Posted On 01/15/2019 07:11:41 by robertoLWF


Who doesn’t have a soft spot for the three-point essay?

Clear, logical, and easy-to-write, it’s a formula that just about anyone can follow. Present a little bit of introductory material, run through your points, tidy things up with a conclusion, and presto! You’re done.

If only the world were that simple. The reality is that this approach to structuring an argument is fundamentally out of sync with the very complexities it tries to navigate.

Here’s what ends up happening: each new point pulls the essay in a different direction, as though the writer were starting again from scratch, and the end result is a series of promising ideas that never fully reach their potential.

Venerable though they may be, three-point essays will only get you so far with your professors, since even the very best of them are inevitably predictable and often far too general in scope.

Embrace instead a more sophisticated pattern of argumentation, and you’ll set yourself apart from your peers by proving that you can sustain a single argument through to its logical completion.

Here are just a few alternatives to the three-point essay that will take your writing in new directions.


A problem-cause-solution pattern gives you a great framework for addressing a broad range of issues. It’s also especially adaptable, insofar as it works well both for long research essays and short response papers alike.

The next time you sit down to write a first draft, try to conceive of your essay as responding to a particular problem. Once you have articulated precisely what that problem is, explain its causes before presenting a solution to the issue at hand.

For some writers, the solution doubles as an overall thesis, while for others an argument takes shape around a particular cause. Regardless, there’s no set ratio to the time and space you should dedicate to articulating each of these components.

I have read successful essays and reaction papers examples that focussed almost exclusively on the problem and its causes, and others that choose instead to dedicate more space to arguing in favour of a particular solution. It really is up to you.

You should know, however, that a great many successful academic essays are structured this way, since the ability to understand a problem and to present a reasonable solution demonstrates sound critical thinking.

Obviously, a lot of the issues you’ll be writing about are complex, and, as such, they don’t lend themselves to easy solutions, but that’s not to say we shouldn’t strive to address them all the same.

As an aside, if ever you’re writing a speech, or planning an oral presentation, a problem-cause-solution pattern is especially effective, since audiences find it easy to follow and ultimately quite satisfying.


Let’s say you’ve been asked to respond in writing to an article that makes a series of recommendations, or that argues in favour of understanding a text or an issue in a particular way.

Using a cause-and-effect pattern in order to consider the implications of these recommendations enables you to respond to them in a fair and thoughtful way.

Every essay has at its heart a call-to-action that wants us to think about a topic in particular way.

A cause-and-effect pattern enables us to work through the implications of the author’s call-to-action, if it were set in motion.

In essence, by using this pattern, we’re able to extend the author’s thinking into the real world. Having done so, we can formulate an argument in response to his or her theories that speaks directly to their strengths and weaknesses.

It’s absolutely essential when using this pattern that we first demonstrate a sound understanding of what the author is trying to say. Otherwise, we end up responding to arguments that were never made in the first place.

We can convey this understanding by quoting the author’s argument, paraphrasing key points, and by summarizing his or her overall argument.


You don’t have to be some kind of super genius who understands the complexities of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel‘s philosophies in order to benefit from the pattern of argumentation that bears his name.

A Hegelian dialectic consists of a thesis (argument), its antithesis (counterargument), and a synthesis of the two. This pattern of argumentation is especially well suited to tackling polarizing issues, entirely because it enables you present both sides before drawing together aspects of both in order to establish common ground.

The risk in taking this “peacemaker” approach is that you can end up sounding like you’re undecided: a dialectical interpretation of an issue really can make it seem like you haven’t made up your mind—or, worse yet, that you’ve forgotten to make an argument at all.

Pull it off, however, and you emerge as the reasonable party who not only respects different points-of-view, but who’s also able to weave together disparate strands of thought in original and satisfying ways.

Just make sure that you do, indeed, make an argument up front before presenting your thesis and your antithesis. Often, this argument will anticipate the synthesis with which you intend to close.


Essay writing is more art than science. There’s nothing to say that you can’t combine elements of all three of these approaches in crafting an argument.

The big thing to remember that there are, in fact, great alternatives to the three-point essay, all which are more than up to the task of conveying your ideas in an original and sophisticated manner.

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