Academic Essay Paragraph Structure

Academic essays consist of fully developed paragraphs ‒ structural elements that help the writer make an argument. The trickiest part here is making a paragraph fully developed because many inexperienced writers focus on their arguments without paying much attention to the structure of paragraphs. This article discusses the most important elements of a paragraph in academic writing, suggests easy ways of creating paragraphs, and analyzes some common mistakes.

In academic writing, the goal of a paragraph is to develop the central argument made in the thesis statement. Each body paragraph should offer more evidence to support the thesis statement, while all paragraphs have to be linked with the help of transitions to enhance clarity and coherence.

The Basics: Topic Sentences

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An essay without topic sentences will never be coherent and logically structured. Topic sentences ensure that all body paragraphs support the thesis statement, otherwise, these paragraphs should not be included in the essay. Even if a paragraph is a pearl of the English prose, it should not appear in your essay if it does not support your argument. The rest of the sentences in the paragraph, in their turn, have to develop the topic introduced in the topic sentence. They present supporting evidence, such as examples, explanations, quotes, etc. Within a paragraph, sentences should be logically connected, so transitions and sentence-to-sentence connections have to be used where appropriate.

Apart from including these crucial elements of a strong body paragraph (topic sentences and transitions), a skillful writer should follow the most appropriate strategy of presenting information in a paragraph. In a nutshell, a writer should follow the following outline:

  • Introduce and provide evidence
  • Explain the evidence
  • Either repeat the significance of the evidence adding some new similar examples or close the paragraph with a concluding statement.

While a strong topic sentence should concisely introduce the main idea of a paragraph, carefully collected evidence should support this idea to help the writer establish credibility. Basically, the evidence is the heart of a paragraph both in the sense that it gives purpose to it and appears in the middle of a paragraph.

For a better understanding of a paragraph structure, it might be useful to think of it as of a small essay because a paragraph consists of similar structural elements.

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As an essay needs an introduction, so does a paragraph where the evidence is presented. An introduction helps contextualize the evidence and explain to the reader why it is important.

Explanation of Evidence

First, you have to present the evidence, and then, explain how it supports the claim given in the topic sentence. Explanation of evidence is crucial because simply enumerating it does not convince the reader. Moreover, different pieces of evidence without explanation can be confusing because facts do not speak for themselves.

For example, in a sociology essay, this means describing the implication of some statistics; in a literature paper, you have to explain what a particular scene symbolizes, etc. Evidence differs depending on a discipline, but it must be explained regardless.


Evaluate a paragraph by asking yourself it the last one or two sentences provide a satisfying conclusion. If not, add a summarizing statement.

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