By: Tory Dockree, Tabatha May, and Emily Meilleur-Rivers
If you are thinking about what it will be like to write an essay in university, you are not alone. Knowing that we were going into programs like English, ArtSci and Social Psych, we were definitely curious about what would be expected of us writing-wise. We remember the feelings of self-doubt that we had before we got to university, so we wanted to give you some of the information that we wish we knew back then.
We specifically want to focus on organizing essays because we think it will be really helpful to consider no matter which discipline you are writing in.
This post is not a step-by-step guide, but it will help give you a clearer picture of what might be expected of you in terms of essay submissions. With that in mind, remember to always consult assignment guidelines to make sure that you are writing to your instructor’s standards. If you have any questions about what is expected of you, it is a very good idea to seek answers from your professors and/or TAs because they will be the ones grading your work.
One “hamburger” essay with the works, please!
We would like to begin by addressing the statement that the hamburger essay model doesn’t work in university—which is not entirely true. The people who say this probably mean that a simple five-paragraph essay isn’t going to cut it in university. This will turn out to be mostly correct.
A rigid framework like the one we were taught in high school leaves little room for nuance and flexibility, two things you want when you are communicating your argument in an essay. On the other hand, the elements of the “hamburger? essay—the “buns” (introduction and conclusion) and ‘meat’ (body paragraphs) are still needed in university essays. A hamburger essay is better than a nachos essay, which we suppose would be something like your thoughts all jumbled together with no clear beginning or end.
So how can you adapt the hamburger model to meet your professor’s expectations? In simple terms, this hamburger needs more toppings.
Let’s think about the different components and how we could evolve them:
If you are putting off writing after you have gone through your brainstorming and research, it might be because you aren’t sure how to write a strong introduction.
Here are a few tips:
- Avoid general opening sentences such as “throughout history, there have been conflicts between people.” This doesn’t tell your reader anything about what you are going to be arguing—introduce your narrowed topic with clarity and concision!
- Think of your introduction as a road-map. You will likely want to summarise the different axes of your argument so that your reader knows how the essay will unfold and has a picture of how the whole thing fits together.
- Your thesis is the most important piece of your essay. It falls near or at the end of your introduction and should state, in simple terms, not only your position in the argument but also how you break that argument down. Every other part of your essay is in service of this thesis and should, therefore, be directly connected to it.
This general area of your essay could turn out differently depending on your discipline, but it is important that you maintain a clear sense of organization within your paper. We mentioned that the five paragraph essay lacks nuance and flexibility, so remember that you are not bound to this model.
The model that makes the most sense to us is more like a snow-person! Each paragraph is going to articulate a key point of your argument, and that point should have clear connections to your other points. In an ideal world, each paragraph actually builds on the one before it to further develop and support your claims.
When you are supporting your claims with outside sources, remember that quotations never speak for themselves. It may be obvious to you why you included a particular secondary material, but you need to explain this connection to your reader. Where you might not have been penalized for simply summarizing quotations in high school, you will be in your classes here. Focus on why that quotation supports what you are arguing and why it is important to consider that support.
If in high school you thought of your conclusion as a copy-pasted and inverted introduction, you’re not alone. The problem with this is that it doesn’t show any development of your argument. A conclusion (which we’re all guilty of rushing sometimes) should clearly summarize your main points in a way that shows that you have supported the claim you made in your thesis. There is some debate about whether you should include any new outside material in a conclusion, so we won’t speak definitively on that. If your introduction was a road-map for your essay, think of your conclusion as you telling people how you got from point A to point B. Your goal here is not to restate each twist and turn, but to convince your reader that you successfully navigated yourself somewhere.
We hope that this has been helpful. We know that submitting essays in university can be a source of worry. If you pay close attention to your instructor’s guidelines and ensure that your work meets them, you are setting yourself up for success.
About Tory, Tabatha and Emily
I’m going into my third year of Arts & Science with a combination in Philosophy.
I’m going into my fourth year of Social Psychology with a minor in Sociology.
I just finished my undergrad in English and Cultural Studies with a Minor in Women’s Studies. In September, I am sticking around at Mac to start my Master’s in Cultural Studies and Critical Theory.