Monday 10 July 2017

How to Write an Essay: Planning Paragraphs

How to Write an Essay: Planning Paragraphs

Once you've completed a mind-map, you should know exactly what your answer to the question is, as well as all of the points you are going to make in order to support that answer.

However, there’s one more aspect of planning that is vital: knowing the field and being able to provide citations and data in order to support your points. You’ll need to show that you’ve thought about all of the different angles to a point, and that you’ve consulted the experts in the field, so that your essay can have authority and your ideas can gain more validity. That’s why it’s important to plan the structure and content of your paragraphs in some detail as well.

For a detailed discussion of what goes into a body paragraph, you can once again go to the Academic Coaching website for more information. I’ll run through some of the basics of a paragraph with you here so that you know how to plan your paragraphs before you start writing them.

A body paragraph in an academic essay has one main idea. Each paragraph looks at one different aspect of your argument; having more than one point in any paragraph usually comes across as disorganized and shows that you might not have planned your essay well.

A paragraph has three main components. The first component is the topic sentence, where you let the reader know what your paragraph will be about. Your topic sentence is extremely basic, merely indicating the main point that your paragraph will focus on. Your topic sentence should flow from the previous paragraph in a logical way, and it should advance your argument, meaning that it shows how the new idea that you’re introducing fits in with the rest of the points you’ve already made. For the essay on “Little Red Riding Hood” given in the previous chapter, your topic sentence for paragraph 2 could look something like this:

The resilient character of the girl in the story can be seen in the fact that she is surrounded by danger, but never runs away from it.

You’ve linked the paragraph to the main idea by stating that the girl is resilient, and you’ve introduced the point that your current paragraph will focus on, namely the danger that the girl is surrounded by. The reader immediately understands what the paragraph will be about and why you are writing the paragraph, because it advances the argument you are already making about how the girl is strong and resilient, and how the hood represents this.

The second component of your body paragraph is called evidence or support. This is where you give some citations and look at all of the various aspects of the point that your paragraph focuses on. You might give examples of the point you are trying to make, such as pointing to the wolf as evidence of the danger in the story. This part of your paragraph is also where you show the research that you’ve done and how the research fits into your essay.

The final component of a body paragraph is explanation. In this section, you explain how the evidence you’ve presented supports your thesis statement. How do all of the examples, research or citations that you’ve presented in this paragraph support not only the main point of your paragraph, but the main focus of your entire essay? This section should clarify this in a few sentences.
You can find examples of good paragraphs on the website, but let’s go back to talking about your planning. Now that you know what goes into a paragraph, it will help you tremendously to plan your paragraphs in a lot of detail. Do as much research on your topic as you can, and every time you stumble upon a new citation or piece of data that might fit into one of your paragraphs, pencil it into your mind-map. Rearrange the layout of your paragraphs, or delete points that seem less interesting when you think of something that could better make your point.

I even advise my students to go as far as giving themselves a word count for each paragraph. If you know that your essay should be 3000-words long, decide how many words each paragraph might need, and don’t waste too much time on a paragraph once you’ve reached your word limit. This will help to ensure that your essay is balanced, and that you don’t spend half your word count only talking about one small aspect and then quickly try to cram the rest of the points you want to make into only a few sentences.

Finally, planning your paragraphs is also about planning the order that your paragraphs will be presented in. Make sure that the order is logical, and that your argument is developing with each new paragraph. If you have any explanations, they shouldn’t be found in the final few paragraphs of your essay, but should probably be right at the front. If you can arrange your paragraphs logically and ensure that they flow from one to the next, you’ll have a much more persuasive argument and a much more compelling essay.