You need to be very conscious of how your paragraphs work together to communicate your information and make it easy for your audience to understand.
A basic understanding of paragraph style and structure is paramount for university students, as this will not only improve the quality of your work, but will often also result in obtaining higher grades.
The importance of paragraphs
It helps to think of your assignment in terms of paragraphs in the planning and drafting stages.
A paragraph should contain one main point or controlling idea, and consists of a number of sentences, namely:
- a topic sentence
- a number of supporting sentences,
- a concluding sentence.
Paragraphs can be of any length, but as a general rule avoid very short or overly lengthy paragraphs.
The length of a paragraph largely depends on the purpose of the paragraph, and what you have set out to talk about in your topic sentence. A paragraph that is too long is difficult for your audience to follow. A paragraph that is too short may indicate insufficient development of the main idea.
Avoid a one/two-sentence paragraph. A paragraph needs a topic sentence, followed by sentences of elaboration and explanation (i.e. supporting sentences) and ultimately concluded with a 'concluding sentence' which reinforces your arguments and thesis statement.
A topic sentence sums up the main idea of the paragraph—it tells your audience what the paragraph is about. A topic sentence:
- performs the same function as the introduction, which provides a preview of your assignment
- is usually found at the beginning of a paragraph—the first or second sentence.
The first sentence can also connect the paragraph to the previous paragraph.
Logical flow between paragraphs
The first and last sentences of a paragraph act as links or transitions to connect one paragraph to another. Often, the last sentence (that is, concluding sentence) of a paragraph links it to the next paragraph. These links ensure that there is a smooth flow throughout the writing.
Logical flow within a paragraph / supporting sentences
Logical flow should also occur within a paragraph:
- Each sentence should follow on to the next—the move from one sentence to the next should be logical.
- Information included within a paragraph should be presented in a logical, sequential manner.
- The use of transition signals such as 'furthermore, moreover, in addition and consequently' can help you achieve better flow in your paragraphs. (see HELPS Transition Signals (PDF, 170kb, 2 pages) for more information).
Your paragraph should end with a concluding sentence which is where you will summarise your arguments on the topic, as well as reinforce the overall message of each paragraph. A concluding sentence is vitally important at the end of each paragraph to clarify your arguments and thinking for your reader.
Logically flowing sentences
To help develop logically flowing sentences, ensure the information you present is logical in nature, builds upon the topic sentence or the main idea. Ensure that you use transition signals to smooth the sentences within the paragraph and ensure that the paragraph is well-structured with a topic sentence and a concluding sentence at the start and end of your paragraph respectively.
External online resources
Unilearning, UOW - Legitimate paragraphs (opens an external site)
Morley-Warner, T. 2009, Academic writing is… A guide to writing in a university context(opens an external site), Association for Academic Language and Learning, Sydney.
Unilearning 2000, accessed 10 June 2000, <<http://unilearning.uow.edu.au/main.html>.