The Body

The body of the test essay will consist of two to three paragraphs, depending on how many ideas you have. You should present your arguments from strongest to weakest, and each paragraph should get shorter as you proceed (this approach is recommended for most writers); or you may begin with the weaker points and move on to the strongest at the end. The reason for writing the second way (weakest to strongest) is that you will build up your argument to a strong, emphatic finish. The main danger in doing this is that you might run out of time and be left with only weak arguments.

Before we look at examples of these approaches, let’s consider some elements of the body paragraphs that are crucial to their success:

  • Each paragraph should contain only one central idea. This idea will be clearly presented in the topic sentence and will be supported throughout the paragraph.
  • Each paragraph should end, when possible, with a summary of how this idea, and the reasons and examples provided to support it, also supports the overall aim of the essay.
  • Consequent paragraphs should begin with a clear transition to the next idea. The best way to do this smoothly is to the end the previous paragraph with an opening to this transition.
  • All ideas should be supported with clear reasons (especially the reasoning behind using these ideas to support the thesis), as well as concrete examples of how this reason is demonstrated in real life.
  • One reason and one example should be sufficient to support the central argument of the paragraph.
  • The strongest paragraph should consist of four to six sentences. Subsequent paragraphs should have no less than three sentences each.
  • For maximum points, use a variety of sentence structures, especially complex structures that include two or more clauses, and high-end vocabulary.
  • If you include a concession to the opposing argument, be very sure to return to arguing your side of the debate.



Presentation

Now that we know what to include in our body paragraphs, let’s consider how to present them. Remember that the order in which you present your ideas should follow the order you presented them in the introductory paragraph. This again supports the importance of good planning before you write your essay proper.

You will present your ideas in a top-down approach. This means that you will have a clear purpose in the way that you develop your ideas. If you choose to work from strongest to weakest, remember that your paragraphs will develop fully right away, meaning that the first paragraph of the body will be the longest and give the strongest argument and support that you can think of. Each paragraph after that will be shorter, more direct, and draw on examples that are easier to understand in terms of their relevance. If you choose the opposite direction, you will need to further develop your central idea with each paragraph and therefore each paragraph will be longer than the one before it. The following pyramids illustrate this idea:

body

Approach B is also recommended for expository essays where you are asked to provide possible reasons for a particular phenomenon. (See essay sample 2 for this type of question).

Approach A also requires providing certain cues to the reader to let him/her know that you are building your argument and not merely beginning weakly. In fact the “weak” beginning should be obviously setting up the strong end, a task that is not easy to accomplish and therefore not recommended for a test that operates within a time limit. It is, however, recommended if you have to write a full academic essay and wish to add style and significance to your writing.

1. Concession Argument

Before we look at the skeleton of a body paragraph, much as we did for the introduction paragraph, let’s look at the concession argument and why it is so valuable.

To concede, means to allow for the Other, or to admit that something else (opposite) has merit. In terms of the argument essay, this allows the writer to provide a reason and example of why the other side of the argument can be made. This is a tactic that will add strength to the central argument the writer is trying to make only so long as the author remembers to “twist” the idea back to his/her advantage.

In our sample question, one may say that military events such the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II should be a strong reason not to pursue nuclear technology. That is a legitimate argument. However, this argument can be “twisted around” to say that these events ended the war more quickly, thus saving tens of thousands more lives; as well, they frightened humanity to such a degree that they have never been repeated. Moreover, one might argue, the consequences of the radiation on human subjects led to discoveries of medical benefits in the use of radiation. This would then continue into the supporting ideas of one of the central arguments for nuclear technology, that is, the health benefits. This may seem to necessitate many sentences; however, the concession should not take more than two sentences, including both the argument against your topic and the “twist” back to support your topic.

Example:
The devastation at Hiroshima has often been cited as a central danger of nuclear technology and therefore its primary disadvantage. While this is a legitimate argument, this event had also expedited the end of the war and resulted in many medical discoveries that have helped tens or even hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. The advancement of medical treatments based on nuclear technology, such as MRI diagnosis, cancer treatment, etc., has helped humanity battle a variety of diseases and is of incalculable importance.

But again, the most common error writers make is stretching the opposing argument too long and forgetting to return to their central argument. This leads to a misdirected and confusing essay because the reader isn’t sure which side you are arguing for (and, obviously, this leads to lower scores in the writing section of a test).

2. Recommended Approach

So let’s look now at our recommended approach to the essay. Here is the introduction we will work with (taken from the introduction section):

Nuclear technology is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. However, this technology has both positive and negative uses, the balance of which is a point of great debate. Looked at in terms of its benefits and demerits, I think that the former outweigh the latter to some degree because even though nuclear technology can hurt people, it can contribute more positively overall by providing people with clean air, affordable energy, and effective medical treatments.

Notice that the thesis tempers the argument. This means that it somewhat agrees with the statement given in the task, in that the benefits of nuclear technology outweigh the disadvantages, but they do not far outweigh them; they outweigh them to some degree. Then notice that the reasoning allows for (concedes) that nuclear technology can hurt people, but then it immediately “twists” to focus on the benefits again. It does not say how it hurts people, a vagueness that allows the writer to choose when to introduce this idea in the body; whether it is in the first or last paragraph will depend on which top-down approach is taken. However, the first paragraph should discuss the idea of clean air because that was the first reason mentioned. In our example we will use the clean air idea as the strongest reason to support the benefits of nuclear technology. What makes it strongest is not the idea itself, but the level of support that accompanies it. In other words, it will be the longest paragraph and will have the most developed reasoning and examples.

3. How do we begin?

Like any paragraph, we begin with a topic sentence. In this case the topic is clean air, or environmental benefits. What is clean air and what are its benefits? You can mention that it is not pollution, that it helps maintain health, that nuclear technology does not emit toxins as coal or petroleum fuels do, and that it is generally good for both humans and animals.

Many writers feel obligated to begin the first paragraph with a transition, such as To begin with, or Firstly. Understand that this is not necessary in the first paragraph. The reason for this is that the expository statement should clearly suggest that you are about to begin with the development of your argument. The expository sentence, then, is the transition. If, however, you feel that that one of the above expressions will help you begin, then by all means use it.



Here are a few example sentences:

  • To begin with, clean air is no longer a situation that people can take for granted.
  • As the world’s population increases at an alarming pace, things that we once took for granted, like clean air and water, are no longer a given.
  • As the world’s population consumes more and more, it consequently also pollutes the air and water to a corresponding degree.
  • Unlike fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, nuclear technology produces energy that is cleaner in terms of its effect on nature and, consequently, on people.

Keep in mind that it is quite possible to write a few dozen more example sentences. We’ll look at these for now.

Once you have introduced the topic, begin expanding on it. State clearly what this topic has to do with the overall aim of the essay; in other words, why did you bring up this topic?

Example:
Unlike fossil fuels, like coal and oil, nuclear technology produces energy that is cleaner in terms of its effect on nature and, consequently, on people. Nuclear energy does not emit harmful toxins, which ultimately make their way into our bodies and lead to health problems, such as trouble breathing or cancer.

The second sentence makes clear the benefits, or at the very least, the lack of detriment of nuclear energy.

This would be a good time in which to enter a conceding point, then twist it back to the support:

Example:
Unlike fossil fuels, like coal and oil, nuclear technology produces energy that is cleaner in terms of its effect on nature and, consequently, on people. Nuclear energy does not emit harmful toxins, which ultimately make their way into our bodies and lead to health problems, such as trouble breathing or cancer. Admittedly, there have been accidents at reactors in the past with devastating effects on the environment and people nearby. However, these accidents are not only preventable, but they are localized, meaning their effects do not spread too widely, unlike other air- and water-borne pollutants.

Concession—Accidents happen.  Twist—They can be prevented and are localized.

Next, add a real-world example if possible:

Unlike fossil fuels, like coal and oil, nuclear technology produces energy that is cleaner in terms of its effect on nature and, consequently, on people. Nuclear energy does not emit harmful toxins, which ultimately make their way into our bodies and lead to health problems, such as trouble breathing or cancer. Admittedly, there have been accidents at reactors in the past with devastating effects on the environment and people nearby. However, these accidents are not only preventable, but they are localized, meaning their effects do not spread too widely, unlike other air- and water-borne pollutants. China, for example, relies heavily on coal energy, thus suffering from air quality so poor that citizens must wear masks. Moreover, the pollution lingers in the air and travels as far as other countries, affecting the locals there as well. In Japan, conversely, which utilizes nuclear energy, the air quality is less harmful.

The examples serve to stress the argument by “placing” it in the real world.

Next, “tie off” the paragraph with a short summary:

Example: This demonstrates nuclear technology’s positive attributes.

You can also use this final sentence as a sort of “bridge”:

Example: In Japan, conversely, which utilizes nuclear energy, the air quality is less harmful, suggesting that this type of technology is less harmful.

Notice that the last sentence is a summary of how this example supports the essay’s thesis, which is that nuclear technology is somewhat beneficial. That being said, the next paragraph will now need to transition into the new idea (affordable energy source) by looking back at our introduction and tying the next idea to the one just completed.


4. The Second Body Paragraph

Here are a few examples to begin the second body paragraph:

  • Moreover, nuclear technology can help a country’s economic health as well.
  • In addition to environmental and health benefits, nuclear technology is also good for the economy.
  • Another positive aspect of nuclear technology is its affordability.
  • Nuclear technology can also help a nation in terms of its affordability, and energy independence.

All of these examples function in the same way: they present an addition to the argument for the positive attributes of nuclear technology. What follows will be a direct jump to the reason and example. As this is the second point to be made, you will want to get to it quickly and concisely so as to have both time and space to reach the third point.

Example:
Another positive aspect of nuclear technology is its affordability. Though an initial investment in this technology may be high, the long-term costs of other energy sources may slow down an economy; nations that rely on nuclear technology, on the other hand, can reduce oil imports and use the savings more effectively. The US, for instance, has recently become more energy independent and its economic growth is a clear indication of this. Other nations can benefit similarly by building more reactors, thereby reducing their need for oil and gas and their associated costs, and thus help their economies grow.

Right now, including the introduction, the essay stands at 328 words. If you are writing the IELTS exam, you can safely remove the last item from the introduction (medical treatments) and proceed to the conclusion (Keep in mind that 250-275 is generally not enough to write a band 7 or higher essay, unless the English is flawless.) For the TOEFL and SAT tests, you can include the third body paragraph, as you have not yet reached the minimum word count (TOEFL minimum is 300, but you will likely need 375 or more to score high. The SAT has no minimum, but you should aim for 450–500 words).

5. The Third Body Paragraph

The third body paragraph should be short and tight. You will need at least three sentences (topic, support, summary), but you do not need to go into great detail. Don’t forget to transition into it.

Lastly, of course, are the advances in medical treatments due to nuclear technology. Equipment such as MRI scanners, and radiation treatments for cancer, have saved countless lives and will continue to do so. In this sense, then, nuclear technology is of immeasurable benefit to humanity.

Short, to the point, and relevant. You don’t need any more here. If you haven’t already made a strong argument for your thesis by the third body paragraph, then the problem will not be solved here. You will have to look at an earlier section.

You are now ready for the conclusion. We will look at that part of the essay in the next section.

Here is what our essay looks like so far:

Nuclear technology is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. However, this technology has both positive and negative uses, the balance of which is a point of great debate. Looked at in terms of its benefits and demerits, I think that the former outweigh the latter to some degree because even though nuclear technology can hurt people, it can contribute more positively overall by providing people with clean air, affordable energy, and effective medical treatments.

Unlike fossil fuels, like coal and oil, nuclear technology produces energy that is cleaner in terms of its effect on nature and, consequently, on people. Nuclear energy does not emit harmful toxins, which ultimately make their way into our bodies and lead to health problems, such as trouble breathing or cancer. Admittedly, there have been accidents at reactors in the past with devastating effects on the environment and people nearby. However, these accidents are not only preventable, but they are localized, meaning their effects do not spread too widely, unlike other air- and water-borne pollutants. China, for example, relies heavily on coal energy, thus suffering from air quality so poor that citizens must wear masks. Moreover, the pollution lingers in the air and travels as far as other countries, affecting the locals there as well. In Japan, conversely, which utilizes nuclear energy, the air quality is less harmful.

Another positive aspect of nuclear technology is its affordability. Though an initial investment in this technology may be high, the long-term costs of other energy sources may slow down an economy; nations that rely on nuclear technology, on the other hand, can reduce oil imports and use the savings more effectively. The US, for instance, has recently become more energy independent and its economic growth is a clear indication of this. Other nations can benefit similarly by building more reactors, thereby reducing their need for oil and gas and their associated costs, and thus help their economies grow.

Lastly, of course, are the advances in medical treatments due to nuclear technology. Equipment such as MRI scanners, and radiation treatments for cancer, have saved countless lives and will continue to do so. In this sense, then, nuclear technology is of immeasurable benefit to humanity.

(word count with third body paragraph – 364; without third body paragraph – 319)
You can study other versions of this essay here.