Mastering the skill of writing an academic paragraph is vital to academic success. The key word here is ‘skill’ since, being a skill, successful paragraph writing can be perfected. This news will obviously come as welcome relief for senior students thrashing about in post trial tempests.
So, how do you write a successful academic essay paragraph? Your first step is to ensure you understand the purpose of a paragraph and then to ensure you have operational knowledge of the structural and language requirements. Then the final, and perhaps most crucial component in mastering the skill of writing an academic paragraph is… practice, practice, practice.
Let me give you a quick analogy; perfecting your ability to write a coherent, relevant academic paragraphs is the same as perfecting your ability to shoot a hoop, kick a goal, run 100m or any other sporting skill you care to mention. Remember writing is a skill. Therefore, regular writing practice will allow you to develop the freedom of expression necessary to convey your thoughts eloquently, critically and cohesively.
What is the purpose of an academic paragraph? Primarily the purpose of an academic paragraph (which occurs in the body of your essay) is to develop your thesis. Your thesis (which you clearly stated in the introduction of your essay) is your main argument, it is the point you are attempting to prove (and of course is usually your response to the essay question). Therefore, it is vital that your paragraph provides thoughtful analysis, rather than simply recounting a message.
What Language should you use? Although not all academics have the same language expectations, I am sure most will agree a paragraph which employs a cohesive, impersonal style and uses sophisticated vocabulary, tends to convey a critically relevant, credible response. Remember the purpose of your paragraph is to share information. In an academic sense, you are demonstrating to an examiner what you know. You are proving that you understand the content and are able to apply that knowledge while offering an evaluative judgment. Therefore, better academic paragraphs offer
- Full form words
- Passive voice
- Cohesive devises
- Sophisticated / technical vocabulary
What academic paragraph structure ‘works’? Again, while universal agreement for the structure of an academic paragraph may not be probable, it is possible to offer a formula that improves your chances of addressing the requirements of an essay question. Perhaps another analogy is in order. When we cook a ‘new’ dinner, we often follow a recipe. The function of the recipe is to offer a series of steps and ingredients which, when followed, increase the likelihood of a palatable meal. However, after we have cooked this meal numerous times we begin to develop an understanding of which ingredients are essential and which add ‘flavour’. As our confidence increases, we begin to experiment, adding our own unique touches to construct a variation which offers the critical components of the original, while highlighting our own individual flair. Writing a successful academic paragraph is much the same. First we need to perfect our ability to include the fundamental elements, then we can experiment with expression. A formula I often suggest to my students is;
- Topic sentence (relates to the thesis / question and the topic of the paragraph)
- Explain the topic sentence
- Provide examples, comparisons, quotes and reference to other sources
- Concluding sentence (highlights why this topic is important to the development of the thesis)
Remember writing is a skill, the more you write, reflect on and edit your work, the better it will become.