Tuesday 25 July 2017

The Structure of Body Paragraphs

The Structure of Body Paragraphs

A good academic essay or a well-structured chapter in a dissertation will have at least three body paragraphs, each looking at a different component of the main contention or thesis. Your body paragraphs follow your introduction and come before your conclusion, and they contain the bulk of the points which you use to advance your discussion or make your argument.

The thesis statement is the component that informs what your paragraphs should be about. Your thesis statement is found in your introduction paragraph, and it is the main point that your essay will address. You need to have a clear, well-formulated thesis statement in order to know what your paragraphs should be about. To find out how to write a thesis statement and a full introduction, there are free guides available on the Academic Coaching website, www.writeyourthesis.com, but we’ll look at a basic example here if you are already familiar with what a thesis statement should look like.

A thesis statement is the answer to the question that is asked by the topic. For example, if your topic is to write about how different amounts of sleep affect daily functioning for individuals, your thesis statement could look as follows:

In this essay, I will demonstrate with data that the average adult functions optimally with seven hours of sleep per night, and that any more than eight-and-a-half hours is detrimental to functioning.

You have clearly answered the question here, and the reader knows exactly what the contents of your essay will be. They will want to see evidence that seven hours of sleep is the optimal amount, and that too much sleep is bad. Your paragraphs thus need to logically deliver this evidence.

You could therefore have the following paragraphs in your essay:
·         Introduction
·         Body 1: Explain the effects of sleep and why it is important
·         Body 2: Explain your particular study methodology
·         Body 3: Show how less than 7 hours is detrimental
·         Body 4: Show how 7 is beneficial
·         Body 5: Show how more than 8 ½ is detrimental
·         Conclusion

Your essay structure is an extension of the ideas contained in your thesis statement. You will have to have certain ideas, discussions or evidence in your essay in order to show all the parts of your thesis statement, as well as to explain certain things that the reader needs to know to make sense of your essay. Every paragraph becomes essential to delivering the points which support your thesis statement.

The second thing you’ll notice is that each of the paragraphs in our essay outline deals with only one point of the discussion. This is much easier for the reader to make sense of. Our minds can only really make sense of one new idea at a time, and our essay structure should make the ideas as easily understandable as possible. We break our paragraphs with line breaks so that readers can understand each section as a new thought which takes the discussion one step further.

A good way to test if you only have one idea per paragraph is to try and summarize each of your paragraphs in one line. If you use the word “and”, you might already have two ideas in that paragraph. Do your best to keep your paragraphs short and clear; around four to eight sentences should be enough for most paragraphs, as long as they accomplish all of the goals that paragraphs are meant to accomplish.

The final element of good body paragraphs is that they should have coherence and logical flow between them. Your paragraphs should build on one another, and not feel redundant, irrelevant or out-of-place. If your reader moves from one paragraph to the next, the transition should be as smooth as possible, and you should try and clearly show the reader why the next point you make is the logical one to make.

Redundancy is where you say things that don’t need to be said, or you repeat certain ideas. If you are talking about chairs, you don’t need to explain that chairs are used to sit on. This point is obvious and redundant.

Irrelevant ideas are those that don’t add to your argument or don’t fit with the rest of your points. For example, in our essay about the optimal sleeping times, it would be very irrelevant to begin talking about how much you enjoy sleeping and the fact that you wear cotton pajamas. The reader doesn’t need to know that in order to understand your discussion. Leave out any points that might be distracting or leave your reader confused.

When you move from one paragraph to the next, it’s important to try to use signposting for the reader. This means that you use certain words to show the logical links between your ideas, like “therefore”, “thus”, “hence”, “in addition”, and other terms that show them some logical links in your discussion. There are some resources on signposting on the Academic Coaching website if you are interested in learning more about how to use them. For now, just be sure that the reader is never lost in your essay. Your paragraphs should follow the roadmap that was laid out in your introduction, and you shouldn’t take any detours along the way. Your introduction tells the reader where you are taking them and how you will get there, your paragraphs do exactly what you set out to do in as straight a line as possible, and your conclusion is the end point that your essay or chapter works towards.

Next, we’ll look at the three components of body paragraphs, starting with the topic sentence.

Review Your Learning:
      Your paragraphs should all link to your thesis statement. You shouldn’t include any paragraphs which don’t help you to reach your conclusion in some way
      Your paragraphs should only have one point each, and this point should be additional support which strengthens your main idea
      Avoid redundancy and irrelevant ideas.

      Use signposting, especially when starting new paragraphs, so that readers can follow the logical flow of your discussion