How to write a paragraph

Every piece of academic writing is structured by paragraphs. The number, length and order of your paragraphs will depend on what you’re writing – but each paragraph must be:

  • Unified: all the sentences relate to one central point or idea.
  • Coherent: the sentences are logically organized and clearly connected.
  • Relevant: the paragraph supports the overall theme and purpose of the paper.

To walk you through the process of writing strong paragraphs, we’ll use an example from our interactive essay about the history of the Braille reading system. With each step, we will gradually build up the structure of a paragraph.

Step 1: Identify the paragraph’s purpose

First, you need to know the central idea that will organize this paragraph. If you have already made a plan or outline of your paper’s overall structure, you should already have a good idea of what each paragraph will aim to do.

You can start by drafting a sentence that sums up your main point and introduces the paragraph’s focus. This is often called a topic sentence. It should be specific enough to cover in a single paragraph, but general enough that you can develop it over several more sentences.

Although the Braille system gained immediate popularity with the blind students at the Institute in Paris, it had to gain acceptance among the sighted before its adoption throughout France.

This topic sentence:

  • Transitions from the previous paragraph (which discussed the invention of Braille).
  • Clearly identifies this paragraph’s focus (the acceptance of Braille by sighted people).
  • Relates to the paper’s overall thesis.
  • Leaves space for evidence and analysis.

Step 2: Show why the paragraph is relevant

The topic sentence tells the reader what the paragraph is about – but why does this point matter for your overall argument? If this isn’t already clear from your first sentence, you can explain and expand on its meaning.

This support was necessary because sighted teachers and leaders had ultimate control over the propagation of Braille resources.

  • This sentence expands on the topic and shows how it fits into the broader argument about the social acceptance of Braille.

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Step 3: Give evidence

Now you can support your point with evidence and examples. “Evidence” here doesn’t just mean empirical facts – the form it takes will depend on your discipline, topic and approach. Common types of evidence used in academic writing include:

  • Quotations from literary texts, interviews, and other primary sources.
  • Summaries, paraphrases, or quotations of secondary sources that provide information or interpretation in support of your point.
  • Qualitative or quantitative data that you have gathered or found in existing research.
  • Descriptive examples of artistic or musical works, events, or first-hand experiences.

Make sure to properly cite your sources.

Many of the teachers at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth resisted Braille’s system because they found the tactile method of reading difficult to learn (Bullock & Galst, 2009).

  • This sentence cites specific evidence from a secondary source, demonstrating sighted people’s reluctance to accept Braille.

Step 4: Explain or interpret the evidence

Now you have to show the reader how this evidence adds to your point. How you do so will depend on what type of evidence you have used.

  • If you quoted a passage, give your interpretation of the quotation.
  • If you cited a statistic, tell the reader what it implies for your argument.
  • If you referred to information from a secondary source, show how it develops the idea of the paragraph.

This resistance was symptomatic of the prevalent attitude that the blind population had to adapt to the sighted world rather than develop their own tools and methods.

  • This sentence adds detail and interpretation to the evidence, arguing that this specific fact reveals something more general about social attitudes at the time.

Steps 3 and 4 can be repeated several times until your point is fully developed.

Over time, however, with the increasing impetus to make social contribution possible for all, teachers began to appreciate the usefulness of Braille’s system (Bullock & Galst, 2009). Access to reading could help improve the productivity and integration of people with vision loss.

  • The evidence tells us about the changing attitude to Braille among the sighted.
  • The interpretation argues for why this change occurred as part of broader social shifts.

Step 5: Conclude the paragraph

Finally, wrap up the paragraph by returning to your main point and showing the overall consequences of the evidence you have explored.

This particular paragraph takes the form of a historical story – giving evidence and analysis of each step towards Braille’s widespread acceptance.

It took approximately 30 years, but the French government eventually approved the Braille system, and it was established throughout the country (Bullock & Galst, 2009).

  •  The final sentence ends the story with the consequences of these events.

Step 6: Read through the whole paragraph

When you think you’ve fully developed your point, read through the final result to make sure each sentence follows smoothly and logically from the last and adds up to a coherent whole.

Although the Braille system gained immediate popularity with the blind students at the Institute in Paris, it had to gain acceptance among the sighted before its adoption throughout France. This support was necessary because sighted teachers and leaders had ultimate control over the propagation of Braille resources. Many of the teachers at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth resisted learning Braille’s system because they found the tactile method of reading difficult to learn (Bullock & Galst, 2009). This resistance was symptomatic of the prevalent attitude that the blind population had to adapt to the sighted world rather than develop their own tools and methods. Over time, however, with the increasing impetus to make social contribution possible for all, teachers began to appreciate the usefulness of Braille’s system (Bullock & Galst, 2009). Access to reading could help improve the productivity and integration of people with vision loss. It took approximately 30 years, but the French government eventually approved the Braille system, and it was established throughout the country (Bullock & Galst, 2009).

Not all paragraphs will look exactly like this. Depending on what your paper aims to do, you might:

  • Bring together examples that seem very different from each other, but have one key point in common.
  • Include just one key piece of evidence (such as a quotation or statistic) and analyze it in depth over several sentences.
  • Break down a concept or category into various parts to help the reader understand it.

The introduction and conclusion paragraphs will also look different. The only universal rule is that your paragraphs must be unified, coherent and relevant.

When to start a new paragraph

As soon as you address a new idea, argument or issue, you should start a new paragraph. To determine if your paragraph is complete, ask yourself:

  • Do all your sentences relate to the topic sentence?
  • Does each sentence make logical sense in relation to the one before it?
  • Have you included enough evidence or examples to demonstrate your point?
  • Is it clear what each piece of evidence means and why you have included it?
  • Does all the evidence fit together and tell a coherent story?

Don’t think of paragraphs as isolated units – they are part of a larger argument that should flow organically from one point to the next. Before you start a new paragraph, consider how you will transition between ideas.

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Shona McCombes

Shona has an MLitt in English Literature and an MA in Gender Studies, so she's an expert at writing a great master's thesis. She has worked with lots of students to improve their academic writing, and gathered lots of useful tips to help you with yours!

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