Once you have completed a rough outline of your work and composed an introduction with a working thesis, you are ready to begin drafting the bulk of your paper: the body. This should be comprised of several paragraphs, each presenting and supporting one main idea from your thesis.
Here we have summarized the best and most popular methods for composing a great body for your graduate school application essay. Some experienced writers may choose to step outside these guidelines, but this can be risky. If you choose to stick to these formulae, you are much more likely to have a strong, clear, and cohesive college application essay.
The Makings of a Great Body
Every paragraph must begin with a topic sentence. Every topic sentence must support your thesis and must present a single clear idea for each paragraph.
After you present a topic sentence, the remainder of the paragraph should elaborate on that topic. You must first provide evidence that supports your topic sentence, and then provide introspective statements about your evidence as it relates to the idea presented in your topic sentence. Make sure that your supporting evidence presents an argument for your topic sentence and does not just tell a story—you are writing an essay, not a short story. You may include a running story or use several anecdotes throughout your essay, but you need to dedicate a significant portion of each paragraph for introspection (keep in mind the 40/60 rule from chapter 15).
The Break Down
- Topic sentences must introduce your paragraphs, not conclude them. We often read paragraphs where the author does not make his or her point until the end. This makes for very meandering and unclear paragraphs. You want to make your intentions clear from the start.
- Each topic sentence must relate back to the thesis. You want your essay to be cohesive, so there should be no statement that does not contribute to your argument in some way. If it is not pertinent, leave it out.
- Keep your topic sentences clear and succinct. Remember, do not say in ten words what you can say in five. Try to keep your topic sentences under 25 words; aim for between 10 and 15.
- Avoid compound sentences and beginning your topic sentences with long prepositional phrases—this takes away from the impact of the topic sentence. It will also keep you from promoting two different ideas in one topic sentence.
Take a look at the following sample.
Let’s say that this is our working thesis:
Although my misophonia, or selective sound sensitivity syndrome, has often proven to be a hindrance in my life, it has also forced me to become a highly perceptive and empathetic person.
The following can be topic sentences introducing your body paragraphs:
- I have learned to be a problem-solver.
- I have learned the importance of compromise and teamwork.
- I now have an appreciation for a range of opinions—even those that contradict my own.
As you can see, all of the topic sentences relate directly to the thesis.
- The supporting sentences should be comprised of supporting evidence and elaboration. The graduate school admissions officer is interested in your perceptiveness and your analytic capabilities, not how good of a story teller you are.
- Keep the imagery and flowery language to a minimum. This is a persuasive essay — focus on persuading!
- Leave the end of each paragraph (2-3 sentences) for introspection. If you choose to include an anecdote in your paragraph, make sure to have sufficient explanation at the end about how the anecdote relates to your topic sentence and thesis.
How you choose to support your topic sentence is up to you. Here are just a few examples of how one might choose to continue one’s body paragraphs:
a) I have learned to be a problem-solver. Because my misophonia forced me to behave in a way that would draw attention, I had to be creative in how I dealt with my problem. When I would meet people for lunches or dinners, I would always choose a place that played music. If I saw in a classroom that a student nearby was consistently bringing food, I would pick a seat that was far enough away where it wouldn’t affect me. I have learned to interpret such obstacles as puzzles that must be solved. This kind of thinking I now apply to other aspects of my life; any problem, big or small, never hinders my determination to realize my goals….
Take a look at the supporting evidence offered in (a). The three sentences that follow the topic sentence cite examples of how the author is a problem-solver. This precedes two sentences of introspection which illustrate what the author has learned from his or her experiences.
b) I have learned the importance of compromise and teamwork. When people in my life realize that I have misophonia, I am either confronted with a lack of understanding on their behalf or, more rarely, complete empathy. The empathy I have received has contributed to such positive relationships and mutual respect, that I feel compelled to always accommodate and compromise for others. I recognize that, when working with different personalities, it is important to be flexible and open-minded. If everyone involved takes on this mentality, each person can positively contribute…
Note how this author chooses to support his or her topic sentence. Here, the supporting sentences further explain the tie between the thesis and the topic sentence. These serve as strong support because they remind the reader of the bigger picture.
c) I now have an appreciation for a range of opinions—even those that contradict my own. There are people who are open-minded and interested in hearing about misophonia and how I deal with it, and there are those who dismiss it because they know nothing about it. This has forced me to acknowledge that there is a limit to how much I know on any given topic. I therefore make it a point to always listen to a different perspective, in case the person with whom I’m speaking is more informed or has been subject to different perspectives than I have…
In this third example, the author chooses to provide background information on his or her topic sentence. This serves as a short anecdote, and then feeds into the author’s interpretation of the situation (the introspection).
After you have come up with your topic sentences and have a rough idea of how you will elaborate, you must decide in which order to put your paragraphs. Ideally, all of your supporting arguments will be equally excellent. Unfortunately, in most cases, some of your arguments will be stronger than others. There are two popular methods of delivery:
1. The Bing, Bang, Bongo Approach: The author presents his weakest argument—relatively speaking, of course—first, and saves his or her strongest argument for last.
- The reader will become more and more persuaded as he or she reads on. An advantage of this approach is that you will end on a strong note; a reader often best remembers the most recently read portion of your essay.
- However, this method may also lead to a weak first impression of your essay. If your weakest argument is considerably weaker than the others, this may not be your best option.
2. The Sandwich Approach: The author starts with his or her strongest argument, concludes with his second strongest, and sandwiches the weaker arguments in between.
- This can be effective because you create a strong first impression and you still end on a relatively convincing note.
- This is the safer approach, because by the end of your essay, it will not seem as though you are running out of arguments and resorting to weaker supporting ideas.
- We strongly recommend this method if there is a disparity between the effectiveness of your arguments.
Tips on Structure
- Each body paragraph should begin with a strong succinct topic sentence (10-15 words).
- The topic sentence must be followed by supporting evidence (2-3 sentences).
- Most importantly, you must conclude each body paragraph with introspection (2-3 sentences).
Dos and Don’ts
- Make sure each topic sentence relates back to the thesis.
- Remember to support every claim and to keep your essay clear and organized. You want your reader to be able to easily follow your train of thought, so that he or she may evaluate your ideas and analytical thinking skills.
- Keep your topic sentences clear and succinct—avoid starting with prepositional phrases.
- Include flowery language or imagery.
- Focus too much on a narrative and not enough on introspection.
- Include more than one topic sentence in one paragraph. Every paragraph should have only one main idea.