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Tips for Organizing an Illustrative Essay

Essentially, an essay is nothing more than a written account of the writer’s thoughts, ideas, and/or beliefs, and sometimes it provides factual information or opinion supported by evidence. Additionally, there are many types of essay, of which the illustrative essay is just one type. It may be that you are not familiar with this form of writing but, in essence, it is an essay format that allows you to discuss something you believe in and to show – or to illustrate – why you hold a particular belief and even how you developed that belief.

In fact, illustrative essays are common assignments given to students in English classes. If, for instance, you have been studying a particular text or book as part of your course, your tutor may ask you to provide your opinion of a given character from that text, and to do so in the form of an essay. When you start working on such an assignment, one of your first tasks will be to develop a statement about the character you have been asked to discuss. For example, if you say that character is selfish, you will then need to provide evidence to support your belief in that statement. The following is a relatively straightforward formula you can use for organizing your thoughts for any essay-writing project.

Start by clearly defining the element, belief, or characteristic you intend to illustrate in your essay. It is important, therefore, that you are certain about what you are going to say so that you can support this statement later. You also need to give some thought to coming up with a few keywords or key phrases (about three) that adequately explain your reasons for believing or not believing in a particular concept, statement, or idea. This process will provide you with a thesis statement for your essay. Using the example in the earlier paragraph, you could then write, “It is obvious the central character in this book is selfish because her only concern is that she has fun, she is immune to the concerns of the children, and she relies on someone else to cover up her mistakes.”

You are now ready to begin writing the introduction paragraph for your essay. Create two or three sentences that provide readers with a broad overview of the idea or belief you intend to illustrate in your paper. Create another two or so sentences that say why other readers and/or writers may feel differently about this than you do. Write your thesis statement, or just add it in if you have already written it, which should include your three main reasons for holding the view that you do.

Your next step is to draft a rough outline upon which to base the remainder of your essay. If it is the case you have already created a central thesis statement showing your three main reasons, then you have the basis of a good outline. Now you just have to develop a separate paragraph around each of your reasons. These paragraphs should provide examples that substantiate and support your reasons and illustrate how you have arrived at the conclusions you have reached. Therefore, to build your essay’s outline, you should write down your first main reasons with, say, two or three ideas or points that show how these support and link back to the central thesis statement. You will now need to repeat this process for the next two main reasons.

Writing the main body paragraphs is the next stage. Each of these paragraphs should begin with two or three sentences that fully explain the main reason contained therein and how this reason helped you reach the conclusion you ultimately came to. Your next task is to add a few sentences (three or four) that give specific and clear examples to support this reason. Again, using the earlier example of the character in the book you are studying, you could possibly say that the character only seems interested in enjoying herself at the present time because, upon arrival, she instantly starts to devise entertainment for herself and the youngsters, and even though it is raining, she seems oblivious to any adverse consequences. At this stage, it would be appropriate to cite evidence and examples from the text. Each individual paragraph should end with an appropriate closing statement or sentence that recalls how the provided examples support the reason outlined in that paragraph.

The final step in the process is writing your essay’s conclusion. You should begin by crafting a sentence or two that reiterates the central thesis statement. The next two or three sentences should point to relevant examples from the main body of your essay. Your last task is to create a final sentence or two that bring your main reasons to a close and lead you smoothly to the conclusions you have come to.

To Summarize

Since there is a lot of information in the above steps, it is worth recapping on them in more concise form. So, what you have to remember to do is:

  • Choose and clearly-define the element or belief you wish to illustrate in your essay.
  • Choose three main reasons that have caused you to feel or believe as you do.
  • From these three reasons, you should develop your central thesis statement.
  • Write the introductory paragraph for your essay.
  • Draft a rough outline upon which to base the remainder of your essay. This should contain your three main reasons and any supporting examples/evidence you can find.
  • Write your main body paragraphs. Remember to allow a new paragraph for each of your three main reasons.
  • Write a strong concluding paragraph that brings your essay to a smooth and logical end.

A Few Additional Tips

  • Before you start, make sure you understand all that is required of you, including when the assignment needs to be submitted.
  • Understand the page or word count limit, and stick to this as you write. 
  • Make notes as you read the text you will be basing your essay on. Highlight or annotate any important points as you go along. This will make it easy for you to find quotes and reference materials when you are writing.
  • If you have any difficulty generating ideas for your essay, hold a brainstorming session. This is an excellent mechanism for generating ideas and getting your thoughts flowing. It is a technique that is also good for working out the best way to approach your assignment.
  • Last but not least, it is important to proofread and revise your paper when it is complete. You may well be a very good writer, but it is usual for a few irritating mistakes to get through. So read back over your work at the end to make sure there are no spelling, punctuation and/or grammar errors. Check content, structure and language usage as well while you are reviewing. The following are a couple of good proofreading techniques:
  • Read your paper aloud and even backwards from the end. Reading aloud will allow you to hear how your words sound.
  • Ask someone else to read your paper since a fresh pair of eyes may pick up any errors you miss.


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