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Essay Structure – How Structure Affects Content

Now that you have seen the complex themes with which you must engage and begun thinking about the personal details you will use, it’s time to begin the daunting task of making sure you have great essay structure.

How you structure your essay depends largely on the nature of the question. Therefore we have grouped the questions into three types:

Straightforward Questions are those that define your scope clearly. For example, the question may ask you to describe an experience in which you exercised leadership. You don’t have to worry about how many experiences to choose, and you know that your theme will be leadership. This type of essay is easiest to structure, because you won’t have much room to deviate.

Complex Questions consist of a series of prompts. The most important one is the “why MBA” question, which usually asks you to tie your reasons into your goals and background. The challenge here is to integrate your responses to individual questions into a single coherent essay.

Open-Ended Questions should be treated like the personal statements you might have written for college. The strategies we offer in this section apply to any question that does not define a scope or offer specific questions to narrow your focus. Such questions might simply ask you to discuss your personal background, for example. A question that asks you to “describe your leadership style” fits into this category instead of the first one, because you must make the decisions on how many experiences to discuss and how to integrate them into a flowing structure.

We offer a final section on the essential issue of Transitions, which applies to all three types of questions.

EssayEdge Extra: How Structure Affects Content

Admissions officers appreciate essays that are carefully structured, because they reveal the writer’s thought process and ability to engage with details. But you should not conclude that achieving the optimal essay structure is a mere bonus: it’s also essential to maximizing the value of your content.

Your first concern should be clarity. If your essay is haphazardly structured, the reader simply will not be able to follow your ideas, and your whole purpose will be lost.

Your second concern is focus. An essay could be clear on the sentence or paragraph level, but still lack overall coherence. Perhaps you have written three paragraphs each clearly devoted to one topic, but you haven’t shown how each topic contributes to some larger point. Some essays will be straightforward enough that your main task is to make sure you’re answering the question asked. But when you’re dealing with multiple complex questions or more open-ended topics, you must have a focused approach so that the reader can take a clear point away as he or she puts your essay down.

Your third concern is impact. Even a clear and coherent essay can fail to achieve the optimal structure that would maximize the essay’s overall impact. For example, the overarching theme of an essay might be your interest in innovation as your reason for pursuing entrepreneurial ventures. After outlining this clear focus in your first paragraph, you go on to write three clear paragraphs each independently offering evidence of your interest in innovation. What’s lacking is a sense of progression: the reader sees not growth but repetition. To maximize impact, your structure must allow each point to build upon previous points, thereby improving not only your essay’s flow but also the overall force of your argument.

It’s important to remember that these three areas overlap. You don’t achieve optimal essay structure by treating each one as an isolated step, but must keep each one in mind as you plan out your essay.

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