For some of you, this post might be a very basic one. But to others, it might be the most important blog post they don’t want to miss.
If you’re not aware of it, there is a difference in writing structure based on the country you live in. At least, that is what I observe between Indonesian essay writing and American essay writing.
Before attending De Anza community college in Cupertino, CA, I was a student at Tarakanita school. I won several speech competitions and essay writing competitions. My mentor were my Dad who’s incredible at influencing people and my Mom who wrote short stories herself. Their message was the same: that each piece I write should come back home; that it should relate to the readers and as realistic as possible.
For example, I wrote for an anti-corruption essay competition back in 2009. I used a story about my house maid who is struggling earning money in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. I used it because I knew it resonated well to readers. They were familiar with house maids, the high living cost in Jakarta, and how it related to government corruption and national economy.
My essay was definitely ‘different’ than others because it is real-life based. Others used extensive journal researches to make a theory of anti-corruption policies. In a way, that made my writing easy to read. But it was also the reason why it didn’t win the competition.
Back in Indonesia, the essay we wrote basically has a cause and result structure. In other words, we build up the writing from what we think as the causes, to the consequences, and how we can deal with it. It is much like a narrative story in that sense.
Meanwhile in the United States, writing an essay takes a direct approach. You make a point, give examples to illustrate your point, and explain each of the example to the readers.
Structure your essay
This is a short part but the point is to always outline your essay. Here is a template of how to do it:
Main Points: Point 1, Point 2, Point 3, …
Key takeaways from Point 1, Point 2, Point 3, …
Coming back to the ‘hook’
Open with a BANG!
Before you write your essay, you have to start with the first paragraph. This is where everyone struggles. In fact, most of us just leave it blank until we finished the essay and then come back to the first paragraph to complete the essay. This is actually not a bad idea!
An introduction of an essay is like an Executive Summary, but it is also much more than that. In novel writing, the first chapter determines your life and death: it is where a reader decides whether to buy your book or not. Novel writers polished their opening until they think it is quite perfect (like 99% perfect). In essay writing, your opening acts the same. It is the place where people judge your essay: whether they like your writing style, whether they like the ‘hook’ you present, and whether they like the promise you sell – the main points of your essay.
What kind of ‘hook’ can you give?
You can give a vivid imagination that relates to the readers.
For example, in my anti-corruption essay I asked the readers: “Can you imagine a future where corruptors populate freely and dominate Indonesia? I imagine… maybe there is a future with a generation famed with their corruptive behaviors. This generation keeps growing until Indonesians are all corruptors! Oh no, what would happen then? Where would we put our unpaid national debts? In my mind, I even thought of the worst… maybe it’s not only that we are unable to pay our debts, we have to sell our beloved country. Or maybe for those who do not want to suffer living in Indonesia, they would migrate to other promising countries.”
If your essay is research based, you can quote from your key findings. One of my writing assignments was to research on William Shakespeare’s “Othello”. In it, I opened with a scene from “Othello” to pulled in readers with my ‘hook’.
At the end of your opening paragraph, you should state the key main points you’re going to discuss in your essay. This way, readers know what to expect from reading your writing.
Make your point
On to the point.
This is where American writing is different than foreign writing. In the US, you have to be straight forward. State what you intend to convey.
From this point on, I will use “Storytelling in the 21st century: Different ways to engage readers” as a reference. You can read it at
There are three main points I wrote in regards to modern storytelling: necessity to engage readers, the relation between storytelling and education, and the relation between storytelling and technology.
For the first point I wrote “After watching [Lucy Hawking’s Ted Talk] video, one might realize that there is a need of a good storytelling for readers.”
For the second point, I wrote “When we talk about stories, some of us might think about literacy and education.”
And for the third point I wrote “In the future, we will experience a more advanced storytelling through Augmented Reality.”
The key is to directly tells what your paragraph going to be while still paying attention to the flow of your writing.
Illustrate with examples
Next, we have Illustration. You ought to give example(s) to illustrate your main point.
Here’s what it looks like for my Storytelling in the 21st century essay.
Point: Necessity to engage readers
Point: Storytelling and education
Point: Storytelling and technology
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Explain how your examples relate to the point
After writing out your examples, write how they relate to your point and how it affects your theme (in my case, it’s about storytelling in the 21st century). This is an important part because without proper explanation, readers can get lost with your descriptive examples. They wouldn’t be sure what you’re trying to say without you clearly telling them why the examples matter.
Give a conclusion
At the end of your essay, you write a conclusion that repeats what you said before (the key main points) and close it while relating it to the ‘hook’. This is what I wrote in Storytelling in the 21st Century:
“At the end of the day, storytelling is an experience to nurture curiosity in readers. We want our readers to be satisfied with a story and curious about what could happen in the future. Lucy Hawking heard his father told the kids, “your body will disintegrate and become spaghetti.” The kids laughed and wiggled their way through the kitchen, imitating spaghetti. With better storytelling, we can equip future generations with more knowledge, more stories, and more happiness.”
The key takeaway I want you to grasp, if anything, is that you need to be straightforward in Western writing. Use your logic to deliver the message and remember: Point, Illustration, Explanation.
For a bonus tips, I would talk about business presentation.
At Duke University, where I earned Master of Management Studies, we had Business Communication classes. We learned how to make business presentations. The most important thing I learned is how to give a title to a slide.
The figure above is a snapshot of my personal presentation about Industry Overview and Career Growth Opportunities. The key components are these:
1. The title should not only include the title, it should also explain what the slide is about.
2. The subtitle, while optional, also elaborates the concept more.
3. The content gives diagrams, bullet points (for better reading) that is not too crowded with words.
4. Finally, the right column is another optional part. You can use it as a sneak peek feature or an additional information place.
I hope all the information helps, rather than confuses you, in business writing.