Essay Format & Research Paper Structure Help


(Updated on September 9, 2018 by Michelle Williams)

Every essay needs to follow specific essay structure in order to be effective and flow well.  There is a best practice essay structure that's recommended for all students.  In order for students to understand these essay structures, it's important for students to speak with their professors about extra help or contact a tutoring/writing center if they need further clarification.

The basic rule of essay structure for all reports is that essays have three main sections: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.  Some essay structures may also require additional sections, such as a title page, reference section, and appendix.

The introduction to a report is the section in which the student introduces the topic about which he/she will be writing.  In order to properly introduce the topic, the student needs to provide background information about the topic as well as key terms associated with the topic that the learner will use.

The introduction should also contain the thesis statement in either the first or the last paragraph.  The thesis statement is a one-sentence statement that provides the purpose.

Essay Format & Research Paper Structure HelpAfter the introduction, the report structure should include body paragraphs.  The student can use as many body paragraphs as he/she needs in order to prove his/her point.  However, a basic essay structure requires only three body paragraphs.  Most high school students may follow the basic essay structure, but college students should follow a more sophisticated structure.

The conclusion appears after the body paragraphs.  The conclusion should recap information that the student stated in the document and provide the student's own conclusion.  The student shouldn't prevent new information in the conclusion.

The basic essay structure also follows an inverted pyramid style.  In such a structure, the broadest information should be included at the beginning of the document and at the beginning of the paragraph.  Specific information should be included at the end of the document or at the end of a paragraph.  The essay and each paragraph, therefore, look like an inverted pyramid.

The essay structure that students should use may differ from a research paper structure.  Research papers will often have many paragraphs that include information and ideas about the subject.  However, it should be brief.  Such compositions are usually the shortest and least formal types of academic writing.

Dissertation Format

A dissertation is an original, usually book-length research document completed by a doctoral student in the student's area of study.  Such documents are typically required to follow a very specific format according to the student's department, institution, and field.  Every dissertation writer should take care to investigate the specific guidelines outlined by his/her institution, as many institutions publish instructions regarding their preferred dissertation format.

Formatting dissertations is different from formatting other texts a student may write in the course of his/her graduate study because a dissertation must be presented in final, publishable form.  A dissertation is considered a "finished" document and will likely be filed and published in the exact version in which the student submits it.  This is the reason dissertation formats are so specific.

Though dissertation formats vary from institution to institution, most dissertation formats will be some variation of the following outline, containing:

  • pages of front matter (title page, copyright page, approval page, abstract, table of contents, list of tables, and list of figures);
  • the main body of the document broken into specific sections if necessary or mandated by formal requirements (see below);
  • a comprehensive list of references;
  • an appendix;
  • the writer's curriculum vitae.

Almost every report will include similar pages in the front matter, as detailed above.  Of these, the most important and standardized element is the abstract, which is a brief summary of the paper's study and results.  All abstracts should be less than 350 words.  This is a key element of dissertation format that's mandated by nearly every institution and discipline because this is the word limit determined by research databases that publish dissertations.

The format of the paper's main body is largely determined by whether the thesis is a critical analysis or a research study.  A critical analysis dissertation is typically completed in the humanities, and examines a text or theory in an original way.  The main body of these types of reports can typically take a format of the author's choosing.  A research study dissertation, on the other hand, usually follows a standard, five-chapter dissertation format, consisting of

  1. an introduction of the research problem and a statement of the study's purpose;
  2. a review of existing literature on the topic;
  3. a methodology section explaining the study's procedure;
  4. a results chapter outlining the study's findings;
  5. a discussion chapter that suggests the implications of the results.

The references section of a college report should be a comprehensive listing of every study or text cited in the body.

An appendix is a section for presenting supplementary materials or materials that would hinder the reading of the report if placed in the body of the text.

The student's curriculum vitae is usually the final section.

Research Paper Layout

When it comes time for students to write research papers, there's a certain layout with which all students need to be familiar.  Even though some students choose not to follow the recommended research paper layout, learners should at least know what it's so that they will know what standard formats they're breaking.

A research paper layout basically has several different parts.  Each part should be unique and contains original information.  Each part also has its own purpose, so students should be mindful of that purpose when they go to work on their own paper layouts.

The first part of a college report should be the cover page.  Depending on the style of the report, the cover page layout might vary.  There are two different standard styles for research papers, including MLA style and APA style.  Both are very popular in academic settings.  A professor should tell students which style he/she prefers.

Next, some college report layouts include a table of contents, especially if the project is long.  The table of contents should include a page number for each section of the document.

After the table of contents, many professors require that students include an abstract of the document.  The abstract should contain a one-paragraph summary of the entire reference project.  Even long reports should be summarized in one sentence.

The body of the document comes next.  The research paper layout for the body contains three main sections: introduction, body paragraphs, and the conclusion.  The introduction will include the thesis statement and background information about the topic.  The body paragraphs will each contain new information about the document.  Finally, the conclusion will contain information that the student has discovered during the research.  The conclusion ties together all of the body paragraphs.

After the body section of the report layout, the student should include references and an appendix.  Many students also include an acknowledgement section, especially for longer and more formal research papers, such as dissertations.

Research paper layouts are different than layouts for reports.  An essay is a shorter body of work that requires fewer extra sections, such as the abstract, cover page, and references.  Many academic papers can also be completed in just one or two pages, especially short essays for a class.  However, a research paper is a longer, formal document that a student creates in order to introduce facts and information.  Therefore, there's more formality to the report layout than there's to many other types of academic writing.

Book Report Form

The form of a work of writing is work's "structure."  Form refers to the way a composition is organized and put together.  Most genres of writing have a general form that's typical for that genre.  Such assignments are no different.  Book report form is comprised of a loose, three-part structure: an introduction, a summary, and an analysis.  Like all writing forms, novel critique forms are flexible, so these three parts will be different depending on the writer and the subject.

Book report form is similar to essay form, in that essay form also has three primary components: an introduction, a development, and a conclusion.  In addition, novel critiques will typically have the appearance of essays, in that the three components aren't separated into individual blocks of text, but are one, continuous text in which the paragraphs transition logically and smoothly from one idea to the next.  Furthermore, novel critiques have the same purpose as essays: to inform and comment and, sometimes, to persuade.  The primary difference between book report form and essay form is that the former is more bottom-heavy, meaning the largest and most significant aspects come in the third component, the analysis.  In essays, the largest and most significant component of the text is the development section, which is in the middle.

The three primary elements of a novel review—the introduction, summary, and analysis—must be present in every story review.  However, the exact execution of these will vary.  Some books will require a multi-paragraph introduction, while other, more simple texts will require only a one-paragraph introduction.  The same is true for the summary section.  The analysis section should always be more than one paragraph, as the analysis will consist of many different ideas that should be explored in an in-depth way.  Thus, some novel review forms will have one paragraph for the introduction, one for the summary, and then three or more for the analysis.  Other novel review forms will have two paragraphs for the introduction, two (or more) for the summary, and five or more for the analysis.  There is no exact prescription for organizing book report form; the writer must decide for him/herself how detailed the information needs to be.  This is usually determined by the length and complexity of the book.  A book report on a book completed primarily for a high school audience will be much shorter than a 400-page history monograph on the Spanish Civil War.

No matter how many paragraphs each section is, it's important to remember that in appearance and fluidity, a novel critique should resemble an essay.  This means that the document shouldn't move abruptly from one section to the next, but should transition smoothly in the same way that a writer would transition smoothly from one paragraph to the next.  Though a book report has a form, that form is intended to create a complete and continuous whole.  Students should strive to create this type of thorough, continuous text when completing their documents.

Thesis Layout

The specific design and presentation of a thesis is referred to as the "thesis layout."  A thesis document is a long text composed by a student in the final phase of his/her degree study.  Theses are completed by undergraduate seniors, master's degree students, and sometimes by doctoral students.  Thesis layouts vary depending on the type of project the student is writing, and are often determined by a student's department or institution.

The structural aspect of thesis layouts will vary between the disciplines.  For examples, a document in the sciences will typically follow an exact format dictated by the student's department.  This format will require the student to include certain sections and headings in the document and order them in a particular way.  These types of thesis layouts will be largely inflexible, because such thesis layouts have typically been designed to follow a standard format accepted in the sciences.  Thesis formats in the humanities, however, will often allow students much freedom in document structure.  This is because research in the humanities often doesn't follow the scientific method.  Therefore, it's not necessary for the thesis layout to provide the reader with as many specific details of the study's design and execution.

Aside from structure, a significant component of all thesis layouts is presentation.  Most institutions and departments have very specific guidelines as to the margins and spacing of theses.  This is because most institutions print and bind theses and store them in the institution's library.  Therefore, a specific layout is desired to accommodate both printing and uniformity.  Typically, an institution or department will publish very specific criteria detailing the correct thesis layout for each section of a student manuscript.  For instance, such criteria will detail the appropriate manner of presentation for the front matter.  The front matter consists of any pages that come before the main body of the document itself.  Often, this will include a title page, an approval page, a copyright page, an acknowledgements page, a dedication page, an abstract, and a table of contents.  Each of these pages must conform to a very specific layout that mandates certain margins, spacing, and organization.  Thesis layout guidelines for the main body will also set forth the appropriate heading formats, spacing, and pagination the document should have.  Departments will also provide information regarding the correct layout of the references page and any appendices included with the project.  Students should follow all of this criteria exactly so that their project is accepted by their institution.

Term Paper Format

There are specific formats that students need to follow for every formal academic document that they create.  These specific formats are important to acknowledge because they have been completed in the first place in order to help students effectively communicate information that's related to the type of assignment that they're writing.  All students will need to understand what a term paper format is at some point during their careers.

A student will need to complete a term paper in order to communicate information that he/she has researched and learned throughout an entire semester or extended period of time.  Because there's a vast amount of information that a learner will need to communicate, he/she must be well-organized when finalizing the term paper's format.

The first step towards following the proper term paper format is to create a project document in the right style.  There are several different report formats, which vary based on the style that a professor has required that students follow.  However, the two basic term paper format styles are similar.  They are MLA and APA style.

Once a student understands which of the report formats he/she will need to use, he/she should create the report document so that every page has the same format.  Both MLA and APA styles use 12-point, Times New Roman font that should be double-spaced and left justified on the document.  Each new paragraph should be indented and margins around the words should be set at one inch.

Next, the student needs to begin the report with the cover page.  Every cover page should include the title of the work along with the student's name and the date of the work.  The title page should be followed by the body of the document.  Each term paper format requires that the body include an introduction.  The introduction should also include a thesis statement and background information about the topic addressed.

A term paper format is different from a format for any other type of academic writing.  Document formats have been completed in order to address the specific needs of term papers by helping students to organize large amounts of information in a way that's easy to understand and navigate.  However, other academic documents will have formats of their own that are designed to help students meet the specific needs of those particular assignments.  The formats for academic papers aren't always interchangeable.

Essay Form

Essay form is the particular structure an essay takes.  Essay form isn't the same as essay content, which is the actual substance of the work—the ideas the paper is exploring and the points it's making.  However, essay form will often reflect the content of a report by taking a form best suited to the articulation of the work's ideas.  The exact arrangement of essay forms will vary, but all report forms will be built on a three-pronged structure that includes an introduction, a development, and a conclusion.

The introduction of a report is the first element of essay form.  The introduction, as its name suggests, introduces the paper's primary idea, or thesis, which is a sentence or group of sentences that clearly asserts the main point or argument.  The primary objective of the introduction is to explain and contextualize the thesis.  To contextualize means to explain the thesis idea and point out the "bigger picture" by suggesting how that idea is relevant and important.  The introduction of a report doesn't have to be of a particular length; however, the introduction should be about 18 the length of the entire report itself.  The thesis can go anywhere in that introduction, but it's most common for it to appear toward the end of the introductory paragraph(s) so that it's contextualized before it's asserted.

The development section is the second and longest component of essay form.  The thesis is explored and defended in the development.  The development should always be composed of several paragraphs—one for each of the main points used to explore or defend the thesis.  Each of these paragraphs should begin with what is called a topic sentence—a sentence that clearly articulates what the point of the paragraph is.  For instance, in an essay on the reasons why governments should adopt policies that promote renewable energy initiatives, one of the points the author may make is that renewable energy can save governments money in the long term.  This point would be explored in its own paragraph in the development section, and that paragraph would begin with a topic sentence such as "Adopting policies that promote renewable energy not only help the earth, but can also save governments money."  The rest of this paragraph would explain this idea.

The conclusion is the final component of any report, and the element of essay form that many writers find most difficult.  In the conclusion, the writer should avoid summarizing the points made in the document and instead attempt to bring a new insight to the topic.  This doesn't mean that the conclusion should introduce an idea that's not related to the project, or an idea that needs several sentences to articulate, like the ideas presented in the development section.  Rather, the conclusion should point to what can be learned or gleaned or taken away from the information presented as a whole.  For instance, in the report on renewable energy mentioned above, the report may conclude by making general assessments of the importance of renewable energy, such as "Science has shown that we're in an energy crisis and need to move forward to prevent further destruction to our planet.  All of Earth's inhabitants need to respond to this crisis by doing their part to ensure that Earth will be a healthy and safe place.  This means that individuals need to do their best to recycle, reduce consumption, and save energy, while demanding that their governments do the same."

All essays will be different, and will present the three components of a document in varying ways, thereby developing new and innovative essay forms; however, all reports must have all three components in order to be complete and accomplished texts.

Research Paper Format

Research paper format is the particular structure and arrangement a research paper takes.  Document formats differ across disciplines because research papers in varying fields have different structural and stylistic needs.  In addition, research paper formats may differ according to the demands of a particular instructor or subject.  However, most research paper formats can assume to take some variation of the format outlined below.

A document's format refers to the way in which the paper is organized—its structure—as well as to the way the paper is physically presented on a page.  The physical presentation of an paper's format will vary depending on the particular style guidelines the paper is following—MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.  These style guidelines will dictate the margins that the document should have, the system of headings it should use, the type of fonts that are appropriate, the way secondary sources should be referenced, whether or not it has a title page (and how it should be presented), the way the references page should look, and any other details about the physical appearance.

The structure of research paper format will also vary somewhat depending on the type of style guidelines the paper is following.  In general, the structure will begin with a contextualizing introduction that leads up to a thesis paragraph.  It progresses to a development section of several pages that presents valid research supporting the thesis statement.  It ends with a conclusion that makes suggestions about the implications of what the presented research reveals about the thesis.  A distinguishing characteristic of research paper format that separates it from essay format is that research paper formats must progress in a general-to-specific order.  Often, writers are free to be creative in their presentation of information.  This isn't the case in an analysis assignment.  In order to facilitate understanding and readability, it should begin by providing background and contextualizing information, and then gradually delve into more complex ideas.  This assists the report reader in following the claims, arguments, and examples made.

In certain paper styles—particularly APA—there is a specific way in which the structural element of research paper format must proceed.  APA organizes research texts through a progression of specific sections, all of which are labeled with headings.  Writing APA research papers therefore requires strict adherence to the format outlined in the APA's Publication Manual.  Other style sheets are somewhat more flexible; this requires the writer to make his/her own decisions about the best way to organize the report to facilitate understanding and cohesion.  When determining such a report format, writers should be sure to follow the general-to-specific guideline and organize their document in a way that guides the reader fluidly through the information presented in the text.

Thesis Form

Basic thesis form consists of an assertion of an opinion, interpretation, or analysis that's presented in a succinct, declarative fashion.  Framing one's opinion, interpretation, or analysis in a succinct, declarative way is the challenge of hypothesis writing.  Therefore, it may be helpful for writers who struggle with crafting strong theses to learn the basic elements of hypothesis format.  Thesis form is simply the structure a thesis takes.  There are several different thesis forms, but most thesis forms can be summarized as consisting of a statement of opinion followed by a statement asserting strong reasons for that opinion.

The first element of thesis form is the statement of opinion.  This is the more important of the two components of thesis form because it's the main point of the entire paper.  For example, the statement of opinion for an essay on federal income tax may be that "Federal income tax is an unnecessary burden on a country's populace and should be abandoned."  To complete this thesis, there needs to be a second component added: a statement that asserts strong reasons for the opinion.  To simply say that "Federal income tax is an unnecessary burden on a country's populace and should be abandoned" and then present no reason for it makes the writer unpersuasive.  The second component of the thesis form is therefore necessary in order to validate the writer's hypothesis opinion and encourage the reader to keep reading.  In a statement like this, for instance, the writer might add to the beginning sentence that "The money collected by the federal government could be better spent by city and state governments that have a more informed idea of the needs of their local regions

The two elements of thesis form should both be presented in a succinct, declarative way.  To write a succinct hypothesis simply requires that the thesis be encapsulated within a few sentences.  The depth and complexity of the thesis will determine exactly how many sentences it should include, but as a general rule, it's best to combine thoughts into between one and three sentences.  If a hypothesis is longer than three sentences, it's likely that it's not as succinct as it could be.

A declarative statement is one that, as its name implies, declares.  This means that it should use strong language to make its point clearly and boldly.  For instance, the hypothesis "It seems like in Act IV of Hamlet, the Prince may be a little off in the head" is very weak, because all of its claims are presented in very tentative terms.  Prefer a thesis that makes a clear, bold statement: "In ACT IV of Hamlet, the Prince displays signs of genuine madness."

Thesis form shouldn't be thought of as static.  The form may change depending on the writer's topic and level of ability.  Like any other forms, thesis forms are intended to be models and guidelines, but they're models and guidelines that are open to interpretation and innovation.

Research Paper Structure

The written components of all academic research assignments should adhere to a unique research paper structure.  The structure of academic research papers is very purposeful, as different types of assignments have different functions.

Students may have to write reports for any course and any grade level.  Regardless of the differences in the type of research paper, students need to follow the same research paper structure.  Therefore, even though a high school-level research paper may be less format and lengthy than a graduate school research paper, both levels of research papers will have similar research paper structures.

In order to learn about the proper document structure, many learners will have a course in their high school English classes that focus on the basic fundamentals of proper document structure.  These principals should apply to all papers that students will write over the course of their academic careers.

The first thing that students may learn about research paper structures is that research papers have separate sections that each serve a unique purpose.  The first section to all research papers is the cover page, which is where students will state the title and their name.

Next, learners should include an introduction, which is where the learner will place the thesis statement.  The introduction is essential for all research paper structures because it's how students provide background information into the topic that they're explaining in their documents.

After the introduction comes the body, which is divided into separate paragraphs.  According to traditional paper structure, each paragraph should include a unique piece of information or idea.  Basic research papers, such as one for a high school class, will have three simple paragraphs.  However, higher-level papers will have many more paragraphs.

Finally, it should end with a conclusion, which is where the learner will reiterate important points and explain his/her findings, which should be based on information that's detailed in the body.

Every type of academic writing will have its own structure.  Research paper structure is more formal and categorized than many other documents, such as a book report or paper.  Therefore, if students are looking for information about research paper structures, they need to be sure that they use resources that are specific to research papers and not to other types of documents.

Book Report Format

A book report often follows a standard format that typically consists of an introductory paragraph, a few paragraphs presenting a brief summary of the book, and several paragraphs offering the writer's assessment of the book.  Document format is similar to, but not the same as, critical review format.  A critical review is a document that presents an analysis of a published text in such a way that the reviewer engages the ideas of the author of the text in a thorough and often academic manner.  Critical reviews have very little summary.  A book report also comments on the ideas presented by the book it's reporting on, but is more informative than analytic; it gives an idea of the book's main ideas and style of presentation and then comments on the writer's opinions of those ideas and that presentation.

Book report formats may differ according to the requirements of the instructor for whom the project is being composed.  However, most book report formats will follow some variation of the three sections outlined above: an introduction, a summary, and an assessment.

The first major element of book report format is the introduction.  The introduction of a novel critique should be one or two paragraphs.  It should include the full name of the author and title, identify the book's genre—fiction, poetry, or non-fiction—and note the topic of the book.  These paragraphs may also suggest the writer's overall impressions of the book.  For instance, it may comment on "John Doe's compelling historical fiction novel" or "Jane Doe's exhaustive but somewhat trivial account of fly fishing."  In other words, these introductory paragraphs should suggest the writer's general views of the book, but shouldn't yet attempt to explain or justify those views—that comes in the third section.

It is also standard for book report formats to include a summary of the book.  The summary should be concise, but should give the reader of the story review a good idea of the book's main points (if it's nonfiction), themes (if it's poetry), or plot (if it's fiction).  If the summary if of a nonfiction book, the document should give a full explanation of the book's thesis—its argument or main point—and the way it seeks to defend or prove that thesis.  If the book is a volume of poetry, the document should comment on any prevailing theme or style throughout the book.  If the book is fiction, the writer should give a plot summary that seeks to provide a good idea of the book's plot without giving away the ending.

The final section of book report format is a section of several paragraphs of assessment.  In this section, the writer will comment on his/her interpretations of and opinions about the book.  This should include commentary about both the content of the book and its presentation.  This means the writer should comment critically on the author's thesis or plot, and also comment on the book's style of writing.

Essay Format

The format of an essay is the structure to which the document adheres.  Essay formats vary depending on the topic and objective, but basic essay format includes an introduction with an argument, a body defending the thesis, and a conclusion that communicates the implications of what has been discovered through the course.  Essay formats aren't fixed or prescriptive; they should be thought of as flexible models that can be changed according to the needs of the writer.

Essay format will always consist of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.  However, each of those sections can take many different forms.  For instance, in short essays, it's common for the introduction to be only one paragraph.  In papers that are five or more pages, it's common for the introduction to be several paragraphs.  In these types of report formats, it's common for the first few paragraphs to contextualize the topic by presenting a true or hypothetical situation that personalizes the topic.

The body of an essay is the main section of an academic paper, and the most variable aspect of essay format.  The body will defend the thesis presented in the introduction in various ways.  For instance, it's common in shorter essays for each point that defends the thesis to be presented in one single paragraph.  In longer essays, these points will sometimes take multiple paragraphs or even pages to develop.  Sometimes, the body of the document will be organized by fully discussing one topic before moving on to another topic, and sometimes topics will be discussed alongside each other in the same paragraphs.  Either way, it's common for all report formats to have the main body progress in an order that places the best or most convincing points last in the body of the text in order to build the argument in a climactic way.

The conclusion of an essay can be of varying length, but in all essay formats, the conclusion is usually significantly shorter than both the introduction and the main body sections.  The conclusion should point to ways in which the main body of the document elucidates the topic.  Similar to the main body of the document, the conclusion should build in significance so that the best or most convincing points are made at the end of the conclusion.

How to Format Research Papers

All students should be aware that there's a specific way to format research papers in order to make them flow well and meet the requirements of a teacher.  Some ways to format research papers will be standardized, such as MLA or APA format.  Other ways to format a research paper will be specific for a professor.  Therefore, before students format research papers, they should always check with the professor's formatting requirements.

When it comes to ways to format research paper contents, students need to be aware that reports should follow an inverted pyramid style.  In such a style, the most important information will appear at the end of the document in the conclusion.  Broad information about the topic will appear in the beginning of the document in the introduction.

As a student goes to format research paper paragraphs, he/she should also keep the inverted pyramid structure in mind.  The most important information should appear at the end of the paragraph and the broadest information should appear at the beginning of the paragraph.

There are many ways to format research paper information.  However, learners should keep in mind that all information should be new for each paragraph within the body of the document.  In the conclusion, learners should recap information and use it to form their own conclusions.  The conclusion should never have new information or ideas.

In terms of the format research papers take from a construction standpoint, learners will usually need to follow APA or MLA style.  Both formats require that learners write the assignment in 12-point, Times New Roman font.  The lines should be double-spaced and there should be a one-inch margin around the document.  Also, page numbers should appear in the upper right corner of each report on the document.

If a student needs to format research paper assignments, he/she may be able to look at examples of previous assignments to get an idea of the outline and the specific style that's required.  By looking at research paper examples, learners can mimic their own paper formats.

When a student begins to format research papers, he/she needs to make sure that he/she follows a research paper format and not a format for an essay or a report.  Research papers have their own unique style and format.  Some larger research papers, such as dissertations and theses may have similar formats, but they will not be the same because they aren't the same kind of documents.  Therefore, learners should be careful about what format they follow in order to ensure that they follow instructions properly.

Thesis Format

A thesis is a statement or group of statements asserting a text's main idea, opinion, analysis, or argument.  There are countless theses and possible theses, because there are countless ideas, opinions, analyses, and arguments.  However, though the content of theses can vary incredibly, most theses follow a standard thesis format.  This format is essentially a statement of WHAT the main point of the text is, and HOW that point will be made.  Some thesis formats are more specific than this, in that they specify a particular number of HOWs.  The prime example of this is the three-point thesis, which asserts the main point of a text and then lists three ways in which that point will be explored.

Thesis format isn't the same as a thesis itself: the format is simply the arrangement the thesis takes.  The thesis is the content—the actual statement of what the main point of the text is and how that point will be made.

Some students believe that proper thesis format presents the thesis in one sentence only.  A thesis may be encapsulated in one sentence, but it doesn't have to be.  Sometimes, thesis statements require several sentences to fully explain the what and the how.  Thesis formats can even be entire (albeit brief) paragraphs.

Another common misperception about thesis formats is that there can be no interruption between sentences expressing the thesis statement.  Though it would be unwise to separate the what and the how of the thesis by so much text that the reader has forgotten the what before he/she reaches the how, it's perfectly fine to have some intervening sentences between the statement of the main point of the text and the author's description of how that point will be explored.  Thesis formats are flexible, so long as they contain both the main point of the text and a description of how that point will be made.

If a student wishes to follow a particular thesis format like the three-point thesis format, he/she simply needs to be certain that the description of how the main point of the text will be made includes three clearly defined elements.  For instance, he/she may wish to complete a paper on the reasons why trees lose their leaves in the fall.  His three-point thesis would then be "Trees lose their leave in the fall due to lack of sunlight, cooler temperatures, and changes in precipitation."  This paper would then discuss each of the three elements presented.

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