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The ACT: Hamburger Writing - The Organization of the Essay

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Dec 21, 2011

Ever taken a bite of a big, juicy hamburger from a fast-food restaurant? Well, okay, we don't blame you for not wanting to see what's really lurking between the buns (even though it tastes darn good). But if you're feeling adventurous (and want to ace the essay part of the ACT), you may want to follow along as we dissect the classic fast-food burger and match each ingredient with a specific part of your essay. Yes, you heard right. Every great essay is organized like a big, juicy hamburger.

No matter what your prompt is, the ACT graders want to see a specific format to your writing. In other words, they don't want all the ingredients thrown in any old way. By following the organization we outline in the following sections, you can give the test graders a supersized essay worthy of a supersized score.

The Top Bun: Introduction

The top bun includes the funnel of information that leads to your thesis. We show you how to write it in the previous sections. Now you can move on to the essay's body paragraphs.

The Three Meats: Example Paragraphs

Think of your supporting arguments in terms of three different kinds of meat — perhaps two beef patties and some bacon or a chicken club with turkey and bacon. Each meat represents a separate paragraph in your essay, the purpose of which is to add specific examples that help prove the position that you state in your top bun. (Are you getting hungry yet?)

Each meaty paragraph needs to include the following elements:

  • Three to five sentences
  • A solid topic sentence that relates directly to your position (remember, you already wrote your three ideas in the top bun — your thesis)
  • Variety of reasons, details, and examples that illustrate that specific topic

In the thesis we wrote about the uniform prompt, we said that clothing can be distracting. You can use that thought as the topic sentence for your first meat paragraph. For example, you may open your first body paragraph with something like this:

Uniforms should be required because a variety of clothing choices can be very distracting in the learning environment.

Now you have to write a few sentences that prove that clothing can be distracting. Make sure that you use specific and clear examples from a variety of sources, including personal experience, history, culture, and literature. Don't stray off topic, or in this case, begin writing about anything other than the fact that clothing can be distracting. In other words, don't get distracted when writing about distraction!

Here's a sample meat paragraph that you (and the graders) can really sink your teeth into:

Uniforms should be required because a variety of clothing choices can be very distracting in the learning environment. MTV and pop stars flash images of young girls wearing practically nothing, for example, a fashion that most teenagers try to emulate (culture reference). However, wearing skimpy clothes and showing body parts can make some people look and react, which may interrupt an important part of class That can be quite distracting when you're trying to learn the Pythagorean theorem (personal experience reference). Furthermore, paying attention to the teacher is difficult when you hear people discussing another student's $150 Dolce and Gabbana jeans (cultural reference). A uniform does away with these distractions by enforcing a more conservative style of clothing, allowing the focus in the classroom to remain on education rather than fashion.

Sounds good, right? Well, your essay isn't full, yet, even after a meaty paragraph like the last one. You still have two more meats to gobble down! Lucky for you, you've already decided which topics you're going to discuss in the next two meaty paragraphs: You mentioned distractions, school violence, and fitting in as part of your essay's introduction. You just wrote about distractions in the first meat paragraph, so your second meat is about school violence and your third is about fitting in.

To make things easier, structure the second and third examples exactly like you did the first one by including the following elements:

  • A solid topic sentence that defends your position
  • A few sentences in which you give reasons, details, and examples that support the topic of this paragraph
  • A variety of examples taken from different areas, such as literature, culture personal experience, and history

Your middle meats also heed to address the opposition. In the case of the uniform debate the prompt tells you that some say uniforms restrict personal freedom. Acknowledge this argument and then show why it's not strong enough to change your position. For example, you could point out that the clothes you wear aren't the only form of personal expression and that the lack of distractions created by uniforms may actually make it easier to express yourself in other areas, such as art, music, and writing.

The Lettuce, Tomato, and Special Sauce: Transitions

Like the sandwich, your essay needs to taste good (that is, read well) as a whole. Transitions serve as the special sauce and other burger fixins that help smooth out the differences between your paragraphs. You must include transitions between your first and second and second and third meat paragraphs. The best way to do so is by using transitional words, such as secondly, finally, another idea, another example, furthermore, and in addition, just to name a few.

The Bottom Bun: Conclusion

No matter how full of this essay you are by the time you add your three meaty paragraphs and all the saucy transitions, you need to consume the bottom bun before you re done. The bottom bun or conclusion of your essay needs to include the following two elements:

  • A restatement of your position
  • An expansion of your position that looks to the future

You can address both elements in three to four sentences. Just make sure you include your position, references to your meat topics, and one sentence that pulls everything together. Here's an example:

Implementing a uniform policy would be beneficial (restatement of your position). Requiring uniforms has the potential to limit distractions in the classroom, reduce school-related violence, and help students find more creative ways to fit in (references to your meat topics). School uniforms would direct the appropriate focus back on education rather than on a fashion show (looking toward the future).

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