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Structuring a paragraph

There are certain conventions related to good paragraph writing in an academic context.

  • A paragraph deals with one topic and has a topic sentence which introduces the main idea of the whole paragraph. This is usually the first or second sentence of the paragraph. However, be aware when you read that experienced writers may place the topic sentence at any point within a paragraph, or may even omit it and imply rather than state the main idea.
  • The topic sentence is followed by supporting sentences which develop the main idea, by, for example, explaining, giving examples, giving evidence or providing contrasting information.
  • Each sentence should be linked to the previous sentence in some way. The reader should not have to wonder what the relationship is between the two sentences.
  • A new main topic usually requires a new paragraph.
  • Paragraphs should not be too short or too long. (If the paragraph is very short, it is likely that the topic has not been sufficiently developed. If it is long, it may be that more than one main topic has been introduced). Most paragraphs in academic text tend to be between four and ten sentences, and 80 to 200 words.

Examples

The following are examples of well-structured paragraphs with clearly linked ideas. The shaded text shows the topic and the bold words show how the information is connected.

Example: Large IT companies are choosing Bangalore for one main reason, which is the availability of well-educated computer-science professionals. The concentration of such companies in the city is unparalleled almost anywhere in the world. A recent survey shows that Bangalore has more than 150,000 software engineers. This is slightly fewer than can be found in Silicon Valley.

Example: Students have access to the computer room only when supervised; that is, students may enter only if a teacher or other person responsible for the facility is present. This policy has a number of advantages. For one, the enhanced security allows special equipment, such as webcams and video equipment, to be left in place. A further advantage is that the computer room can be set up for a specific purpose in advance of a particular scheduled period. The students and teachers, therefore, can depend on finding the facility in a ready-to-use condition at the start of each period. Another benefit of supervised access is that the computers do not need the highest levels of security, and hence can be used more flexibly.

Example: It is worth noting that a number of scholars have questioned the validity of Cuba’s health outcomes. Eberstadt (1988) and Mesa Lago (1969), for example, have drawn attention to statistical inconsistencies in the country’s official outcomes and have suggested the Cuban government may deliberately misrepresent statistics as a means to promote a favourable image of the country’s socialist project. Other researchers, including Feinsilver (1993), Santana (1988) and Waitzkin et al (1997), have affirmed the accuracy and reliability of the outcomes. Others, such as McGuire and Frankel (2005), agree that the country’s statistics are complete and reliable but have been critical of the commonly held belief that the major improvements in Cuba’s health statistics occurred after 1959.