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Academic Writing Guide: Paragraph Structure

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Academic Writing Guide: Paragraph Structure

Essay and Thesis Writing Series

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Grant Andrews

Academic Coaching

www.writeyourthesis.com

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Copyright © 2017 by Grant Andrews

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher at the address below.

 

 

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Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: The Function of Body Paragraphs

Chapter 3: Topic Sentence

Chapter 4: Evidence & Support

Chapter 5: Explanation

Things to Remember

Academic Coaching

Academic Coaching is run by Dr. Grant Andrews and Malan van der Walt

The Academic Coaching team offers free content to help anyone writing a thesis, essay or article. We provide free short books on every topic relating to thesis writing, as well as step-by-step guides on how to plan, research and write your academic piece. If you would like to request that we compile a tutorial or eBook that you need, or if you have any questions, please email us at [email protected].

Our services also include editing, coaching and counseling. We coach our clients through all stages of essay and thesis writing, and host online workshops and writing marathons. You can find our pricing guide on our website, www.writeyourthesis.com.

We hope this short guide can help you to make a success of your academic work!

Chapter 1: Introduction

The body paragraph is the building block of academic essays and dissertations, yet many budding academics struggle with paragraph structure and the method of planning and writing a good paragraph. Once you’ve planned your essay and you [+ know how to write an introduction+], the next step in presenting a compelling discussion or academic argument is to deliver your points in clear, concise paragraphs.

In this guide, all of the steps and components of writing a good paragraph will be explored. You’ll learn about how paragraphs are used to advance your thesis statement, how they should contain one element or point of discussion, and how they should have coherence and logical flow between them. The guide will cover the three components of a good paragraph, namely a topic sentence, support or evidence, and explanation sentences. If you can include each of these three components in each of your paragraphs, you’re well on your way to being a good academic writer.

Before we begin with this guide, take note that you can test your academic and thesis readiness levels, and get detailed advice and strategies on your unique challenges, in a free report written by the Academic Coaches. Take the quiz at the following link: http://www.writeyourthesis.com/p/quiz.html.

For now, let’s look at what paragraphs are meant to do.

Chapter 2: The Function of Body Paragraphs

A good academic essay or a well-structured chapter in a dissertation will have at least three body paragraphs, each looking at a different component of the main contention or thesis. Your body paragraphs follow your introduction and come before your conclusion, and they contain the bulk of the points which you use to advance your discussion or make your argument.

The thesis statement is the component that informs what your paragraphs should be about. Your thesis statement is found in your introduction paragraph, and it is the main point that your essay will address. You need to have a clear, well-formulated thesis statement in order to know what your paragraphs should be about. To find out how to write a thesis statement and a full introduction, there are free guides available on the Academic Coaching website, www.writeyourthesis.com, but we’ll look at a basic example here if you are already familiar with what a thesis statement should look like.

A thesis statement is the answer to the question that is asked by the topic. For example, if your topic is to write about how different amounts of sleep affect daily functioning for individuals, your thesis statement could look as follows:

In this essay, I will demonstrate with data that the average adult functions optimally with seven hours of sleep per night, and that any more than eight-and-a-half hours is detrimental to functioning.

 

You have clearly answered the question here, and the reader knows exactly what the contents of your essay will be. They will want to see evidence that seven hours of sleep is the optimal amount, and that too much sleep is bad. Your paragraphs thus need to logically deliver this evidence.

You could therefore have the following paragraphs in your essay:

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p<>{color:#000;}. Introduction

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p<>{color:#000;}. Body 1: Explain the effects of sleep and why it is important

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p<>{color:#000;}. Body 2: Explain your particular study methodology

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p<>{color:#000;}. Body 3: Show how less than 7 hours is detrimental

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p<>{color:#000;}. Body 4: Show how 7 is beneficial

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p<>{color:#000;}. Body 5: Show how more than 8 ½ is detrimental

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p<>{color:#000;}. Conclusion

Your essay structure is an extension of the ideas contained in your thesis statement. You will have to have certain ideas, discussions or evidence in your essay in order to show all the parts of your thesis statement, as well as to explain certain things that the reader needs to know to make sense of your essay. Every paragraph becomes essential to delivering the points which support your thesis statement.

The second thing you’ll notice is that each of the paragraphs in our essay outline deals with only one point of the discussion. This is much easier for the reader to make sense of. Our minds can only really make sense of one new idea at a time, and our essay structure should make the ideas as easily understandable as possible. We break our paragraphs with line breaks so that readers can understand each section as a new thought which takes the discussion one step further.

A good way to test if you only have one idea per paragraph is to try and summarize each of your paragraphs in one line. If you use the word “and”, you might already have two ideas in that paragraph. Do your best to keep your paragraphs short and clear; around four to eight sentences should be enough for most paragraphs, as long as they accomplish all of the goals that paragraphs are meant to accomplish.

The final element of good body paragraphs is that they should have coherence and logical flow between them. Your paragraphs should build on one another, and not feel redundant, irrelevant or out-of-place. If your reader moves from one paragraph to the next, the transition should be as smooth as possible, and you should try and clearly show the reader why the next point you make is the logical one to make.

Redundancy is where you say things that don’t need to be said, or you repeat certain ideas. If you are talking about chairs, you don’t need to explain that chairs are used to sit on. This point is obvious and redundant.

Irrelevant ideas are those that don’t add to your argument or don’t fit with the rest of your points. For example, in our essay about the optimal sleeping times, it would be very irrelevant to begin talking about how much you enjoy sleeping and the fact that you wear cotton pajamas. The reader doesn’t need to know that in order to understand your discussion. Leave out any points that might be distracting or leave your reader confused.

When you move from one paragraph to the next, it’s important to try to use signposting for the reader. This means that you use certain words to show the logical links between your ideas, like “therefore”, “thus”, “hence”, “in addition”, and other terms that show them some logical links in your discussion. There are some resources on signposting on the Academic Coaching website if you are interested in learning more about how to use them. For now, just be sure that the reader is never lost in your essay. Your paragraphs should follow the roadmap that was laid out in your introduction, and you shouldn’t take any detours along the way. Your introduction tells the reader where you are taking them and how you will get there, your paragraphs do exactly what you set out to do in as straight a line as possible, and your conclusion is the end point that your essay or chapter works towards.

Next, we’ll look at the three components of body paragraphs, starting with the topic sentence.

Review Your Learning:

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p<>{color:#000;}. Your paragraphs should all link to your thesis statement. You shouldn’t include any paragraphs which don’t help you to reach your conclusion in some way

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p<>{color:#000;}. Your paragraphs should only have one point each, and this point should be additional support which strengthens your main idea

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p<>{color:#000;}. Avoid redundancy and irrelevant ideas.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Use signposting, especially when starting new paragraphs, so that readers can follow the logical flow of your discussion

Chapter 3: Topic Sentence

The topic sentence is the first sentence of a body paragraph. It introduces the point that your body paragraph will explore. Each topic sentence has to accomplish a few key things:

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p<>{color:#000;}. Link to the previous paragraph

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p<>{color:#000;}. Link back to the thesis statement

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p<>{color:#000;}. Introduce a new point that will be explored in the rest of the paragraph

A good topic sentence can do all of the above at the same time. It needs to clarify the new direction that you are taking your discussion in, but do it in a way that doesn’t confuse your reader.

Let’s look at an example to clarify what a topic sentence should look like. For the essay topic on sleeping times we introduced above, your first paragraph would be on why sleep is important and how it affects people.

Your topic sentence could be something like the following:

Sleep is a fundamental part of maintaining health and mental functioning.

 

Now, the reader knows that the paragraph will explain why sleep is important and how it affects health and functioning. You’ve effectively transitioned into your new paragraph. You’ve also linked to your thesis statement because you are talking about the effects of sleep, and laying the groundwork for the comparison of different amounts of sleep which your essay will do later.

However, there are times when your “topic sentence” might be more than just one sentence. You might have to spend a bit more time establishing the important transitions from the previous idea and setting up your new idea. For example, if we were to write the topic sentence component of the third paragraph, about how less than seven hours is detrimental, we might write it as follows:

However, despite the aforementioned benefits of sleep, one has to consider that different amounts of sleep affect individuals in different ways. Studies have shown that sleeping for less than seven hours per night can lead to a loss of functioning and less mental acuity.

 

These two sentences were needed here to perform the function of introducing your topic or idea for this paragraph. One sentence was used to transition from the previous paragraph, showing that not all sleep is equal by using the signpost word “however”. The second sentence indicated that this paragraph will talk about the detrimental effects of getting less than seven hours of sleep.

Make sure that your topic sentences clearly state what your paragraphs will be about. This makes it easier for readers to scan the contents of your essay by only reading the first sentence or two of each paragraph, and still being able to easily find their way.

Review Your Learning:

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p<>{color:#000;}. A topic sentence (or topic sentences) come at the start of each body paragraph

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p<>{color:#000;}. Topic sentences need to transition from previous paragraphs, show a link to the thesis statement, and introduce the main idea of the current paragraph

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p<>{color:#000;}. You can use signposting to improve the logical flow of your paragraphs

Chapter 4: Evidence & Support

The second part of your body paragraph is the evidence and support section. This is where you provide all of the ideas and references which illustrate, support or clarify the point you introduced in your topic sentence. This is where the citations from experts or the research from other studies would go in your paragraph. Once you’ve introduced your topic, you need to support the point as thoroughly as you can with as much evidence as you can.

You should try and find at least one piece of support for every paragraph and every idea that you introduce into your essay, article or dissertation. Make sure that you use the proper referencing style after every idea that’s not your own to avoid plagiarism.

There are various types of support and evidence that you can find for your points, and you should be sure that you find appropriate support for the type of essay that you are writing. If you are writing an argumentative essay, it is better to rely on the research, data and statistics that you can find in academic journals, newspapers or government reports. If you are writing a paper for literature studies, you will need to provide textual support for your points, which means that you need to show which lines or sections of the text you are analyzing support the idea you’ve introduced. If you are writing a report on a study in natural sciences or medical sciences, you will need to provide data from your findings to support your points.

Whatever type of academic paper you’re writing, there will need to be evidence for your ideas. Let’s look at an example from the first paragraph of the mock-essay on sleep duration. Remember, the topic sentence for the paragraph was:

Sleep is a fundamental part of maintaining health and mental functioning.

Now, if we follow this up with support and evidence, we’ll have to illustrate the point and refer to studies that support our assertion. A good signpost to introduce the evidence section of our paragraph is the phrase “for example”. Your first sentence of support could look like this:

For example, a severe lack of sleep has been linked to weight gain and a reduced immune system (Pietrangelo & Waterson, 2017). Animal research even suggests that a lack of sleep can be fatal (Palmer, 2009). In addition, a lack of sleep can have a negative effect on performance, memory, cognitive functioning, and even injuries due to factors such as occupational or automobile accidents (Breus, 2009).

You’ve provided a good amount of evidence that all supports the main point that you were making with the paragraph, namely that sleep is important to health and cognition. You’ve demonstrated that you’ve done your research, and that you didn’t just base your topic sentence on your opinion or on “common sense”; instead, it’s supported by lots of academic studies and you’re relying on the ideas of professionals. You’ve also shown that your ideas are logically linked by using good signposting. The words “For example” in your first sentence show that you’re about to illustrate your point. The second sentence uses the signpost “even”, which shows an added element to the discussion. In the third sentence, the words “In addition” show us that you’re again adding to your list of ill-effects.

Let’s look at a quick example for those doing essays for English literature or poetry studies. If you are writing an analysis, you could have a topic sentence like the following:

Juliet presents a longing for Romeo, and struggles to go without him.

 

Now that you have a topic sentence, you need to show some support for this with textual evidence. You could include something like the following:

This longing is clear to the reader when Juliet stands on her balcony and calls out, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” (Shakespeare, Act II, Sc. 2).

You’ve now made an assertion about the play that you are analyzing in your topic sentence, and then supported that assertion with some evidence from the text.

Let’s move on to the final part of a good body paragraph, namely the explanation of the evidence or support.

Review Your Learning:

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p<>{color:#000;}. Your second section of a good body paragraph is the evidence and support section.

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p<>{color:#000;}. You provide evidence for the ideas you introduce in your topic sentence, and support them with illustrations, citations or textual evidence

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p<>{color:#000;}. Signposting is important in this part of a paragraph so that you can clearly identify how the different pieces of support or evidence link to your topic sentence

Chapter 5: Explanation

The final section of a good body paragraph is explanation. This is the section where you explain the significance of the evidence and support you’ve provided and closely analyze it. This is also the section where you link your ideas introduced in the paragraph back to your main thesis statement. The explanation section is usually longer than the other sections of your paragraph, ranging from two to four sentences. This is the part where you can use more of your own voice and apply your own critical thinking to the idea that you’ve dealt with in any particular paragraph.

Your job as an academic researcher, even if you are still an undergraduate or new graduate student, is not simply to parrot information from other sources. You also have to assess that information, and use your own mind to increase understanding of that information. This is the part of your paragraph where you have the chance to do that.

Let’s again take the example of the first body paragraph of the essay on sleep duration. Let’s combine the previous two sections and repeat them here just to refresh your memory:

Sleep is a fundamental part of maintaining health and mental functioning. For example, a severe lack of sleep has been linked to weight gain and a reduced immune system (Pietrangelo & Waterson, 2017). Animal research even suggests that a lack of sleep can be fatal (Palmer, 2009). In addition, a lack of sleep can have a negative effect on performance, memory, cognitive functioning, and even injuries due to factors such as occupational or automobile accidents (Breus, 2009).

 

Now, you’ve provided some interesting food for thought to your reader by introducing this topic and providing evidence to support it, but you still need to tell your reader why this information is significant. You need to show that you’ve thought about the information and that it supports the main contention of your essay. You could add explanation as follows:

These factors clearly demonstrate that sleep improves physical and mental health, and it is clear that good sleeping habits should be part of any healthy lifestyle. The right amount of sleep can ensure that someone performs optimally and that they can potentially live a longer life. However, despite the obvious benefits of sleep, there is still debate about the amount of sleep that leads to the greatest health effects. These studies show that almost none of the scholarly literature focuses on the effects of excess sleep, instead only showing the effects of sleep deprivation. Analyzing the differences in functioning under different sleep durations could provide answers as to how much sleep individuals should get on a nightly basis.

 

In this section, we’ve looked very closely at the studies and data that we provided in the previous section. We’ve not just parroted the information, but we also applied our minds to it and picked up on themes and ideas that might not have been explicitly stated. For example, you would have to really think about the data to notice that none of them discuss excess sleep and how this can also have negative effects. This is the type of point you can make in the explanation section of your paragraph. You also use the final sentence to link your paragraph back to the overall mission of your essay, which is to compare sleeping times and to say that 7 hours is the best. In the next paragraphs of this mock-essay, you can go on to look at each of the different times, and in the explanation sections, you can explain why that time is a good or a bad amount of sleep to be getting per night.

You might not be able to easily separate the evidence and explanation parts of your paragraph like this in every essay, and they might flow into each other. For example, you might provide explanation for a certain piece of evidence directly after you cite it, and then move on to the next piece of evidence which still falls under the same paragraph. These two sections can be adapted depending on the style of your essay, but you need to make sure that you include both of them in every paragraph that you write. If you include all three of the sections from this guide, the topic sentence, evidence, and explanation, you should have a good, logical and clear paragraph with one main idea that takes your discussion or argument one step forward.

Let’s look at one more example of a full body paragraph. If the topic is the following:

Write an essay in which you discuss the impact of technology on learning styles and classroom habits.

 

You could have a thesis statement as follows:

This essay will discuss how technology has led to a negative effect on learning styles and classroom habits due to higher distraction levels and the decrease in adolescent self-esteem with the pressures of social media.

 

Your paragraphs might be structured as follows:

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p<>{color:#000;}. Introduction

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p<>{color:#000;}. Body 1: Explain young people’s use of technology

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p<>{color:#000;}. Body 2: Change in learning styles to visual learning

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p<>{color:#000;}. Body 3: Greater distractions

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p<>{color:#000;}. Body 4: Effect of Social Media

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p<>{color:#000;}. Body 5: Lower self-esteem

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p<>{color:#000;}. Conclusion

The body paragraphs in bold are explanatory in nature, giving us more information which helps to inform the paragraphs which directly support our thesis statement, namely body paragraphs 3 and 5. Even though these paragraphs will involve more background information, they still need to have the same structure of topic sentence, evidence and explanation.

Let’s look at how paragraph 2 might be structured. I’ve made it easier for you to identify the individual parts of the paragraph below by changing the font style of the different sections. The topic sentence is highlighted in yellow, the evidence or support is in bold, and the explanation is underlined to make it easy for you to see the differences.

Society has seen a massive shift in the use of technology by young people. Even though the minimum age for services like Gmail and Facebook is 13-years-old, studies have shown that children as young as five-years-old are using social media (Lewis, 2015). This has led to many prepubescent children becoming hyperaware of body-image norms and even news articles which might be inappropriate for their age groups. [* For teenagers between 13 and 17-years-old, Instagram and Twitter are the main social media sources, with 92% of young people in this age group using one or both of these services (Chopra, 2017). *] This incredible proliferation of social media has changed the way that young people interact with their worlds, with many spending hours on their cellphones while consuming social media. These changes have impacted every aspect of young people’s lives, including the way they learn and how they see themselves.

The paragraph contains a topic sentence, as well as two citations and two explanations of the information provided. The final sentence ties the paragraph back to our thesis statement, showing how the information links to our overall argument that technology has had negative effects on learning.

Review Your Learning:

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p<>{color:#000;}. The third section of a body paragraph is explanation. It gives more clarity about the support or evidence you’ve provided for the topic of your paragraph

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p<>{color:#000;}. Your explanation needs to increase understanding and show why the data or information you’ve provided is significant

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p<>{color:#000;}. Your explanation ties the points in your paragraph back to your thesis statement, explaining how you’ve advanced your discussion or argument

[]Things to Remember

This guide has shown how to structure a good body paragraph with a topic sentence, evidence and explanation. If you can keep this basic formula for all of your body paragraphs, you’ll be producing quality academic writing in no time.

Writing an essay or dissertation can be challenging, but there are many resources that can help you along the way. The Academic Coaching team offers editing and guidance for your academic writing, and we’re able to help you at any point from the initial idea stage to the final edit. We’ll help you come up with a plan and to refine your ideas, and we’ll give you expert feedback on your rough work so that you can write your essay or thesis with confidence. Go to www.writeyourthesis.com to find out more.

This book is part of a series for researchers and students writing essays and theses. We offer many more books and resources at our website, www.writeyourthesis.com/p/resources.html.

Take the Thesis Readiness Quiz for a FREE Report

Are you feeling unsure of your academic strengths and challenges? We offer a free, personalized report on your readiness for writing an academic essay or thesis, as well as tips and guidelines to improve your skills. Simply take the 10-minute quiz at the following link, and your free report will be emailed to you: http://www.writeyourthesis.com/p/quiz.html.

All the best with your studies!

Grant and Malan

(P.S.: If you’d like to receive links to all of our academic writing tools as soon as they’re released, sign up for our mailing list today. Go to: www.writeyourthesis.com and sign up in the sidebar. As soon as you sign up, we’ll send you a welcome gift of four free academic writing books.)


Academic Writing Guide: Paragraph Structure

A Step-by-Step, Quick and Easy Guide to Writing Essay or Dissertation Body Paragraphs Everything you need to know about the structure of a paragraph is contained in this short guide. An outline of the different sections you'll need to include is provided, and each section is explained in detail so that you know exactly what you'll have to do to succeed in your essay or dissertation. Learn how to write a good topic sentence, how to provide evidence or support for your ideas, and how to explain your evidence using your critical thinking skills. This guide will be useful for making sure that you start off your journey of academic writing on the right foot. It will cover all of the basic elements, and will take 30 minutes to work through. The guide is written by Dr. Grant Andrews, who has been teaching academic writing for years, and who knows the common pitfalls that students experience in academic writing. This book is part of the Essay and Thesis Writing Series.

  • ISBN: 9781370250738
  • Author: Grant Andrews
  • Published: 2017-07-26 10:20:10
  • Words: 4278
Academic Writing Guide: Paragraph Structure Academic Writing Guide: Paragraph Structure