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Mini-Module: How to Write Good Paragraphs

What do paragraphs do in academic writing?

Skills for Learning LogoWhat do Paragraphs do in Academic Writing? Page 2 of 6

Paragraphs are the building blocks of academic writing.

The job of one paragraph is to make a point, and you write another paragraph to make another point. You can build up paragraphs like bricks to make your argument.

 


Organising your Paragraphs to Make a Good Essay

To make a good essay you need to think about the reader, so you should put the paragraphs in a logical order and also try to make them flow together.

 

Disorganised

Ordering of Paragraphs

You should try to make your writing "flow" smoothly from one part to the next.

Before you start writing, you can start by brainstorming, and your ideas may be disorganised.Organise your points (i.e. paragraphs) so that they flow nicely together, if possible.

 

Paragraphs organised

It is much easier to organise your paragraphs if you know where you are leading the reader. If you keep your conclusion in mind when you plan your writing, it is much easier to focus. You don't need to write about everything, only the things that are necessary for your argument. 

Think of the points that you need to make to support your conclusion. Each point will become a paragraph, supported with evidence. 

You should aim to put the paragraphs in the best order for the reader to follow your argument. 

How can you do this? It is case by case, but you might want to organise your paragraphs by:

  • Time order
  • Arguments against your conclusion, then arguments for your conclusion
  • General to specific

 

Linking Paragraphs Together

Good links between your paragraphs make it clear what you (the writer) are doing and so they make it easier for your reader to follow your writing. 

A paragraph link (also known as a “transition” or “bridge”) is a way of having a natural flow between two paragraphs so that the reader can easily follow your thread. 

 

If you can’t think of a way of linking one paragraph to the next, maybe they do not belong together, or maybe there is a step missing - maybe you need to write a new paragraph to cover a missing step in your argument.

 

Here are seven ways of linking paragraphs:

(There is a full transcript at the bottom of the page. You can download a pdf version of the seven ways of linking paragraphs here.Opens in new window.)

Seven ways of linking paragraphs
Method Example

Personal pronouns

 

Linking paragraphs with pronounsIn the two paragraphs in the example, "he", “his” and "him" refer to "Alfred Wegener". 

Notice how the second paragraph in this example is linked to the first by the words “his” and “him”.

Other examples of personal pronouns are:

  • "he", "him", "his"
  • “she”, “her”, "hers"
  • "it", “its” 
  • "they", "them", "their", "theirs". 

This / These

 

Linking paragraphs with this or theseThere are many ways of doing this, depending on the meaning. In this example, the word “difficulty” stands in place of something in the previous paragraph.

Here are some more examples:

- "This theory ..."

- "In addition to those advantages ..."

- "These ideas ..."

- "Such considerations …"

Verbs

 

Linking paragraphs using a verbWith the verb linking technique, you replace a phrase or a whole sentence by using its verb, or by using a different verb but one that still means the same thing.

In this example, you can see how the verb "doing so" (blue) stands for the chunk of text in the previous paragraph (yellow).

Conjunctions

 

Linking paragraphs with conjunctionsThis means linking paragraphs using words that mean something like "OR", "AND" or "BUT" such as:

OR - "Instead", "Otherwise"

AND - "In addition", "As well as"

BUT - "However", "On the other hand"

In this example, "in contrast" is used to show how the second paragraph connects to the first. 

Meaning

 

Concepts or ideas also make a "bridge" between paragraphs. If an idea in one paragraph is the same - or close enough - then the reader has no trouble following your writing from the first  paragraph to the next.  

For example, these two paragraphs are linked by meanings. 

Linking paragraphs using meaningThe first paragraph has the topic of art, while the second paragraph has the topic of beauty.  Art is commonly associated with beauty, so the link between the two paragraphs is clear. 

Repetition

 

Another way of linking paragraphs is by repeating a word or words. For example:

 ...a better contemporary comparison to Friend et al.’s earlier data compiled for social psychology textbooks.
     As the textbook sample in the follow-up study, I used the sample of 10 introductory social psychology textbooks examined by...

You can see that the word "textbook" is used in the first paragraph, then repeated in the second.

Signposting

Signposting is when you use a phrase that tells the reader what you (the writer) are doing. For example:

...The following part of this essay moves on to examine in detail the different ways that the word 'guys' is used in pop songs.

     In the 1950s, pop songs commonly addressed the listener directly as if in a private conversation. This can be traced to the post-war lived experience of many American males, who... 

In the above example, the second paragraph is linked to the first using the signpost phrase "The following part of this essay moves on to" (highlighted), which in this case tells the reader to expect a change of subject.

Some other examples of signposts are:

  • Previewing, e.g. "The next paragraph describes..."
  • Returning to a topic, e.g. "As explained earlier, …"
  • Starting a new section, e.g. "Moving on now to consider …"
  • Showing addition, e.g. "Another significant aspect of X is …"
  • Showing contrast, e.g. "However, this system also has a number of serious drawbacks."
  • Introducing a summary, e.g. "So far, this essay has reviewed the three key aspects of …"

 

Transcripts of picture examples

Linking paragraphs with pronouns: 

…The geological study of plate tectonics began in 1912 when a German meteorologist and part-time geologist, Alfred Wegener, set forth the idea that continents could “drift” across the surface of the globe. He argued that the similar shapes of the coastlines of Africa and South America were evidence that the two continents had once been joined together, but he did not provide a mechanism by which this could have occurred. 
   His theory slowly gained support as evidence grew from different areas of science, such as biology and the study of fossils, which enabled him to develop his theory further. However, as late as the 1960s, most geologists in the United States still did not accept his theory. Consensus was finally achieved when seafloor spreading…

Linking paragraphs with this or these

…However, electronic valves (often called “tubes”) are large, fragile, relatively expensive and difficult to produce. What’s more, they require some time to warm up before they can function efficiently and then tend to generate large quantities of heat while running. Consequently, in the mid-1940s progress in computing was being delayed. 

      The solution to this difficulty came in the shape of the transistor, which was invented in 1947 by American physicists John Bardeen and Walter Brattain while working under William Shockley at Bell Labs. They shared the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics for their achievement…

Linking paragraphs using a verb

… by means of authority figures (wearing white coats and carrying clipboards), Milgram persuaded his participants to deliver ever more dangerous electric shocks to unseen subjects who could clearly be heard to be in pain. 
 
In doing so he showed that many ordinary people are capable of behaviour that is normally unacceptable, if they are told to do so by an authority figure…

Linking paragraphs with conjunctions

… fits in with the scientific consensus which began with Duckworth’s (1967) paper.
     Maynard-Smith (1974), in contrast to the work of Duckworth, correctly argued that some selection takes place at a higher level than the “selfish” gene …

Linking paragraphs using meaning

...Smith is therefore arguing that art is an important contributor to quality of life. 
   Having beauty in ones life has long been believed to be highly important...

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