Paragraph Structure

  • Paragraphs are the basic structural unit of essays and other academic assignments.
  • A paragraph is a short piece of writing in which all sentences are related.
  • The first sentence expresses the point of the paragraph and all other sentences expand further on this point.
  • The content of the paragraph therefore develops from a general statement to more specific statements.
  • An academic paragraph is generally 4-7 sentences in length.
  • The ability to write a well-structured paragraph will make a sound base for further academic writing.

Paragraph structure

  • Main idea: The point/issue of the paragraph is expressed in the first sentence of each paragraph
  • Explanation: A further explanation/clarification of the point/issue is provided in the next sentence or two
  • Illustration: The point or issue is supported with indirect quotes/paraphrases in the remaining sentence or sentences

Paragraph practice (exercise)

The following activities will allow you to become familiar with the construction of an academic paragraph.

Task 1
Note that the first sentence of your paragraph should be the main idea of the paragraph. This main idea should be quite general and it is then expanded on in the rest of the paragraph. One of the important concepts in the course is ___________. From the course readings, decide what you are going to focus on in relation to this concept. Write this into a sentence. This is the main idea of the paragraph and all other sentences should expand or explain this statement.

Main idea:

Task 2
Now expand on this idea in the rest of the paragraph. Take care that you do not just describe what the concept is and take care that you do not just summarise one or more of the readings that cover this concept. What you must do is actually explain your main idea that you developed in the first sentence. For practice, begin by explaining the main idea just in your own words without quoting or paraphrasing. It is best to close the text to do this in order to avoid the temptation to copy phrases directly.


Main Points and Paragraph Structure

Essays are built up of a series of paragraphs which all contribute to establishing the writer's purpose.  At university, paragraphs are the basic unit or building block of extended pieces of writing. 

Successful essays depend upon building up the overall structure, through paragraphs which have a clearly identified main point. The main points of the paragraphs are the main points outlined in the introduction. A paragraph in academic writing frequently consists of a main idea which is explained, amplified, supported and sometimes illustrated. Paragraphs in formal university work are characterised by increasing specificity. That is they move from the general to the specific thus increasingly refining the reader's understanding.

A common structure for paragraphs in academic writing is as follows:

  • Main Point - the main idea of the paragraph is expressed as a generalisation
  • Explanation, Amplification - the main idea is elaborated and its meaning explained
  • Illustration - the main idea is illustrated or supported by example, data or quote

sample paragraph* is provided to demonstrate this structure. 

Writing Conclusions

Finally a good essay has a conclusion which restates the argument, reminds the reader of the two or three points which provide the most important support for the argument and then draws the essay to a gentle close.  A sample conclusion* is provided to demonstrate this structure. 

*This file is in Portable Document Format (PDF) which requires the use of Adobe Acrobat Reader. A free copy of Acrobat Reader may be obtained from Adobe. Users who are unable to access information in PDF should contact Jill Young, telephone +61 7 4631 1676 to obtain this information in an alternative format.