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National College of Ireland


Academic Writing Skills Guide: Using Paragraphs

What are Paragraphs? 

At a basic level, every piece of written work is made up of a series of paragraphs linked together by an idea or a theme. Paragraphs are blocks of text which serve as a way of organising information both for you and for your reader, adding one idea at a time to your broader argument. They are the building blocks of your writing and the foundations upon which academic writing is built. They are not a collection of random sentences, each one of your main body paragraphs should focus on one point relevant to your overall argument.  

Why Should You Use Them?

You can do great research and have great ideas, but if those ideas are not presented in an organised way, they can get lost. Learning to write good paragraphs can help you with the whole process of writing an assignment and help you to stay on track with your discussion. Ideally, these paragraphs will be presented in a logical structure which is easy for the reader to follow.

Understanding good paragraph structure can also help you build your argument effectively and demonstrate good critical writing. Paragraphs do not just make your writing easier to read by breaking it up on the page and providing a structure, they enable you to organise your points effectively and serve as the building blocks of your argument. They are a key tool in how you structure an assignment in academic writing. 


Indicate a new paragraph with an extra line space; alternatively, the first line may be indented. This tells the reader that you are changing topic or focus in some way or building on the point made in the previous paragraph, alerting the reader to a slight change in direction. 

Logical Order

Present your paragraphs in a logical order. Moving logically from one idea to the next throughout your assignment gives focus and clarity to your argument and helps the reader to better understand the topic. By using paragraphs to separate your key ideas and group related paragraphs together, this also helps to avoid your assignment jumping around and helps your writing flow. Try and avoid a point raised in one paragraph which is followed by a completely different point in a subsequent paragraph, or even within the same paragraph. This leaves the reader confused and unable to hold onto the thread of the argument. 

One Main Point for Each Paragraph

Each paragraph should stick to one main point while linking to the overall argument – all the sentences in that paragraph should relate to the main point being discussed which you will have identified as you planned your assignment. Each paragraph should make a point that is linked to the outline and thesis statement in your introduction and be supported by referenced evidence and your own critical analysis. While you may plan one main point per paragraph, if a point is complex, you may need to use more than one paragraph to explain it.


Paragraphs should assist the reader in following and understanding your argument, therefore, it is important that you have a clear idea of your assignment’s overall structure before you begin writing. Ensure before you begin writing that you have an assignment plan that outlines the focus of each paragraph - spending time on planning your assignment will help you write and structure better paragraphs. Thinking about how you organise and develop paragraphs can also help you to become more self-aware as a writer, an important step for you in learning to revise and edit your own work.

Using Evidence

You should use and integrate good quality academic research into your paragraphs. These paragraphs should focus on presenting the information you found in these good quality sources while also commenting on or analysing that information. It is not enough to simply present this information in your paragraphs without comment. You need to integrate your own ideas with the evidence from your reading and research. You want to explain the significance and/or importance of this information in the context of your overall assignment objective, connecting it to your main idea or thesis statement – this is critical analysis which will improve your grades. 

A paragraph can be seen as a mini-assignment with a basic structure of introduction (topic sentence), body (supporting sentences of evidence & analysis) and conclusion. There are various models used to help with formatting paragraphs but the basics are the same:

Topic Sentence: Each paragraph should have one main point, which is made clear in the opening sentence

Supporting Sentences: Support your point with evidence from good quality sources which you analyse, discuss or evaluate

Conclusion/Linking Sentences: Finish the paragraph with a sentence or two that summarises/concludes your point and/or links to the next paragraph

Click through the slides below for more details:

Topic Sentence

This introduces the main, overall point of the paragraph – what is this paragraph about? The topic sentence is the headline, it should summarise what the reader can expect from the following sentences, improving the clarity of the paragraph by limiting what is said to one idea.

A clearly stated topic sentence helps by:

  • Guiding your reader on what to expect and therefore understand your ideas better
  • Focusing your writing by making it easier for you to stay on topic without getting off track
  • Deciding what information to include or exclude in that particular section

Topic Sentence Tips:

  • The main idea should be introduced using your own words rather than quoting or paraphrasing from your source material
  • Be specific, each paragraph deals only with one aspect or element of your argument, rather than the whole thing
  • Avoid vague, general or overly broad statements, instead, focus on the point you are trying to make and how that point links to the question, and to the other points you have made
  • The topic sentence can also connect in some way to what has been said in the previous paragraph as well as to the overall thesis statement

Topic sentences also help with the overall organisation of the assignment, ensuring that each paragraph relates directly to the main topic. If done well, you should be able to string together all the topic sentences in your paper and see an overall summary/sketch of your paper’s argument based on those sentences alone.

Supporting Sentences

These sentences introduce the ideas and research of other writers to further explore the idea introduced in the topic sentence. You support and justify your main point using reliable information/evidence from good quality sources which you reference; this information is usually paraphrased or occasionally quoted from the sources. Every sentence in the paragraph should be clearly related to the main point stated in the topic sentence. This information should help the reader to understand the topic more fully or be persuaded towards your argument. 

Evidence & Analysis

It is important to have a balance of evidence and analysis when supporting your topic. These sentences should be made up of a combination of references to other writers’ ideas or research, and sentences where you are explaining or evaluating these ideas. Writing assignments is not all about saying what others have said, a very important element is saying what you think of what others have said on the topic. So, you need to do more than just present the words and ideas of others, you need to explain how and why the evidence justifies and supports your point and why that point is relevant to your overall argument. 

Ask yourself: How does the evidence support my point? How does this evidence prove or back up the point I am trying to make in this paragraph and my assignment as a whole? 

These are the parts of your paragraphs that will get you the highest grades in any marking scheme or grading rubric. No matter how good your evidence is, it will not help your argument if your reader does not know why it is important. If you leave your evidence unexplained, your reader may interpret it differently than you intended. 

Concluding/Linking Sentences

A paragraph should end with a strong concluding sentence linking back to the point made in the topic sentence and connecting this to your thesis statement. The final sentence of your paragraph should summarise or conclude the idea that you introduced in the topic sentence. 

Ask yourself: What did this paragraph have to do with my overall thesis? What is the relevance of this point in the context of my overall discussion? 


You might think of the final sentence(s) of your paragraph as your last chance to convince your reader of the main point you were trying to make in the paragraph and where your discussion is going. Your reader should come away from each paragraph with a clear understanding of its main idea and its relevance to the assignment’s overall argument. 

Avoid ending a paragraph with a direct quote or a paraphrase of what someone else has said. The end of your paragraph is where you state your own conclusion based on the evidence you have presented in the previous sentences. 

Link: You could also provide a link to the next section, anticipating the topic sentence of the following paragraph, moving your reader from one idea to the next.


Transitions Between Paragraphs

Where appropriate you can use transition sentences to link to the next paragraph which can be helpful to guide the reader from one idea to another. One simple way of doing this is by mentioning a word or phrase towards the end of one paragraph and then repeating and expanding on that word or phrase in the next paragraph. This can help your writing to flow and your overall argument to make sense. The first and last sentences of a paragraph can act as links or transitions to connect one paragraph to another. Although not required in every paragraph, where they are used, these links can improve the flow of your writing within an assignment.


Sometimes determining whether paragraphs should or could be linked can be difficult. One way to assess this is to read the last two or three sentences from the first paragraph and the first two or three sentences of the next paragraph. Does the writing flow smoothly between the paragraphs? If not, it may mean that you need to add a transition between the two paragraphs. Alternatively, you may need to reorder your paragraphs into a more logical sequence. 

The more carefully you think about how you will structure your ideas, the more your writing will flow logically and fluidly from one section to another. Good writing presents ideas linked together as a coherent, unified whole, not as a series of bullet points. 


In A4 format, a paragraph is usually around a third of a page, perhaps 150-200/200-300 words long. While in general it is best to avoid paragraphs that are too long, there is no hard and fast rule for their length. However, you should move on to a new paragraph when it is clear that you are dealing with another part of your topic.

In academic writing, paragraphs should be manageable chunks that are easy for the reader to follow. They should be long enough to fully explore an idea, but not so long that it feels like you have moved on to another point. If you find that some of your paragraphs are very long, check to see if there is a natural break that would indicate the need for beginning a new paragraph.  

You can use an approximate word count for your paragraphs in order to plan roughly how many points you will need in the main body of your assignment. For example:

Total Words for Assignment Words Per Section Breakdown Number of Paragraphs in the Main Body
2,000 words

Introduction: 200 words

Conclusion: 200 words

Main Body: Remaining 1,600 words

6-8 Paragraphs (6-8 points)
3,000 words

Introduction: 300 words

Conclusion: 300 words

Main Body: Remaining 2,400 words

8-12 Paragraphs (8-12 points)
4,500 words

Introduction: 450 words

Conclusion: 450 words

Main Body: Remaining 3,600 words

12-18 Paragraphs (12-18 points)
What is each paragraph about? Have you clearly stated the purpose of each paragraph? 
Does the start of each paragraph give your reader enough information about what the paragraph is about? What exactly is that? 
How does the point in each paragraph relate to the overall question/assignment? 
Does each paragraph genuinely contribute to answering the assignment question? 
Is the main idea of every paragraph relevant to the overall assignment question/topic you have been asked to discuss? 
Do the supporting sentences in each paragraph back up the main idea stated in the topic sentence? 
Does any paragraph contain more than one idea? You may have two points which would be better developed separately in two separate paragraphs or you may decide to take out sentences relating to one of the ideas which you decide is less important. 
Is every sentence necessary? Would your overall point be undermined if you removed any? 
What evidence have you used? Have you explained its significance in the context of the points you are making? 
Have you given too much evidence and not left space for sufficient analysis and evaluation of the information included? This can blur the clarity of your argument and make your point less clear. 
Do any of your paragraphs present an idea that is not supported by evidence? 
Are any of your paragraphs made up entirely of information from your sources? If so, you have not included any analysis or evaluation. You should never have a paragraph that is made up entirely of quotes or paraphrased information. Body paragraphs should be a combination of information from sources and your own comment or analysis on that information.  
Do any of your paragraphs begin or end with a quote or paraphrase? If you begin or end with information from an outside source, then you have not properly introduced or concluded a paragraph in your own words. A paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that states what the paragraph is about and it should end with your own conclusion / summary of the point you have made.   
Are any of your paragraphs overly long? Paragraphs which are too long make it difficult for your reader to follow and makes it appear that you are not clear about the specific points you are making. They run the risk of being rambling and unfocused and the main point is likely to be blurred or lost entirely. The text would be better further divided into more distinct topics in smaller paragraphs. 
Are any of your paragraphs too short and underdeveloped? Paragraphs which are too short look more like notes and indicate that you have not developed your point or idea in sufficient depth or detail. In order to develop an idea sufficiently, most paragraphs should be at least three sentences long. 
Do you have any one-sentence paragraphs? A paragraph needs a topic sentence, followed by supporting sentences of evidence and analysis. Try and keep to the rule of no less than 3 sentences per paragraph – in academic writing most paragraphs contain at least four or five.  

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