Paragraph Structure


The manner in which your essay presents material is vital. As you know, an essay (or any academic text) is built up around paragraphs. These help the reader understand the organization of your essay and grasp its main points. A paragraph is a series of sentences that are organized and coherent, and are all related to a single idea that develops a main point that, in turn, develops, supports, and/or argues for a thesis. 

Paragraphs typically contain a three-part structure:

1. Introduction: includes a topic sentence and transition words
2. Body: discusses the topic, using various forms of evidence
3. Conclusion: comments and draws connections

Paragraph Principles

A small paragraph of text receding into the left of the image. White and yellow font against a dark background.

  • Each paragraph should either introduce a new main point or further develop an already established main point related to the essay’s overall thesis.
  • Each paragraph should be able to stand on its own and have its own internal structure.
  • Each paragraph should state its purpose, in the form of a topic sentence.

Try extracting the first line from your essay paragraphs and see if you can follow your main line of argument. If you can’t, then your essay is not so easy to follow as you might want it to be. (Of course, not every argument has to be organized this way. But try to look up a few articles in some “serious” newspapers: you will find this structure widely used!)

The reason why paragraphs should be “headlined” with reference to the overall argument is to keep that argument in the reader’s mind, thereby making it easier for them to see the relevance of the rest of the paragraph. This way, the reader doesn’t lose track, and neither do you as you write.

Connecting Paragraphs Together

Ideally, paragraphs should be well connected to each other. Order paragraphs so that each one follows logically from the previous one. To make this logic more obvious, you can use transition words (or “connectors”), so that the paragraphs flow better and the reader is always kept on track. 

As the author, you know why one paragraph relates to the next, because you’ve put a lot of effort, research, and thought into the planning of this document. Your reader isn’t as well-versed in the subject as you are, however. Adding transition words and phrases helps cue your reader into the connections between ideas you’ve already made for yourself.