Structuring the essay

After you have analysed the question, conducted your initial research and decided on your tentative position and line of argument, the next step is to construct a preliminary outline for your essay.

Most essays follow a similar structure, including an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion, as shown in the diagram below.

Diagram of the structure of an essay

A key part of this planning stage is working out the most logical way to present your argument and supporting information so that your reader can easily follow your reasoning. Careful planning will help ensure your argument is presented clearly and convincingly.


Tip

TEEL refers to a way of structuring body paragraphs, and stands for:

  • Topic sentence
  • Explanation
  • Evidence
  • Link.

This is explained in more detail in the Writing body paragraphs section of the tutorial.

Example essay outlines

Below are two examples of essay outlines that were written in response to the essay question: ‘Explain the relationship between police culture and police accountability’.

Version 1 reflects the sort of plans that many students produce. It’s ok as a starting point, but it needs to be further developed. It’s very descriptive, and requires a stronger argument and deeper analysis. Version 2, on the other hand, presents a clear argument. It states the contention in the introduction, followed by a series of supporting points that are based on evidence.

Version 1Version 2
Too descriptive - where is the argument?Clearer argument, more analysis

Introduction

  • Police culture stems from common mission and sense of ‘brotherhood’.
  • Police culture has bred cynicism, racism and a ‘code of silence’
  • This essay will explore effect of police culture on police accountability.

Introduction

Contention: Police culture is an impediment to police accountability.

Main points: Police culture has bred cynicism, racism and a ‘code of silence’, to the detriment of integrity, morality and the law.

A combination of internal and external controls are needed to achieve greater transparency and integrity.

Point 1

Define police culture.

Point 1

Police culture as defined by Chan.

Other definitions?

Discuss problems with defining it.

How Chan’s definition sets parameters for this essay.

Point 2

James and Warren outline the negative aspects of police culture: ‘Code of silence’ and cynicism/pessimism in the police force.

Point 2

Topic sentence: ‘Code of silence’ is part of police culture which enables corruption and misconduct.

Evidence (& analysis of evidence): Kelling et al. highlight specific outcomes of this including: abuse of authority, brutality, misuse of force, bribery…

How does their view compare with other studies? Strengths/weaknesses?

Point 3

Smith and Reside (2010) say that racism and discrimination is part of police culture.

Point 3

Topic sentence: Police become cynical of their social environment, and become isolated or detached from it which feeds into police culture. This inadvertently impedes accountability as it contributes to indifference, aggression, an ‘us and them’ mentality, exercise of a higher degree of authority and force, and even racism and discrimination.

Evidence (& analysis of evidence): studies by James and Warren, also Smith and Reside. Strengths and weaknesses of these studies; how they compare with other studies or viewpoints.

Point 4

Description of the independent bodies that have been established to investigate and prevent corruption.

Point 4

Topic sentence: The establishment of independent bodies to investigate and prevent misconduct and corruption are themselves evidence of problems with police culture.

Evidence (& analysis of evidence): Chan, 1999; UBAC, OPI. Strengths/weaknesses of independent bodies. How effective have they been? Compare different viewpoints.

Conclusion

Negative aspects of police culture impede police accountability.

Conclusion

Contention: Police culture is one of the biggest obstacles to police accountability.

Broader significance: Both internal and external regulation are needed to preserve the integrity of law enforcement in Australia

Version 1:

  • Doesn’t answer the essay question in the introduction.
  • The contention is stated in the conclusion, but needs to be stated in the introduction, and then developed throughout the entire essay.
  • Paragraphs describe particular theories/ideas but don’t analyse them or say how they help to answer the essay question.

Version 2:

  • States the contention in the introduction.
  • Claims are presented in response to the essay question (in the topic sentences), and are supported by analysed evidence.
  • Conclusion sums up argument and reflects on implications.


Note

There is no set requirement for the number of paragraphs in an essay. The important thing is that the argument is logically developed through a series of well-structured paragraphs.