, the topic sentence makes a claim, but then instead of elaborating or arguing this claim, you first need to mention a number of preliminary matters before you can return to your claim. This results in a circuitous and needlessly repetitive style. This is a problem which can also occur on paragraph and text level.

In such cases, thorough restructuring is necessary. In doing so, pay attention to the order in which new and given information are presented, because this should not be random.

  • Usually, the new information, or the point you are making about the topic the sentence, is placed towards the end of the sentence, because that is the part that gets most emphasis.
This study (= the topic) examins students' beliefs about learning (= what you say about the topic, new information).
  • The next sentence then expands on an aspect of this new information, which has now become given information. Given information will tend to occur at the start, in topic position. In the following passage, for instance, backward linking, given information is in bold.
This paper provides the results of a literature review on the use of ICT and e-learning in work-based learning. The review (= identified in the previous sentence) spans the years 1990-2004 and analyses 15 articles, published in major journals. Findings (= of this analysis) indicate that four basic approaches are common.

The advantage of this structuring principle is that it creates a domino pattern that facilitates understanding.

this structure is possibly unclear for the reader, because related elements are not together
This, however, is much clearer, because there is a logical development from A to B to C etc.

In sum, these are the two principles to keep in mind when revising your text:

  • Move given information to the start of the sentence, to create a better link with the previous sentence. Anything that is less important should also be moved to the left (to the start or to the middle) to avoid a weak ending.
*In this scenario trade could increase by $254 billion. Improved port efficiency is responsible for about half the increase.
In this scenario trade could increase by $254 billion. About half the increase is derived from improved port efficiency.
  • Move new information to the end of the sentence: this will give it greater stress and it will also create a better link with the next sentence.
*Legal Protection for investors is another important form of infrastructure for financial reporting and capital markets.
Another important form of infrastructure for financial reporting and capital markets is legal protection for investors.