How To Write An Academic Paragraph – A Brief Guide

Academic Paragraphing Eduhyme

In any kind of academic writing, paragraphing is of the utmost importance. So far, we have learned how to produce sentences. We began with using verbs, then built up to clauses, and finally the different sorts of sentence. Once you can produce a sentence, the next step towards a full essay is linking sentences together into paragraphs.

Although the overall structure of an essay for IELTS writing task 1 and 2 is quite different, the internal structure of a paragraph is quite similar. This is true across most types of writing – from essay to article to letter. Generally speaking, a paragraph is a group of sentences centered on one idea.

How to Structure a Paragraph

Before writing any sort of essay, you should plan what you will write. However, this doesn’t merely extend to paragraph topics; you should make notes on what each paragraph includes, and look at how you will structure the paragraph internally. This will stop you from breaking the cardinal rule of paragraphing – one paragraph, one idea.

Like an essay, a paragraph needs a beginning, middle, and end. More specifically, it needs:

  • A topic sentence – a very general sentence which explains the main idea of the paragraph
  • Supporting sentences – any number of sentences which provide details or examples to support or explain the main idea
  • Concluding sentence – one final sentence to summarize and, possibly, further connect the topic and supporting sentences

1. Topic Sentence

This sentence is usually the first in a paragraph and it will present the main idea in general or vague terms. It could be as simple as:

  • A lot of people enjoy classical music.

It should not contain any specific information, and rather than a definite number you might want to say words like “several” or “many.”

2. Supporting Sentences

This is the meat of the paragraph, and it provides all the necessary detail to support the idea expressed in the topic sentence. These will include evidence, explanation, or examples. They may involve facts, figures, or other particular details. They may tell a story, connect ideas, or express degrees of importance.

An example, carrying on from the previously stated classical music topic sentence, could be:

  • In fact, songs classified as “classical music” were downloaded over twenty million times on Spotify last month.

3. Concluding Sentence

In this final sentence, you need to restate the main idea without repeating any part of the paragraph. You will want to allude to or reference ideas from the supporting sentences, while paraphrasing your topic sentence.

An example, continuing from the previous ones:

  • It is clear, then, that classical music enjoys a high degree of popularity.

Planning

When planning an IELTS essay (or any other kind of essay) you should plan out each paragraph in advance so that you know what you need to say, and avoid going off-topic. Let’s say we have a task 2 question about conservation, and we decide to talk about tigers. Our plan for one body paragraph might simply look like this:

  • Main idea: tigers are endangered because of people
  • Support: 3 examples
    • — agriculture
    • — Chinese medicine
    • — logging

This would give us a paragraph that looks like this:

  • Although they are beloved by many, tigers face many dangers that are driving them to extinction. All across Asia, their natural environment is being destroyed by the expansion of agriculture, as the human population continues to grow. They are also being hunted and sold for Chinese medicine. Logging is another big problem, as we cut down the forests where they used to live. For these reasons, it is clear that humans are causing tigers to become increasingly endangered.

It’s not bad, but in IELTS a candidate should strive for the best score possible, and so they should try to give a more developed paragraph on this topic. We could easily expand this further to make a more complex paragraph.

To begin with, we would write a plan like this:

  • Agriculture
    • why expanding
    • how damaging
    • Example
  • Chinese medicine
    • why used
    • how damaging
    • details
  • Logging
    • why it happens
    • how damaging
    • example

This would give us a longer, more in-depth paragraph:

  • Although they are beloved by many, tigers face many dangers that are driving them to extinction. All across Asia, their natural environment is being destroyed by the expansion of agriculture, as the human population continues to grow. As jungles are cut down for farmland, tigers lose their home and often starve to death. In China, over the past 40 years, 99% of the tiger’s forest habitat has been destroyed for this reason. They are also being hunted and sold for Chinese medicine. Poachers kill tigers and sell their body parts on the black market, where wealthy Chinese will pay vast sums of money for them. This multi-million dollar trade has decimated the tiger population of Southeast Asia. Logging is another big problem, as we cut down the forests where they used to live. This pushes tigers into conflict with human settlements as resources become scarce. When this happens, the tiger is usually killed. For these reasons, it is clear that humans are causing tigers to become increasingly endangered.

In the above paragraph, all the supporting sentences build upon the topic sentence, and the concluding sentence refers to the supporting sentences and topic sentence without repeating anything. This is called unity, and it is extremely important.

Note: If you feel your paragraph will grow too long, you should reduce the number of points in your argument. It is better to expand upon one or two points than end up listing many without development. The worst thing, however, would be to run out of time while writing.

Coherence and Cohesion

If you have read the marking criteria for IELTS writing, you may have noticed that 25% of your score comes from “coherence and cohesion.” But what does that actually mean?

When writing paragraphs, it is important to maintain coherence. This means that the writing should flow logically at a paragraph level. In our plan above, we ensured that each point was expanded upon logically. There are no gaps or sudden jumps in thought. The reader is led through the text sequentially without any surprises. It is not confusing to read, and each fact is explained and or exemplified.

Cohesion refers to the linking of ideas at a sentence level – i.e. the use of transitional words and phrases. The most basic are ones like “first,” “next,” and “finally.” There are various kinds of transition phrases and these can help you explain order, importance, or relationship between ideas. These are used more frequently in writing than speaking, and more frequently in formal writing than in informal.

A reasonable number of transitional phrases will make your writing appear more academic, although don’t go overboard or it sounds unnatural and odd. Try to make use of some common linking phrases like “meanwhile,” “however,” and “therefore.” Correctly used, these can help you join your ideas together.

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