Learn how to structure paragraphs with tips from University of Maryland University College’s Effective Writing Center. Use effective paragraph structure to explain reasons for choosing a university essay support your thesis statement.
Effective paragraphs are important in all types of writing. Your paragraphs guide your reader through the paper by helping to explain, substantiate, and support your thesis statement or argument. Each paragraph should discuss one major point or idea. An effective paragraph has three parts: claim, evidence, and analysis. This is also sometimes called a topic sentence. It may be helpful to think of your claims as mini arguments that support the paper’s main argument or thesis. Just as in the thesis statement, your topic sentences should be debatable.
In other words, they should be arguable claims that you will try to “prove” with your evidence. If you get stuck developing these claims, try to think of reasons why your thesis is true. Each claim should be a reason why the reader should believe your paper’s main idea. For example, perhaps you’re writing an essay about whether people should drink soy milk instead of cow’s milk. Your “reasons” for this might include health benefits, environmental benefits, cost-effectiveness, and safety, so you would focus one paragraph on each of these topics. One of the most common mistakes is to present a topic sentence that is actually an observation of facts or a description of events rather than an active argument.
When you make a claim based on a fact or event in your topic sentence, you aren’t presenting an arguable claim that you can back up with your evidence in that paragraph. Soy milk contains healthy isoflavones and nutrients. The isoflavones and nutrients in soy milk help to protect the body from disease and promote good health, so soy is a better choice. As you can see, the second example not only tells the reader that soy contains healthy isoflavones and nutrients, but it also argues that these facts make soy milk a better choice. To evaluate whether your paper contains effective claims in each paragraph, read only the first sentence of each paragraph. You should be able to follow the development of the paper’s thesis by reading only the claim sentences.
These should tell you the main points that you are making throughout the paper. Your claims will also prepare the reader for the second section of your paragraph. This is how you support, or back up, your claims. The evidence will help to “prove” each claim to the reader.
In a paper that incorporates research from secondary sources, your evidence may include information from articles, books, electronic sources, or any of the research you gathered. The evidence may take the form of a direct quotation, paraphrased material, statistical data, or any other information from one of your sources that helps to support your claim. Try to incorporate information from several sources into each paragraph. Avoid just “retelling” the information from a single author or article. Aim to represent a variety of opinions and views.
This way, you’re not just telling the reader what one expert says, but you’re explaining how your claim is supported by research from several experts in your field. Since soy milk is one of the easiest ways to incorporate soy into the diet, this is a good choice for people seeking to lower their LDL and triglycerides. Soy milk also may reduce the potential for heart disease. The benefits of soy aren’t just limited to the heart, however. Note that the second example seems more “balanced,” because the author demonstrates knowledge of the subject and incorporates several expert opinions to back up the claim.