How to structure paragraphs well

ByAlexandra Voskoboynikova

How to structure paragraphs well

The structure of an essay is surely a vital part to consider when working on the paper, however, the composition of each paragraph itself is no less important for a high-quality result.

Generally, there are 4 main things that should be checked to form a strong paragraph:

1. It should have only one main idea. If you want to introduce a new one, even if it follows from the first, better separate them to make the essay more logical and easier to read.

2. Although it depends on the style and the purpose of the essay, usually the main idea should be supported by evidence or reasoning. Sometimes the idea can be phrased in a form of a question – then the rest of the paragraph would answer it.

3. Linking words or phrases. Just as we use them in conversations to keep the flow of the speech understandable and lively, the same should be done in a paper. These words can define the relationships of the subjects (such as contradicting, complementary, etc), set an order (at first, secondly, etc), introduce a new thought (moreover, apart from that, etc) and more.

4. Completeness. The paragraph should express one idea but the discussion about it should not be left unfinished. Typically, the last sentence would make a minor conclusion, but sometimes it can serve as a transition to the next paragraph.

But what does it all look like in practice? Below are a few paragraph examples extracted from a real essay.

Example #1

In Book Two of the Consolation Lady Philosophy assumes Fortune’s position in order to ‘deal with [Boethius] for a moment in Fortune’s own words to see whether she is right’. At first, this speech of Lady Philosophy as ‘cruel’ Fortune consoles Boethius only temporarily. […] Speaking from Fortune’s position, Lady Philosophy brings Boethius to assuming responsibility for his state of mind. This becomes the central starting point of his mental ascent: ‘Nothing is miserable unless you think so.’ And the personification of Fortune plays an essential role in this process.

Here you can see the first sentence defining the focus of the paragraph, it tells you what the paragraph will be about. Therefore, the next sentences explain and unfold this idea. The last sentence works as a conclusion, making a statement which the author proved previously. Another thing we can notice here, is that this paragraph is mostly consisted of naming events in the chronological order, and using present tenses adds a continuous tone to it.

Example #2

Boethius speaks of ‘following god’ and then becoming like god. And to this end the receptive mode corresponds to the step where the cessation of workings of sense, imagination and reason is an important cognitive act but also an act of volition. Personification assists in ‘staging’ and activating the mode of reception. The movement of mind that begins in separation, as in Augustine’s Soliloquy 1:1,25culminates in the highest realm of the abstract where all is a subject and naught is an object. In meter IX ‘largely derived from Plato’s Timaeus, of Book Three Boethius-the-character prays: ‘Grant, father, to my mind to raise to your majestic seat’.

Thus, personification is seen to participate in the abstraction in at least three ways: separation, activation of the receptive mode, and the dialectic shifts of the perspective, all within the goal of reaching theoria. But this upward movement remains a private business, nevertheless, in other words, it does not necessarily follow that the reached conclusions comprise a rigid abstract system applicable once and for all.

This paragraph is structured a bit differently. The third sentence is the one introducing the general idea, while the first two only lead us to it. This is followed by an example, which is the last sentence of the first paragraph. Though it does not conclude anything, it finishes the paragraph’s idea by illustrating it, which allows the author to move to the next paragraph. In this example we can also see the connection between two paragraphs – the second one logically follows from the first one, which is shown by the use of ‘Thus’. It serves as a conclusion of the previous paragraph, but because the author wanted to develop it a bit more, the conclusion was detached.

Example #3

The lost link between abstraction and spiritual perfection would also speak against the rigidity of Philosophy’s theoretical conclusions. This link too can be traced back to Saint Augustine of Hippo.

Augustine referred to the movement of mind upwards towards a higher perspective, which to him was not only an intellectual process but also a spiritual one, as alienatio.

This is a different way of connecting two paragraphs. The last sentence of the first one introduces the topic of the next paragraph, letting the author start a new topic.

Example #4

How can such process be best taught or represented? Certainly, rigid philosophical conclusions expressed in abstract discourse would only comprise a fragment of Boethius’ movement of mind, a dead fossil of the rich mental process at work. For several reasons considered below a figurative discourse seems to do a better justice to such process of mind.

Here the last sentence connects two paragraphs as well but in a different manner because it states straight-forwardly what will be discussed next.

Example #5

This essay, catering to modern interpretive practices, will touch upon the contemporary to Boethius matrix of views on abstraction to see where and how the Consolatio’s figuration and abstraction may overlap. […] It seeks to discuss how the early-medieval notions of abstraction as a movement of mind, which was thought to modify the rapport with the concrete and carried spiritual connotation, are present in Philosophy’s dealings with Boethius-the-character. Towards the end, the essay considers abstraction and allegorical figuration as different signification modes and addresses Boethius’ choice of figurative discourse for his final work.

This paragraph is not completed in a way discussed before, as it does not have the main idea but rather compiles a few different ones, which are placed in the order you will see them further in the essay. This is because the purpose of this paragraph is to summarize the general content of the paper so that the reader knows what he will be reading about. It is reasonable to add such paragraph to your work if it is quite long and offers a lot of research and points of view, however, most of the common university essays do not require it. Nevertheless, it is great to mention in the introduction what will your essay be about in 1-2 sentences.

However, the best way to achieve great results is to practice yourself. Do not be afraid to make mistakes, create chaos or move parts back and forth while working on the paper – this is the whole point of having a draft! Keep the theory in mind and apply it according to your requirements. Good luck!

About the author

Alexandra Voskoboynikova administrator