Your essay is a journey through your argument or discussion. Your paragraphs are stepping stones in that journey, and they build up your argument, point by point.
Paragraphs have several functions. These include:
You can think of paragraphs as mini essays, discussing a single idea. They will vary depending on your academic discipline and the nature of your essay, but here is a good basic paragraph structure:
Some of the problems you may be having with your academic writing could be linked to your use of paragraphs. Do you ever struggle with any of the things below?
Perhaps you are trying to make too many points within one paragraph. Make sure each paragraph deals with just one point, and that you have taken that point through the stages detailed on the previous page.
Perhaps you need to think about the order in which you position your paragraphs. Try jotting down the key point that you want to explore in each paragraph. Then move these points around to find an order that will allow your argument to logically unfold. Make use of signposting words and phrases to guide the reader through your argument. See our Short Guide to Signposting in Essays for help with this.
Try looking at each paragraph and considering how it helps you to answer the question. If there are any paragraphs that seem irrelevant, consider cutting them, or making their relevance clearer to the reader. Look at the first and last sentences of your paragraphs. These should indicate a clear link to the original essay question.
You should differentiate your paragraphs by indenting them or leaving extra line space in between. Check whether your academic school has a style preference for this. Whichever style you choose, ensure that you apply consistently. Make sure your paragraphs are not too long or too short. Page-long paragraphs indicate that you are trying to make too many points in one paragraph, or perhaps not writing concisely enough. One sentence paragraphs suggest you are not developing your points properly, and will be pounced on by the marker.
University of Portsmouth. Department for Curriculum and Quality Enhancement. (2010) Better Essays: Signposting [online]. Available from: www.port.ac.uk/departments/studentsupport/ask/resources/handouts/writtenassignments/ filetodownload.32756.en.pdf [Accessed 20 May 2013]
The Open University. Skills for OU study: Dividing your Work into Paragraphs [online]. Available from: www.open.ac.uk/skillsforstudy/dividing-your-work-inoto-paragraphs.php [Accessed 20 May 2013]
Consider the internal structure of paragraphs and how they link to one another. This is a key part if achieving an effective essay structure to convey your line of reasoning. Check each paragraph for structure, clarity, relevance and connection to its neighbours.