Paragraph Structure

Paragraphs make up the body of your essay. Each paragraph should focus on one idea that will contribute to your overall argument. Remember that, as reflected by the headings and subheadings in your outline, each paragraph should also contribute to the logical progression of your argument and connect to the paragraphs coming before and after it. 

The structure of a paragraph mirrors the structure of an essay, with an (introductory) topic sentence, supporting sentences and a concluding sentence. 

Tip: If you find it difficult to link one paragraph to the next, it is an indication that your outline was not as strong as it should have been. Return to your outline and try rearranging headings and subheadings until you reach a more logical order. Remember that it is much easier to improve the overall flow of your essay by reworking your outline than your draft. Headings and subheadings can be shuffled in a much more revealing and efficient manner than paragraphs.

Topic Sentence

The topic sentence introduces the main point of the paragraph.

It should be clear and concise, and signal what part of your argument the evidence in this paragraph supports.

Your topic sentence should also clearly indicate how this new paragraph builds upon and connects with the main point presented in the previous paragraph. This can be achieved by using transitional or connective phrases (for example, “despite,” “in addition to,” “furthermore“).


Supporting Sentences


The supporting sentences form the bulk of your paragraph. This is where you will provide quotations and evidence to support your topic sentence.

There should be a logical flow from one sentence to the next. Do not simply summarise or list information you have gathered in your research, but analyse and explain why it is relevant to your main argument. Each paragraph should include your own critical interpretation of the sources under scrutiny. This critical interpretation should reflect the position that you have developed based on the evidence encountered during your research.

Make sure all the evidence you provide is relevant to the topic of this paragraph. If it does not fit anywhere, it may either belong in another paragraph or should be deleted, as it does not contribute to supporting your argument.

Academic integrity is essential when using the work of others to build your argument. Remember to provide references to all your evidence, and any ideas that are not your own. Referencing is key to demonstrating that there is evidence to support your points. It is also key to indicating the lineage of your critical interpretation, that is, illustrating how the work of others led to the development of your own position.

See: NTI Harvard Referencing Guide

Concluding Sentence

The final sentence should summarise the main point developed in the paragraph. It will often include concluding phrases (for example, “therefore,” “thus,” “this shows that“). A concluding sentence can also be used to transition to the next paragraph.

Paragraph Length

There are no set rules about paragraph length. The length will not determine the importance of a paragraph, or how effective it is – only the argument and evidence provided within the paragraph will give it value. Typically, a paragraph would not be less than three sentences and is unlikely to be longer than half a page.

If you are concerned a paragraph is too long, consider:

    • Does everything in this paragraph relate to the one idea? Can this paragraph be split, and then each paragraph become more focused?
    • Is all the evidence relevant? Does each piece of evidence serve a purpose? Is the paragraph too complicated, or too difficult to follow?
If you are concerned a paragraph is too short, consider:

  • Is the main point of this paragraph adequately developed? Do I have enough evidence to support this point?
  • Does this main point need its own paragraph, or can it be combined with another paragraph, to create a more well-rounded view of the topic?

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