Paragraphs

What is a paragraph?

A paragraph is a sequence of sentences that cover one main idea or theme. Change paragraphs for a new topic, time period, place or person. There is no set length, but it should be more than a couple of sentences to develop your ideas fully.

 

How is a paragraph structured?

The diagram shows 4 key elements of paragraphs that are explained in detail below.

Diagram of a general paragraph structure.

Beginning: introduces

  • Start with a topic sentence that outlines the point of the paragraph.

Middle: develops

  • The point is supported through evidence that is Harvard referenced.
  • Evidence can be direct quotations (word for word), paraphrases (a source’s ideas restated into your own words), summaries (an overview of a whole source), examples or visuals.
  • As well as showing the viewpoints of others, you need to comment on how you understand or assess the evidence.

End: completes

  • Concluding sentences make a final point. Sometimes a transition is also included to the next paragraph.

 

Study Skills Toolkit
Use our paragraph diagram to guide you through the structure above.

 

How might this structure look?

  • The example paragraph highlights the elements of Point, Evidence, Comment and Conclude.
  • Note how the reader is guided by using signpost words such as ‘however’, ‘in contrast’, ‘therefore’ and ‘nevertheless’. These words help to show the direction of your argument.

How can I move between paragraphs?

Create transitions between paragraphs with 4 techniques:

  1. Repeat a word or a phrase from the paragraph above.
  2. Pose a question generated from the paragraph before, and then answer it.
  3. Refer backwards then point forwards e.g. Having discussed … the report will …
  4. Use signpost words & phrases.

Paragraph checklist

Use the checklist below to help with editing your work. 

 

Paragraph Checklist Questions Yes No
Does the paragraph cover one main idea or theme?
Is the idea or theme relevant to your title/question?
Has reliable evidence (which is Harvard referenced) been provided?
Is there a balance between the evidence and your comments?
Has an overly short (one or two sentences) or long structure been avoided?
Do the paragraphs flow on from each other logically?

Questions adapted from (Cooper & Shoolbred, 2016, p. 62)

 

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Tip for long paragraphs: Have multiple ideas/themes been placed together? Can these be separated into two paragraphs?

Tip for short paragraphs: Do the sentences connect to information above or below? Have the four steps of the paragraph diagram been followed?

 

 

Sources consulted for this page include:

Burns, T. and Sinfield, S. (2016) Essential study skills: the complete guide to success at University. 4th edn. London: SAGE.

Cooper, H. and Shoolbred, M. (2016) Where’s your argument? Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Williams, K. (2014) Getting critical. 2nd edn. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.