Writing Help

Academic Essays

One Point Per Paragraph

A paragraph is a unit. It does something specific, and when it is done, you should move on to the next paragraph. You should be able to answer the question, "What am I doing in this paragraph?" You might be proving a point, providing a set of evidence, responding to counter-evidence, presenting a theme, explaining a phenomenon, or in general moving, delighting, or instructing the reader. In an academic essay, most or all paragraphs instruct. If it takes fewer than three sentences or more than eight sentences to accomplish your goal, consider broadening or narrowing the goal. If you have multiple goals, you probably should be writing multiple paragraphs.

Make the point clear in the paragraph. It is usually best to put the point at the beginning or the end. Use the rest of the paragraph to focus attention on the point, elaborate on the point, prove the point, or, if the point comes at the end, prepare the reader to accept the point.

In our example above, what should we be doing? It seems important to describe the biker outfit. It also seems valuable to explain the wedding scene in contextâ€"why are they getting married, and what is at stake for them? This context will help us explain the fear of the wedding party. Then we can turn to Petruchio and infer his motives from what he says and does, as well as what he wears. Then we can compare the wedding to other formal occasions, and suggest the implications for situations when we try to control the circumstances but cannot control someone who is an independent spirit.

Can you imagine how some of these paragraphs might go? Consider how each one accomplishes a distinct goal. In an outline like this, don't worry if you get some of the paragraphs out of order. It is not unusual to rearrange the paragraphs as you write.