Get what’s in your head into your readers head – with minimal confusion.
Well, it is much easier if you have a system to express your ideas.
Enter the paragraph…
Paragraphs are the basic unit of academic assignments and are generally 5-8 sentences in length. And writing well structured paragraphs is the essential for getting your point across – and getting the marks you deserve. Knowing what you want to say and how you say it are two different things. A well structured paragraph will go a long way to helping you say it.
The few tips below should help you write clearly defined and well structured paragraphs.
Have an plan. Try and have a clear idea of what you want to write about when you sit down at the keyboard – this will help prevent wordy wandering. Start by writing down a paragraph topic and expand it with some dot points. Now you can gather your notes and begin.
Introduce your paragraph with a clear topic sentence. The first 7-9 words are very important. The topic sentence is where your intention is made clear. Your reader (or marker) should be able to quickly read the opening sentence or two of each paragraph and have a clear idea of what the entire piece is all about.
Support the topic sentence. All of the supporting sentences following the topic sentence should be directly relevant. Use these sentences to expand on the main point, offer explanations, provide evidence and to give examples. If you unsure about any supporting sentences, cut them out and paste them into a recycling document – a place for sentences you can reuse later. A simple text document is good for this.
Ensure the order of content is relevant. Include old information first, then new information, then add new ideas.
Link your sentences. Use signposting words where necessary. Or even use a dictionary or thesaurus to help with finding new words to avoid repetition.
Bring it to a close. The final sentence should restate the main idea in light of the new information. A distinct closing sentence is not always necessary because the next paragraph may logically follow – you are in control and will have to decide.
The paragraph below is an example which includes a clear introduction followed by directly relevant supporting sentences and the use of signposting words.
There is an important dichotomy between applied and basic research. Funding agencies put a tremendous emphasis on applied research, which is clearly important, as it is the sole means of translating discoveries into therapies. However, applied research is based on the knowledge at hand, regardless of whether it is sufficiently sophisticated to have a reasonable chance of improving existing therapies. Furthermore, applied research is far less likely than basic research to lead to serendipitous findings that will provide novel insights into unexpected quarters. The nature of applied research is such that if a clinical trial does not work, the project is usually kaput. By contrast, biology is such a complex tapestry woven from a myriad of components and pathways that, with some patience, properly performed basic research will always lead to interesting discoveries. The problem is that translating these discoveries into therapies is often indirect, and invariably requires decades. This requires a level of patience from funding agencies that is difficult to maintain in the face of political pressure to provide immediate therapies and cures.
From Yewdell, J. W. (2008). How to succeed in science, Nature Reviews Molecular cell biology, 9(6).
Once you have some paragraphs chalked out, you can begin to edit and structure your document. Future posts will provide useful tip on these steps.
Let us all know if you have any of your own tips.