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Step 5: Write the middle paragraphs

When you have revised your provisional thesis statement and mapped out the supporting points you will develop in your essay, you can start writing the body of the essay.

It’s advisable to begin with the middle paragraphs of the essay rather than the introductory paragraph because it’s the middle paragraphs that support the thesis statement and constitute the argument of the essay. The introductory paragraph leads up to your thesis statement and the concluding paragraph begins by restating your thesis and then wraps up the essay; first and last paragraphs function as a frame around your essay’s argument, but are not part of the argument. Once you have developed your argument through the middle paragraphs, you are better able to write an opening paragraph that positions the reader to engage with your argument.

Paragraphs

Keep the following points in mind when constructing your middle paragraphs:

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  • A paragraph is a unit of thought.
  • Each paragraph should make one point.
  • A new paragraph signals to the reader that the writer has moved to a new topic or point of evidence.
  • Paragraphs should have internal cohesion.
  • Paragraphs should be linked logically to each other.

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The length of a paragraph depends on the complexity of the topic, the purpose of the writing, the medium, and the anticipated needs of the reader. Because most academic writing is formal writing that involves complex topics and a critical reader, it is advisable to aim for at least 100 words (up to 200 words) when you write an academic paragraph.

Paragraph Structure

Structure is important not only in the essay as a whole but also in every paragraph that makes up the essay. There are three parts of a paragraph: the topic sentence, which introduces the paragraph’s topic; middle sentences, which constitute the body of the paragraph; and the wrap sentence, which concludes the paragraph.

To demonstrate this structure, we can look at the second paragraph of Model Essay One and the third paragraph of Model Essay Two.

Cohesion

An effective essay is a coherent whole, in which sentences within paragraphs and paragraphs themselves are connected, flowing on from one to another, leading the reader through the essay.

One of the ways to create cohesion between sentences is by using transition markers. Transition markers are words or phrases used to link sentences and paragraphs and to help the reader follow the direction of your argument.

A Few Transition Markers

Adding:
and, also, in addition, moreover, furthermore,

Contrasting:
however, nevertheless, nonetheless, on the contrary, on the other hand, by contrast,

Clarifying:
in other words, that is, in effect, to simplify,

Sequencing:
to begin with, firstly, secondly, lastly, finally

Exemplifying:
for example, for instance, in particular, to illustrate,

Conceding a point:
although true, even though, although, despite this,

Summing up:
to summarise, to conclude, in conclusion, clearly then

Endorsing:
clearly, in particular, importantly, naturally, obviously

Stating a logical conclusion:
therefore, thus, hence, as a result, consequently, accordingly, for that reason.

While transition markers are an effective way of emphasising for the reader the relationship between one sentence and the next, there is little value in using them when the logical relationship between the sentences is already clear. In fact, over-using transition markers reduces their effectiveness; save them for the places where you need to guide the reader.

Faulty Transitions

When using transition markers like ‘therefore’, ‘thus’, or ‘consequently’, be careful that the sentence beginning with the marker really is a logical conclusion of the preceding sentence.

Faulty transition example

Over the last five years there has been an increase in cases of student plagiarism. However, universities need to impose heavier penalties on students who plagiarise.

In this example, the second sentence, although related, is not a logical contrast of the first sentence: imposing heavier penalties is a possible response that universities could make to the issue of plagiarism, but it is not an inevitable outcome of the issue.

Repeat Idea Transition

In a repeat idea transition, ideas from the first sentence are referred back to in the following sentence. The above faulty transition example can be revised using a repeat idea transition.

Writing From Sources

In developing your middle paragraphs, you will be using your lecture, tutorial, or reading notes to develop an argument or case supporting your thesis statement. Here, it’s useful to remember the process diagram from the Introduction of this course, in particular the arrow indicating the transformation needed to turn information into knowledge.

When your lecturer reads your essay, they are looking for evidence not only that you’ve attended lectures and tutorials and read the required textbooks and journal articles but also that you have been engaged in a learning process that transforms information into knowledge. To convince your lecturer that the learning process has been successful, you must express ‘in your own words’ what you have learned. If you use the words of the source text, your lecturer can’t tell whether you’ve understood the source material or whether you are just copying it.

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Writing in your own words does not mean that you take what the author has written and change some of the original words. Rather, it involves a process of understanding the information carried by the source text, critically evaluating and selecting information relevant to your essay, processing it through notes, concept maps, and summaries, and incorporating this processed material into your essay. Your lecturer wants to hear your own ‘scholarly voice‘ through your writing. This voice is informed by the authority of the texts you have read on your topic but expresses your own way of thinking about the topic.

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Getting the balance right between the authority of the source text and your own interpretation, perspective, and opinion takes some practice. Always remember that if your reader wanted to know what the source text says they would read the source text, but when they read your essay they want to know what you have to say. You take the raw material of the source text, but then you process this appropriated material so that you can use it for your essay.

The following diagram represents the appropriation of material from the source text and the incorporation into your text. Note in particular that there is no direct link between source texts and your essay. Everything that you take from a source text must be processed thoroughly before becoming part of your essay.

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The following provides an audio-visual representation of the Writing from sources diagram.


The three most commonly used techniques for incorporating material from source texts into your own essay are:

  • quoting,
  • paraphrasing, and
  • summarising.

All of these techniques require citation within the text and in the bibliography or reference list at the end of the essay.

Referencing Conventions

There are a number of different referencing conventions: APA, Chicago, Harvard, and Vancouver are probably the most common (Better Essays uses Chicago referencing). Guides to using referencing conventions are readily available online and in your university library’s reference section. You do not have to memorise these; just make sure that you know which convention is required in your course of study and consult the relevant referencing guide, using dedicated software programs, following it carefully for in-text citations, reference lists, and/or bibliographies.

 

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