Close your eyes and try to picture as many different types of American food as you can. It’s actually pretty hard to do, isn’t it? Most food associated with America actually comes from different countries whose citizens settled here in the States. Pizza, for instance, comes from Italy, whereas hot dogs have German roots and tacos are from Mexico. Even hamburgers aren’t quite American; they are named after the German city of Hamburg. However, the Big Mac–the hamburger special at McDonald’s–is definitely American. And not only is it delicious, but it also can help you write an essay!
How, you ask? Great question! First, let’s take a look at a Big Mac.
There’s a lot going on there, isn’t there? Did you know there’s even a special chant that McDonald’s wrote to help you remember everything in a Big Mac? It goes like this, “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.” (Say it as many times as you can as fast as you can!) Well, to be honest, there’s a lot going on when writing an essay too, and this is just the metaphor to help you through the process!
Let’s start backwards, with the sesame seed bun. Do you see it in the picture of the Big Mac? Now let’s just focus on the top and bottom parts of the bun, not the one in the middle. The top and bottom parts of the bun are like the introduction and conclusion–the opening and closing–of your essay. Say what? No, really! Just like a hamburger bun keeps all those ingredients together into one tasty meal, the introduction and conclusion of your essay hold all your thoughts, opinions, and analysis together into one coherent structure. And here’s another thing to notice: the top and bottom parts of the bun look a lot alike but are subtly different in shape. The introduction and conclusion of your essay frequently have a lot of the same information, but they should not be identical. Your introduction is your chance to present the main point of the essay for the first time. In your conclusion, you’ll want to bring up your main point again. But now, your audience will have more information at their fingertips, so your conclusion should bring something new to the table. Therefore, your introduction and your conclusion are like the slightly different but mostly similar ends of the hamburger bun around your Big Mac.
With me so far? Okay, now let’s go back to the beginning of the chant: “two all-beef patties.” This is the most important part of the essay. It’s actually an accepted metaphor in English to describe something important and detailed as the “meat” of the issue under discussion. This is where all of the evidence and analysis that supports your main idea is located. Depending on the size of your essay, this can be divided into multiple paragraphs. Should you choose to do that, take a look at the picture of that Big Mac again. Notice that the two all-beef patties are of about equal size; neither one dominates the sandwich. Your paragraphs should be the same way. Make sure they are of about equal length and that each paragraph has an understandable point in it that goes back to your main idea–and supports it. Because this is the most important part of your writing, it’s totally fine to spend more time on these paragraphs than on any other part of your essay. After all, toasting a bun takes no more than five minutes, but meat can take much longer to cook. And you wouldn’t want a raw hamburger or a sloppy essay, would you?
Still with me? (Maybe a little hungry?) Then let’s take a look at the rest of the chant: “special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to have all of that stuff on my hamburger. But that’s okay! Those are extras! Some people prefer ketchup or mustard or relish or nothing at all. Whether you keep these extras on the burger or take them off, it doesn’t change the fact that the burger is still a burger. The extras just help it match up with what tastes best for you. It’s the same thing with an essay. Once you’ve written the meat of it–the body paragraphs that support your main idea–and once you know how you’re introducing and concluding your work, you can add a few extras to make the essay more a reflection of your particular writing style or of what interests you. Extras can include specific details that add to the point without proving it or interesting facts that add context to your writing. You don’t want to put too many of them in because they’ll distract from your ultimate idea, just like too many extras overwhelm the taste of a hamburger. But it’s nice to add a few extras to give your essay more personality, just like ketchup (in my humble opinion) only adds to the taste of a burger. You don’t want a boring burger or a dull essay, right?
I hope that makes the essay-writing process a little less terrifying! To be honest, any sandwich will work as an example in this metaphor–choose your favorite, make yourself a snack, and start your writing today!