There are several different types of general essay structures and many more types that are formally related to specific disciplines. Essay structures are simply formalizations of logical processes that tend to work well in specific circumstances. As such, they often take the form of the type of argument being made, such as compare and contrast or chronological explanation. Different languages also have different traditional essay structures, although styles of logic are typically similar in most academic contexts independent of language.
One of the most common types of essay structures in English is the so-called five-paragraph essay. This type of essay includes an introduction paragraph that contains the thesis, three paragraphs making points about that thesis, and a closing paragraph that summarizes the argument that has been made. Variations on this structure may include different numbers of paragraphs or may make multiple arguments in order to add up to a single complete point. Depending on the length of the essay, it is sometimes important to reiterate how the point being made relates to the thesis of the essay.
Another common type of structure for essays involves comparing and contrasting. This type of essay is also often in the standard five-paragraph form, but it may use paragraphs to break up the different aspects that are being compared and contrasted. Essays of this type are very common for younger students but become increasingly rare in college.
In specific disciplines, there are sometimes additional essay structures that are considered appropriate to the subject. This is particularly true in the sciences, where data must often speak for itself. The components that must combine to form a logical argument in the sciences are often quite different than in the social sciences, and it is important to ensure that a complete and coherent argument is being made.
Essay structures are almost always expansions on logical arguments. This means that any logical argument that can be expressed in prose can form the skeleton of an essay. It is important to understand the purpose of each paragraph, and many people can see the structure of an essay more easily when each paragraph is broken down into a sentence outline.
Given that different cultures have different rhetorical strategies and traditions, essay structure may be quite different across languages. In general, there is usually at least one structure that is considered acceptable by academic institutions in a country. Learning essay structures in a foreign language can be difficult, but reading essays in the target language can help identify what the underlying structure might be.