Academic Essay Paragraphs

Key words: body paragraph, topic sentence, supporting argument, evidence, authority, citation, examples, anecdotal evidence

Now that you’ve thought through the qualities of paragraphs, it’s time to address the big issue. At university, you are mainly meant to draw the knowledge items of your paragraphs from credible sources and state who those sources are (referencing).This is particularly important in your assignment essays.

Please note that the APA referencing style is used in this workshop.

About academic paragraphs

Academic paragraphs are the body paragraphs of your essay and account for about 90% of your word count and marks. They may also be the structure of short answer questions in other types of writing (e.g. exams).

Academic paragraphs contain the points you want to make with supporting arguments and evidence. These paragraphs use a basic pattern (recipe) you can follow. The sentences in your body paragraphs may include citations from information sources, examples and anecdotal evidence. 

Analysis of the structure of an academic paragraph

Exercise 1: Understanding the academic paragraph

Read the following academic paragraph from a research essay and answer the questions that follow. Use the scratch pads below the questions to make notes and record your ideas.

Assignment essay tasks are set to assist students to develop mastery of their study subject. Firstly, assignment tasks enhance understandings about subject matter. Yang and Baker (2005, p. 1) reason that “to master your learning materials and extend your understandings, you need to write about the meanings you gain from your research”. Secondly, research (Jinx, 2004; Zapper, 2006) clearly demonstrates that students learn the writing conventions of a subject area while they are researching, reading and writing in their discipline. This activity helps them to “crack the code” of the discipline (Bloggs, 2003, p. 44). Thus, students are learning subject matter and how to write in that disciplinary area by researching and writing assignment essays. (111 words/6 sentences)

Exercise 2: Analysing the academic paragraph

Click ‘Start analysis’ below to see how these strategies are working in an academic paragraph.

More information
ASO Factsheets: 

Essay body paragraphs

After the introduction come the body paragraphs. They usually take up most of the essay.

Paragraphs contain three main sections:

  • Main point: the topic sentence, which describes the focus of the paragraph
  • Support: explanations, evidence, and examples that reinforce the main point
  • Transitions: connections between this paragraph and
    • the thesis statement
    • nearby paragraphs

Academic paragraphs are usually at least three sentences long, and can be longer still. However, don't make those sentences too long. As a rough guide, a sentence longer than three lines is too long.

Main point

All paragraphs should be focused: they should discuss only one major point. That point should connect with the overall focus of the essay (as described in the thesis statement).

The major point of a paragraph is often called the controlling idea. Every paragraph should have a different controlling idea, each one discussing one aspect or part of the overall essay.

Body paragraphs will often begin with a summary of the controlling idea: the topic sentence. The topic sentence summarises the paragraph in the same way that the thesis statement summarises the whole essay.

The rest of the paragraph supports that topic sentence, by explaining it in detail, giving an example, or citing evidence that reinforces it.

Support

The largest part of any body paragraph is the support: explanations, evidence, and examples.

Explanations use logic to fully explain the point raised in the topic sentence. It is not enough to just explain an idea, however: you need to show that outside evidence supports it as well.

Evidence can include

  • Facts
  • Published opinions
  • Research from books, journal articles, websites, etc.
  • Published case studies
  • Research data

All evidence must be relevant to the topic, and it must be used and credited properly.

Outside sources can be quoted, summarised, or paraphrased. For information on the right and wrong ways to do this, see quoting and paraphrasing. Crediting outside sources is known as referencing, and is described in detail in the section titled introduction to referencing.

Transitions

Body paragraphs do not exist in isolation. They should fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Transitions show the connections between paragraphs themselves, and the connections between the paragraphs and the overall focus of the essay (the thesis statement). They often appear at the end of a paragraph.

Transitions are essential for maintaining momentum in your essay and showing the reader how all the ideas fit together. They are described in detail in the next section, essay flow.

Example body paragraphs

See sample essay 1 and sample essay 2 for model body paragraphs.

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Last updated on 11 March, 2014

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