There are many different types of essay structures - choosing the right one for your essay can be difficult. Should you pick a descriptive essay, or a narrative? Maybe a cause an effect essay would be the most effective; or should you compare and contrast instead? Which one is right for you depends greatly on the topic.
The most common essay structures are narrative, descriptive, cause and effect, classification, and exemplification. There are many different essay structures not covered here, such as dialectic essays which are most commonly found in philosophy. So what are the important characteristics of each type of essay structure?
In the narrative essay, the author will usually write in chronological order to describe say, an event. The narrative essay would be effective in describing a car accident. It would probably not be effective in describing the difference between two restaurants.
A descriptive essay, as its name implies, describes something, whether it be an event, an object, or an idea. Descriptive essays are often used in academia, and is one of the most commonly found essay structures.
Cause and effect essays describe an event and the causes leading up to them. Opinion pieces often follow the cause and effect format: "Why did the United States declare independence from Great Britain?" A cause and effect essay is the most logical choice here because the effect is already stated: the United States declared independence form Great Britain.
Now the author must fill in the question of cause: why did the United States declare independence from Great Britain? A cause and effect essay is very effective if done well.
For the classification essay, the author will divide a general topic into smaller parts. For instance, the topic may be "describe the ethnic breakdown of citizens in the United States". It may appear that a descriptive essay would be the best choice, but a classification essay would be more logical here. The general topic would be citizens of the United States. You would then classify them according to ethnic background.
Choosing the wrong essay structure for your assignment could be disastrous. For instance, let's say your assignment was to describe the events leading up to the civil war. If you try to use a compare and contrast essay examining the differences between the confederate and the union, it would difficult to describe the events leading up to the civil war.
Instead, the best essay structure for this topic would be a descriptive essay. You would pick the descriptive essay because it would allow the writer more flexibility in answering the topic. The writer would use a chronological approach to describe the events leading up to the civil war.
One rule that you cannot forget when writing an essay is this: you must answer the question at hand. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what type of essay structure you choose if you do not answer the question. Thus, don't spend all your time determining which essay structure is best; choose the essay structure that helps you answer the question best.