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Anatomy of a Cohesive Essay

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Designed for the Criminal Justice Professional

By Amy Mitchell

There are various layers involved in writing a cohesive essay.  To learn to write well, one must write (and rewrite) until these layers are refined and become second nature.


CRITICAL THINKING:  We often hear the term “critical thinking” as it relates to writing.  The bottom line to integrate critical thinking into an essay and the development of your thesis is to ask the question,  “So what?”  Meaning: what is the significance of what I am about to report?  If you keep the end-goal in mind while constructing your essay, chances are, you will reach it and your essay will be more cohesive.  The word, “thesis” is derived from the Greek origin of lowering of the voice or the act of laying down (presumably the foundation of a proposition to be proved).  In advancing or maintaining an argument, objectivity plays an important role in reporting facts obtained through competent research.

Anatomy of Research:  Problem formulation—Research design—Data collection methods—Analysis and presentations of findings—Conclusions, interpretations and limitations.



1.      Brainstorming (what you know about the topic)

2.      Mapping (also known as a “Clustering” of primary subtopics; see “OUTLINING” below)

3.      Free-writing (getting a sense of where the essay is leading)



Decide your purpose for writing the essay.  Note:  You can have more than one style within your essay, however, one style should dominate the essay.

        Explanation:  explains, analyzes or interprets an issue by reviewing the facts.

        Argumentation:  Persuade:  attempts to persuade the reader (a “call to action”) or convince them of the writer’s position.  Both sides of the argument should be addressed.

        Narration:  To inform:  tells a story by relating a sequence of events (e.g., the events that led up an officer’s alleged misconduct).

        Description:  focuses on one event, person or object and depends upon details, images and statements.



Tell them (the reader) what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then, tell them what you told them.

1.      Introduction:  States your thesis (what you’re attempting to prove).  Should be 1-2 paragraphs providing a brief overview of the essay. 

2.      Body: 3-5 paragraphs: presents evidence in an orderly manner.

3.      Conclusion:  1 paragraph which restates your thesis and brings a finality to the essay.  This could include a call to action and the effects of what a failure to act may bring about.  Ask yourself, “Did I achieve the so what?”



1.      To map your essay, take the major topic and put it at the center of a circular pie chart or at the top of a matrix.  Next, brainstorm approximately five subtopics (one in each piece/square).

2.      Number the subtopics to determine what order they will be appear in your essay.

3.      Further, write bulleted subtopics of issues that fall within those 5 categories.

4.      A central theme should emerge which will help you develop your thesis (i.e., objective).

5.      Now you can begin to conduct your research.


RESEARCH & CITATIONS:  When conducting research be sure to quote and cite other sources accurately.  Give credit where credit is due.  (See APA or MLA formats.) 


INTRODUCTION:  Focus in on one main TOPIC as your thesis.  Examples include:

  1. TOPIC (too broad):  “Use of force”
  2. TOPIC (could still be too broad):  “Police Misconduct”
  3. TOPIC (more concise):  “Addressing re-training issues following incidents of excessive use of force.”

OPENING STATEMENT:  Should “hook” the reader in:
a.  Rhetorical question:  (Ex: How many people believe that police officers practice a “code of silence?”)

b.  Myth vs. Fact:  (Ex:  Most police pursuits end in death or injury)
c.  Shocking Statement:  (Ex: Last year, our police department paid out $1 million in damages from complaints of police misconduct.)
d.  Literary Quotation:  (Ex:  In 1742, Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, wrote, “There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.”)

e.  Humorous or Personal anecdotal story, which relates directly the topic at hand. 



In the opening paragraph, you start with the general and move to the specific.  You identify the subtopics that will be discussed in the essay.  As you build your supporting paragraphs, following the introduction, the following types of paragraphs can be altered in terms of order.  An acrostic to aid in remembering the “types” is:  “I    D – E – C –I – D –E”


Definition (define unfamiliar concepts)

Examples (anecdotal stories to put a face on the objective of the essay)

Compare/Contrast (Comparing the similarities and Contrasting the differences)

Investigation (process analysis)

Division (classification)

Effects (this could be the call to action and a means of persuasion)


Introduction: Inform the reader of the issue (Example:  Police officers are committing acts which constitute excessive use of force)

Definition:  What is excessive use of force?  What does the penal code and case law have to say on the topic?

Examples:  Specific cases of excessive use of force.

Compare/Contrast:  Citizen’s view vs. law enforcement’s view on excessive use of force.

Investigation:  What needs to be done to address the underlying causes of excessive use of force (Rampart Report findings on supervisor’s lack of oversight) and potential red-flags.

Division:  Classification of various levels of police misconduct (from accepting gratuities to committing murder).

Effects:  If nothing is done to address police misconduct, ultimately, there will be civil unrest.



  • Unity:  Sentences (within a paragraph) should relate to one another. 
  • Balance:  Sentences should vary in length.
  • Topics:  Each new subtopic should be delineated by a new paragraph.
  • Transitions:  Paragraphs should transition smoothly into each other.  The last sentence of one paragraph should introduce the topic in the next.
  • Energy:  Vary the placement of the subject within each sentence. 
    Example #1:  On the horizon are computer software programs designed to catch “at-risk” patterns of behavior.
    Example #2:  At-risk behavior patterns are detectible through newly developed software programs.
  • Conciseness/Doublespeak:  Don’t be overly wordy to appear profound:
    Good Example:  Two major goals of policing are to prevent crime and control crime.
    Too Wordy:  Police agencies have long struggled with balancing the need to prevent criminal activity from occurring and addressing the fallout of crimes, once they have occurred.
  • Euphemisms:  Can make the writer’s intent vague and overly soft:  Example:  They took the suspect to a correctional facility (jail).
  • Punctuation:  Proper placement of commas, semicolons, parentheses, etc.
    (See separate handout on Punctuation.)


  • Similes:  Expresses a subtle comparison by using the word “like” or “as”
    Example:  It was as if he was on a mission from God.
  • Metaphors:  Expresses a subtle comparison between one topic and an unrelated action:  “A peek into the dark side of policing reveals stories of misconduct.”  Metaphors add color to an essay by juxtaposing topics (placing them side-by-side) so as to make a complex issue more easily understood (i.e., speaking in parables).  Example:  Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, police supervisors must be aware of potential indicators of police misconduct to avoid a breakdown of the entire organization.
  • Parallelism:  A repetitive strategy to bring home a point:
    Example:  Police supervisors must not allow this conduct to go undetected; they should not allow citizens to be subjected to it; and our society cannot allow this upset to the balance between individual freedom and government control.
  • Avoid Occupational Stereotypes and Sexist Language:  A police officer is the first line of defense—he should take that responsibility seriously (Note:  “he” should be replaced by “he or she.”)
  • Avoid Overused Cliches (Cops might write, “I made a routine traffic stop.”)
  • Avoid Slang or Jargon--Spell out any Acronyms:  The first time a term is used, spell it out in its entirety, then place the acronym in (parentheses), then you can use the shortened version there forward.  Example:  Community Oriented Policing (COP).

© 2012 High Priority Targeting, Inc.