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.
  • Watch the video below to learn more about the paragraph.
Video about paragraphs

How is a paragraph structured?

Paragraph diagram
Figure 1: Paragraph diagram with questions based on Burns and Sinfield (2016)

1. Beginning: introduces

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

Example:

Another technique utilised for effect by van Gogh was impasto.

2 & 3. Middle: develops

  • The point is supported through reliable 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 others’ viewpoints, you need to comment on how you understand the evidence.
  • See some examples of ways to comment in the PDF below.

4. End: completes

  • Concluding sentences make a final point. Sometimes a transition is 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.
Example paragraph with colour coding of point, evidence, comment and conclude.
Figure 2: Example paragraph

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 and phrases mentioned above.

Paragraph checklist

Paragraph Checklist QuestionsYesNo
Does the paragraph cover one main idea or theme?
Is the point relevant to your title or task?
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)


The following sources were consulted:

  • Burns, T. and Sinfield, S. (2016) Essential study skills: the complete guide to success at University. 4th edn. London: SAGE.
  • Brunel University (2012) The power of the paragraph. Available at: https://vimeo.com/44666462 (Accessed: 29 November 2019).
  • Cooper, H. and Shoolbred, M. (2016) Where’s your argument? Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Williams, K. (2014) Getting critical. 2nd edn. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.