MEAL paragraph-writing system
Each body paragraph should present a substantial piece of an essay’s overall argument, and ensuring that a body paragraph has substance is the motivation for the acronym MEAL.
You want each paragraph to provide intellectual sustenance to your reader, and to do this you can remember always to write each body paragraph as a carefully prepared MEAL:
The main idea of the paragraph is also known as the topic sentence. This is the idea that unifies the paragraph’s content and clearly contributes to the bigger ideas and arguments the essay explores, especially the dissertation.
The evidence is the fact(s) that you present to convince your reader that your paragraph’s main idea is correct. Your evidence is almost always drawn from study of an outside source, and it should be a fairly indisputable or authoritative statement.
Evidence will come in different forms, depending on the discipline: literary studies essays often require quotations, while sociology essays often require statistics, for example.
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Evidence is usually not self-explanatory, however, which is why you need analysis of it. Your analysis is your interpretation of the fact(s).
The job of your analysis is to show how or why the evidence you’ve given supports the main idea of the paragraph. In literary studies, analysis often involves interpreting a line of text from a novel or a poem, while in sociology it often involves explaining the importance of a certain statistic.
The last thought of the paragraph should neatly tie together the content of the paragraph. Consider this sentence to be the equivalent of that moment after you finish a good meal, when you reflect on what you just ate, before you move on with your evening.
It should involve a sort of summary of the paragraph’s content, but should not be merely repetitive. In this way, it’s much like the conclusion of an essay.
Some writing advisers venture that the L in MEAL stands for “Linking thought”; this advice can be useful, but also misleading. The last sentence or two of a paragraph should provide content that the next paragraph can easily pick up on, but generally speaking the last sentence of the paragraph is not the most fitting place to provide that link.
This is the job of transitions, which are usually best placed at the beginning of paragraphs, since transitions are essentially forward-looking. Your paragraph’s last thought should be linkable, but it need not actually do the linking.
The importance of a good MEAL
Without each of these things, your audience will probably be unsatisfied with the paragraph you’ve served them. For example, one common paragraph-writing mistake is missing the analysis—leaving the A out of MEAL means forcing your reader to guess at how you’ve interpreted the evidence to support your main idea.
On the other hand, you might forget your L, failing to give an appropriate concluding sentence, moving on to a new idea before your audience is comfortable with the one you’ve just given.
Preparing a MEAL always requires you to think of the people seated at your literary table, your audience. Remember, “meal” without “al” just spells “me,” and a selfish writer is as dissatisfying as half a dinner.