Organization & Structure
In terms of each individual paragraphs, Portland State Writing Center puts it nicely: "The easiest way to make sure your paragraph has a clear, single focus is to include a topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph that states the main idea. The rest of the sentences in the paragraph should develop, support, or elaborate upon the main idea stated in the topic sentence. This might involve: discussing examples, details, facts, or statistics; using quotes and paraphrased material from sources; examining and evaluating causes and effects; defining or describing terms." Simply put, each paragraph should incorporate the following:
- A claim
- Interpretation and application of evidence to your topic
- Transition to further exploration of this area or the next idea/concept/analysis needed to fully explore your thesis.
First and foremost, each paragraph you include in your paper should tackle one specific thing. As you build you paper, you will stack well-constructed paragraphs on top of each other to form a logical piece of writing that makes sense and expresses your ideas clearly.
- First, introduce the topic and convince a reader to read on by answering the most important question you can answer for a reader: so what?
- Then, your next paragraph should provide a road map of what is to come. This will help a reader feel anchored and build trust as you deliver what you promise. (Highly skilled, published writers can sometimes evade this step, but for most college papers it will be important to include this information.)
- Then, before you launch into the main body of your paper, you will also want to spend some time defining key concepts and terms a reader needs to understand to follow your paper, reasoning, and claims. If you are writing a paper about James Baldwin and racism, you may want to include historical perspective that helps situate your author's text in a timeline that will make sense to all readers, even if they aren't history majors. If you are writing a paper on a particular theory, such as media framing, you will want to provide the definitions for the key concepts will be discussing in this paper. In communications studies, media framing is one of the most studied topics and key scholars have developed often conflicting definitions of what they are looking at. If you don't share the definition you are using with a citation, a reader won't understand your analysis.
- Your body paragraphs are the meat of your paper. Here is where you get down to what you really have to say or explore.
- After you have presented the main points of your paper, you may need to address obvious counterarguments or problems with the topic. For example, if you are writing are analyzing an important research study that examined race, you will need to include any flaws you may have found in the research thus far. Often research studies rely on college students as participants and this can influence the results in specific ways. You should state this in your paper clearly and make suggestions for future research that could address that flaw. Or if you are writing about a topic for which there vocal and outspoken opponents, this is where you would describe their criticisms and answer them to the best of your ability.
- Finally, your conclusion should provide a concise summary of the paper with a thorough analysis. This is where you get to insert your view, because this is where you are interpreting all you've found and put together so far. It may be worth including a call to action, depending on your topic.
Remember, while you may be covering a wide range of concepts, everything you write and include in your paper should serve your larger purpose by supporting your thesis. If you are including something that doesn't support your thesis, you've been distracted and the information needs to be cut or clarified. Once your paper is complete, you should be able to summarize each paragraph in one sentence that describes the paragraph's purpose like introduces topic, provides evidence, addresses problem our counter argument, suggests future action, etc. If you can't provide this summary, then you may need to cut that section.
Examples In Popular Press and Scholarly Texts