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Formal Essay Paragraph Structure

I want help to make my writing more formal and technical.



You can change the style of your writing through the way you plan, draft and edit your texts. To make your writing more formal:

  • Structure your writing into paragraphs with clear topic sentences.
  • Avoid contractions (e.g. didn’t, it’ll). Instead, use the full forms (e.g. did not, it will).
  • Choose formal vocabulary instead of informal vocabulary. For example, "somewhat" is more formal than "a bit", "offspring" is more formal than "babies", "insufficient" is more formal than "not enough", etc.
  • Choose language which is less intense, less emotional. For example, instead of strong words like "wonderful", "useless" or "terrible", use more moderate words such as "helpful", "poor", "inadequate" or "problematic". Instead of using absolute positives and negatives like "proof" or "wrong", academic writing often has more cautious or graded evaluations, such as "strong evidence" or "less convincing". (Note: Different disciplines/subject areas allow different levels of intensity. Check the style of books and articles for that discipline/subject.)


To make your writing more technical:

  • Build up your vocabulary with the technical terms which are used in your discipline of study (e.g. linguistics, accounting, psychology), as well as in the specific field/topic of study within that discipline (e.g. phonology within linguistics, taxation within accounting).
  • Be careful about the meaning of technical terms. Often the same word has a different meaning in another discipline. (For example, the word "discourse" is a technical term in linguistics, as well as in disciplines such as sociology and philosophy. However, "discourse" has different meanings in each discipline, and it even has different meanings within linguistics, in different specialist areas.)
  • Make sure you understand and use the key categories and relationships in your discipline: i.e. the way information and ideas are organised into groups, types and parts. (For example, in Occupational Therapy, clients' activities can be grouped into four areas: self-maintenance, rest, leisure and productivity. In the discipline of Law, law is separated into two types: common law and statute law.) The more expert you are in your discipline, the more of these you know and the more you are able to use these relationships to structure your writing, the more technical your writing will be.

For more on this topic, see the links on the right...

Essay body paragraphs

After the introduction come the body paragraphs. They usually take up most of the essay.

Paragraphs contain three main sections:

  • Main point: the topic sentence, which describes the focus of the paragraph
  • Support: explanations, evidence, and examples that reinforce the main point
  • Transitions: connections between this paragraph and
    • the thesis statement
    • nearby paragraphs

Academic paragraphs are usually at least three sentences long, and can be longer still. However, don't make those sentences too long. As a rough guide, a sentence longer than three lines is too long.

Main point

All paragraphs should be focused: they should discuss only one major point. That point should connect with the overall focus of the essay (as described in the thesis statement).

The major point of a paragraph is often called the controlling idea. Every paragraph should have a different controlling idea, each one discussing one aspect or part of the overall essay.

Body paragraphs will often begin with a summary of the controlling idea: the topic sentence. The topic sentence summarises the paragraph in the same way that the thesis statement summarises the whole essay.

The rest of the paragraph supports that topic sentence, by explaining it in detail, giving an example, or citing evidence that reinforces it.

Support

The largest part of any body paragraph is the support: explanations, evidence, and examples.

Explanations use logic to fully explain the point raised in the topic sentence. It is not enough to just explain an idea, however: you need to show that outside evidence supports it as well.

Evidence can include

  • Facts
  • Published opinions
  • Research from books, journal articles, websites, etc.
  • Published case studies
  • Research data

All evidence must be relevant to the topic, and it must be used and credited properly.

Outside sources can be quoted, summarised, or paraphrased. For information on the right and wrong ways to do this, see quoting and paraphrasing. Crediting outside sources is known as referencing, and is described in detail in the section titled introduction to referencing.

Transitions

Body paragraphs do not exist in isolation. They should fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Transitions show the connections between paragraphs themselves, and the connections between the paragraphs and the overall focus of the essay (the thesis statement). They often appear at the end of a paragraph.

Transitions are essential for maintaining momentum in your essay and showing the reader how all the ideas fit together. They are described in detail in the next section, essay flow.

Example body paragraphs

See sample essay 1 and sample essay 2 for model body paragraphs.

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Last updated on 11 March, 2014

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