How to Structure an Academic Paper

Structuring your academic paperFor many students, writing an academic paper may be a daunting task. Thankfully, there are writing structures to help make writing an academic paper a successful and perhaps, enjoyable endeavor. The information below describes a simple structure that may be useful for many types of academic papers.  

Keep in mind as you write your essay; structure is not the only important element of a successful paper.  Be sure your content is well organized and you begin your writing well in advance of the assignments due date to ensure you have time to conduct thorough reasearch, write several drafts, and carefully edit your paper.


Basic academic papers have three main parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Each of these three parts typically serves its own purpose.

The introduction introduces and creates context for the subject and topic, it describes the structure of the essay, and establishes the paper’s central argument or thesis.

The body follows the structure outlined in the introduction and covers topics pertinent to proving the paper’s thesis.

The conclusion restates the central argument in a new way, reviews the paper’s central topics and main points, and explains the papers relevance and importance.


Introductions are generally divided into three parts and serve three main purposes:

(1) Create context for the subject and topic

(2) Describe the structure of the essay

(3) Introduce the author’s central argument

Creating Context

Authors should ease their readers into their papers by creating context for the paper in the introduction. Authors can create context by giving the readers information illustrating the overall subject, central topic(s), and argument.

Authors can create context in many ways. Some methods include:

- Telling a story

- Giving historical or background information

- Giving statistics, facts, or other hard data

- Offering key definitions

- Posing questions pertinent to the topic

Describing the Structure of the Essay

Describing the structure of the essay may help the reader establish basic expectations for the organization of the paper. This helps them “relax” into the information and notice important details without being distracted by surprise topics and disorganized or unexpected information. This section of the introduction serves as a road-map for the reader—it allows them to proceed with the confidence of knowing what’s to come. This portion of the introduction focuses on introducing the central points and describing the authors plan for supporting them. Two common phrases used in this portion of the introduction are:

“This essay will…”

“In this essay I will…”

These phrases might be continued using verbs describing the action to be taken in the paper. Some key verbs include: describe, analyze, prove, distinguish, argue, and provide

Introducing the Central Argument

In academic writing, the central argument, or the thesis, is often the most important component of the paper. Therefore, making a central argument successfully and immediately is important.

A central argument is not necessarily designed to convince the reader. Rather, it is designed to make a central claim that the reader, after reviewing the essay, is better equipped to understand. Much of academic writing is designed with the intention of allowing readers to gain a better understanding of a particular subject.


The body of the paper lays out the evidence and information proving your central argument, or thesis.

There are two main things to remember about the body of your paper: first, each paragraph typically follows a particular form; and second, those paragraphs generally follow some of the rules for writing academically


Paragraphs often have three parts:

(1)   A topic sentence

The topic sentence lays out the paragraph’s topic. It tells your reader what the paragraph is going to be about.

(2)   A set of explanatory sentences

The explanatory sentences explain, clarify, and help readers better understand the topic.

(3) A set of analysis sentences

The analysis sentences provide readers with an analysis of the paragraphs importance. They explain the paragraphs relationship to the central argument of the paper.


Conclusions generally have three main parts:

(1)   Restatement of the thesis

(2)   Review of the main points made (or topics covered) in the body

(3)   Explanation of the papers relevance, significance, and importance

The Restatement of the Thesis

The thesis statement captures the central argument of the paper. It is introduced in the introduction and repeated—with new language—in the beginning of the conclusion. It is repeated with new language because the assumption is the readers’ understanding of the topic has progressed as the author has made their main points in the body of the paper. Because the readers’ thinking has advanced, it makes sense to advance and enhance the language of the central argument. The intention is to provide a deeper illustration of the original thesis statement—one allowing the reader to understand the thesis statement on a deeper level—without losing the original thesis statement’s meaning or intention.

A Review of the Main Points and Topics

Many readers may appreciate a recap of the paper’s central points and topics. Providing a recap will remind the reader of the work’s central themes and help the reader connect the themes to the author’s original argument.

Answering the Question, “So What?” Explaining the Paper’s Relevance, Significance, and Importance

Academic papers are written for a reason, whether to inform, convince, or explore. Authors should use this portion of the conclusion to explain this reason in depth. Although good writer’s will continuously connect their main points back to their central argument throughout their papers, they should not assume these arguments will be enough to convince their readers of the papers importance. Instead, authors should use the conclusion to clearly and powerfully explain the purpose of the paper, how it proves its central argument, and why the paper is important. 

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Annie Rose Stathes holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Political Science, from the University of Colorado, Denver. She is currently an instructor of writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado 


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