The Traditional Essay

Learning to write an essay has value regardless of your career path. It will help you organize your thoughts and present them more effectively any time you communicate.   For the most part, writing is not a talent that people are born with. You can learn to write well.

Read the following example:

Last Friday afternoon, we were hustling to get everything finished before we left for the weekend. I had George moving all the pallets of finished product to the loading dock and placing them neatly in the holding area. As he came around the corner by the punch press, the hydraulic system on the forklift failed, the product tipped off the lift and was destroyed, and the entire area was flooded with hydraulic fluid. The cleanup took us several hours. A few of my guys were pretty miffed that it messed up their Friday-evening plans, and the product lost was worth about $3,500 as nearly as I can calculate. I think it’s really important that we get a new forklift, as it would increase safety, productivity and employee morale. Please give me the go-ahead to purchase a new one.

First of all, the old forklift is presenting an unacceptable safety risk. Industrial Safety, had a story in last May’s issue about a gal who was killed in Texas when some heavy product tipped off a forklift and crushed her. The forklift’s steering linkage had failed while the operator was trying to avoid hitting a wall. He had to slam on the brakes causing the product to tip over on top of the woman. Our forklift has a ton of similar problems. For example, the brake discs are so badly worn and warped that the forklift shakes when they’re applied. I’m worried that something similar to the Texas incident could happen here.

Beyond safety, the old forklift is reducing productivity. Toward the beginning of last week, we were working on several rush orders for automotive parts: the blowers for Acme Corporation, the alternators for Montana Supply, and the fin extenders for Napa. The forklift kept breaking down, and we had to continually shut down production because we couldn’t get the pallets moved out of the production areas. I had to have the employees working on the fin extenders take them off the pallets, load them onto hand trucks and then restack them on pallets in the holding area at the loading dock. We lost about 17 man hours from this, which may have completely eaten up our profit on that order.

In addition to productivity, a new forklift will also help employee morale. My crew is starting to make comments about how it doesn’t seem like the higher-ups have a clue. They can see that we’re losing money with these delays. Last week one of the guys said, “They obviously don’t care, so why should we?” We used to have a ton of fun making the work a real team sport. We have always kept the production numbers up on the white board where we all can see them, and we love to beat the other plants for most production without a lost-time accident. After the accident last Friday, I can tell my crew isn’t even trying to beat our Toledo plant because they’re sure that some of our “chewing gum and bailing wire” equipment will fail and we’ll lose.

Based on these concerns, please let me know if I can purchase a new forklift. The benefits to safety, productivity and morale are obvious. I’d really like to avoid another late-Friday-afternoon cleanup if we can, and get my crew back into the game.

The traditional academic essay has three parts: an introduction, a body and a conclusion. The body usually contains three paragraphs, so the essay will have five paragraphs.

The essay needs a thesis and three supporting points. In this case:

Thesis – We need to buy a new forklift.
Supporting point 1 – A new forklift would increase safety.
Supporting point 2 – A new forklift would increase productivity.
Supporting point 3 – A new forklift would increase morale.

Often textbooks suggest that writers express the entire outline above in a “thesis statement,” such as, “We need to buy a new forklift to increase safety, productivity and morale.”

Notice that all the supporting points are separate, and directly and logically support the thesis. Always write out an outline like this before you begin writing an essay.

The introduction has three parts: an attention-getter, a plan of development (in which the writer summarizes the supporting points that will follow), and a thesis.

Each body paragraph will begin with a transition leading into the point of the paragraph. The rest of the body paragraph will contain the support: examples, explanations, and reasons that the reader should accept/believe/support the point.

The conclusion should summarize the content of the essay, usually by reviewing the thesis and supporting points, and provide a sense of closure, often by reffering back to the attention-getter used in the introduction.


  1. introduction
  2. conclusion
  3. thesis
  4. supporting points
  5. transitions

A good essay will exhibit (adapted from College Writing by John Langan):

UNITY – the entire essay supports the thesis; it never strays.
COHERENCE – the essay’s organization is clear.
SUPPORT – the examples and explanations within each body paragraph are detailed, persuasive and vivid.
SENTENCE SKILLS – the essay is free of grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors; and the sentences read easily.