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SPARK: Paragraphs

A resource for students wanting to improve their academic and research skills.


While a few writers find it easy to think and write in paragraphs, most do not. Experienced writers typically generate sentences initially without worrying too much about where they will actually appear in the final essay. Once a large number of ideas and tentative sentences have been written, a writer can then pull related sentences into paragraphs and organize those paragraphs. 

A completed essay should be composed of several focused, coherent paragraphs organized in a manner that makes it easy for the reader to follow the writers thinking from beginning to end. Limit yourself to dealing with one idea per paragraph. The purposes of the paragraphs in your essay might be quite varied:

  • to explain what a specific term in your essay means
  • to describe your main reason for making a particular claim
  • to provide an example of how one of your ideas might be applied, etc.

Review the sections below to review paragraph features that writers often include in their essay.

Topic Sentences

Focus and coherence are obtained in paragraphs by making sure that every sentence of a paragraph bears a clear relationship to the purpose of that particular paragraph.

Typically the main purpose or point of a paragraph is stated in one sentence. This sentence is called the topic sentence, and it is usually placed at the beginning of the paragraph. It sets your reader up for the idea that you will develop in the paragraph. The main point of the topic sentence can be developed in many ways, for example, with sentences: 

  • providing evidence for the main point
  • giving examples of the main point
  • stating logical outcomes from the main point
  • applying the main point to a particular case

The important thing is that both the writer and the reader can easily see the connection between the topic sentence and the other sentences included in the paragraph.

Introductory Paragraphs

The introductory paragraph of an academic essay typically gets to the point very quickly; it does not leave the reader guessing about the intention and the direction of the essay. The introduction should identify:

  • the topic of the paper
  • the writer’s approach and primary claim
  • how the writer will go about supporting this viewpoint or claim

The introduction typically includes a thesis statement that articulates the main idea to be supported or elaborated in the essay. For more on how to develop and write thesis statements see the modules on Choosing a Topic and on Writing Strategies.

Contrary to common belief, most professional writers do not begin the writing process by composing an introduction. They may quickly draft a working thesis to get started, but they know that their ideas are likely to change as they write. Consequently the introductory paragraph of the essay is often written near the end of the process. In fact, it is common for a writer to find that the conclusion of the first draft provides an excellent foundation for the introductory paragraph of later drafts of the paper.


Well-structured essays contain signposts to guide readers from one point and one paragraph to another. For example, the last sentence of a paragraph often states explicitly what is coming next, or the first sentence of a paragraph makes an explicit connection to the main idea of the previous one. Clarity demands that your reader not be left to guess why you have moved from one idea to another. 

Many essays are organized in sections composed of multiple paragraphs, and transitions from one of these sections to another should be indicated. In some disciplines, this is done by placing headings at the beginning of each section. In Psychology, for example, research reports are commonly divided into sections explicitly labeled:

  • Introduction
  • Method
  • Results
  • Discussion 

In cases for which headings are inappropriate, transition sentences will ensure that readers understand the connections among the sections. 

Many writers delay focus on transition sentences until their second or third drafts where their ideas are in better order.

Concluding Paragraphs

Academic essays typically conclude with a paragraph that summarizes the important points raised in the body of the essay. No details are provided in this summary, but it should show how the ideas of the essay come together to justify the writer’s viewpoint or claim as made in the introduction. New topics should not be placed in a concluding paragraph, but in many disciplines it would be expected that the writer would offer at least a few sentences about the most important implications of the essay.

Use your final introduction and conclusion to help you consider an appropriate title for your essay. The title should accurately orient your reader to the content of the essay. Like a strong thesis statement, the title should inform your reader, from the beginning, what your topic is and the position that you hold with respect to it.