Female student working on essay

Writing better assignments

Good paragraphs make up the main structure of essays and other assignments

This page is aimed primarily at qualitative assignments but the basic principles of signposting, having a well-formed main body, and a concluding sentence, apply to most types of assignment. There is no one way to structure an assignment. You should check your course requirements as different fields and assignments may have their own requirements.

This page uses the fictional essay title: 'Chocolate is good for you. Discuss.' The content comes from a workshop and so the information is being treated as 'invented'. It is used here purely to model paragraphing. In addition, invented citations citations are included.

Overview of paragraphs

The essence of a paragraph is unity within itself, and with the material which surrounds it. A paragraph addresses one topic. However, this does not mean that you should produce one very long paragraph to keep all the material about it together.

Introductory paragraphs outline the focus. You should create additional paragraphs for sub-points, elements of the point, or a different slant.

A paragraph has three parts: a signpost, a main body and a concluding statement:

  1. The signpost, also sometimes called the “topic statement”; This tells the reader what the paragraph is about. It should be clear if you are starting a new topic, if you are narrowing down the focus to talk about it in more depth, or if you are continuing the topic from a different slant.
  2. The body of a paragraph; this expands on the topic. Therefore, it needs evidence. This can come from, for example, experience, particularly for practice-based assignments and reflection; your reasoning; texts; media; data; formulae; facts; a model, or a theory.
  3. The concluding sentence or sentences; the final statement should either indicate whether the topic or point continues in the next paragraph or draws to a close.

Identifying well-structured individual paragraphs

If you can't identify a single topic in your paragraph, the reader will not be able to identify it.

Read your first and last sentences and check that they fit together. List the key points in the paragraph. Check that they retain focus on what you say you will talk about. Then read the whole paragraph and check the focus, flow and coherence.

Identifying problems with flow: the whole assignment

Read the first sentence of every paragraph. The story should flow. Any changes in focus, direction, topic, theme or point should be clearly signposted. Then read the last sentence of a paragraph and the first sentence of the next to check that it either flows or is clearly signposted. This helps you to check for coherence, logic and flow. Where there is a problem, read the paragraphs before and after it. You may only need to tweak a sentence to put it right.

Download our paragraphs revision sheet

Download this page as a PDF for your essay writing notes.

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