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.
- Start with a topic sentence that outlines the point of the paragraph.
- 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.
- Concluding sentences make a final point. Sometimes a transition is also included to the next paragraph.
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:
- Repeat a word or a phrase from the paragraph above.
- Pose a question generated from the paragraph before, and then answer it.
- Refer backwards then point forwards e.g. Having discussed … the report will …
- Use signpost words & phrases.
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)
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.