How to write paragraphs

in research texts (articles, books and PhDs)

  • The opening ‘topic’ sentence alerts readers to a change of subject and focus, and cues readers (in ‘signpost’ mode) about what the paragraph covers. It should never link backwards to material that came before (linkages are instead always made forward in ‘wrap’ sentences). So be wary of starting paragraphs with linking words (such as ‘However’, ‘Never the less’, ‘Furthermore’), lest they lead you into looking back. Instead topic sentences should clearly signal a new focus of attention. Yet they also need to be carefully written, to give readers the impression of a fluent, ‘natural’ progression of thought. Remember too that a signpost is just that — it is a very short cuing or naming prompt, not a mini-tour guide or a preview of the whole paragraph argument to come.
  • The main ‘body’ sentences give the core argument of the paragraph. In research work they need to clearly and carefully set out reasoning, describe results, develop implications, elucidate formulae, or elaborate and explain theoretical and thematic points. Body sentences constitute the mainstream of the paragraph, the core of the unit of thought.
  • Researchers normally must offer tokens to back up and support their core arguments. ‘Token’ sentences can be sprinkled across a paragraph amongst the body sentences, at apt points where they are most needed or useful. Typically token sentences are examples, references, quotations from other authors, supporting facts, or analysis of accompanying ‘attention points’, exhibits, tables, charts or diagrams. In some degree ‘token’ sentences are inherently digressive: they potentially lead away from the mainstream of the paragraph. Hence they need careful management, especially when two or more token sentences follow each other, without intervening ‘body’ sentences.
  • Finally the ‘wrap’ sentence serves to pull the paragraph argument together, to make clear to readers that a building block has been put in place. It should be constructive and substantive, adding value to the argument, not simply repeating early materials. It should also handle any link forward to the next paragraph that is needed.

Six common paragraph problems

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A collection of resources that provide real practical help for researchers writing creative non-fiction. See also: @Write4Research

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Writing For Research

Writing creative non-fiction at a research level is hard, skilled work, across all disciplines. Here Prof Patrick Dunleavy (LSE) collates some helpful resources