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Paragraph Structure: A Short Guide

A Short Guide to Paragraph Structure

The function of paragraphs

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:

  • Breaking the text into manageable units, so that the reader can clearly see the main sections
  • Organising ideas: each paragraph should have just one main idea within it
  • Providing a narrative flow through the document, as one idea links to the next

The structure of paragraphs

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:

  • Introduce your point: the first sentence of a paragraph should signpost the point to be made, using phrases such as: 'An alternative perspective to consider is'...or 'Another key issue is...'
  • Elaborate: on the point you have introduced, making sure the argument that you are trying to put forward is clear.
  • Evidence: provide the evidence that supports the point you are making.
  • Comment: on the evidence. Criticise, analyse or engage with the evidence. How does it support your point?
  • Conclude: your point and indicate what it means for your overall argument.

Paragraphs on the page

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.

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