There is basically only one criterion for essay structure: it should have an introduction, a middle, and a conclusion. Beyond this there is no set format, as long as the essay presents a coherent and convincing argument. It often helps to create visual sub-sections by including titles for the sections. This can help announce the next topic to the reader, and is overall extremely helpful in order to follow the big lines of the argumentation when done well. It might be worthwhile for students to swap essays after supervisions in order to learn what others have done well.
In addition to the format and layout of your essay, you need to think about structuring your 'argument', which may be quite different from the approach you take in literature essays. You may need to form an 'argument' in response to an instruction instead of taking a position against a.n established 'view'. For example, suppose that the question asks you to examine a particular structure of French.
You would be expected to show that you understand the way in which that structure is constructed and also how it functions within the language. You would also need to study the ways in which the structure varied and explore under which conditions this was likely to occur. (For example, it might be appropriate to examine issues relating to register and/or written/spoken code, although these might not necessarily be the only pertinent avenues of investigation). A good essay will explore this question by gathering and analysing lots of different examples of data, but importantly it will seek to go beyond this by extrapolating outwards, exploring different intepretations of the data and thereby producing a more sophisticated analysis of the structure in question. An essay should continually reconsider the terms of the question. It should also continually develop its own argument, following through the implications of its analysis of the data to the more theoretical issues involved.
Clarity is essential at all points in your essay. You may have a brilliant argument but lack of clarity will reduce it to a poor one. If you have original ideas you need to showcase them rather than lose them in a morass of other details. Make the most of the work you have put in by taking a few moments to organise it properly.
- Be clear in your expression
- Be clear at all points on how your answer relates to the terms and implications of the question
- In linguistics essays, be clear in distinguishing the arguments you have noted in the reading from your own argument