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Paragraphs are fundamental components of journal paper. A paper is made up of a number of paragraphs of varying length.

What is a paragraph?

A paragraph is a unit of writing that contains a series of sentences, related to one central idea, which helps to organise a paper. Paragraph structure is a mini version of the whole paper; containing an introduction, a body and a conclusion.

You can think of your paragraph as being structured like a burger.

A burger-like paragraph structure.

 

A. Topic sentence (top of the bun)

The first sentence introduces the key idea or concept. This signals to the reader what the paragraph is about and the opening sentence often links back to the preceding paragraph.

Let’s look at this example paragraph:

Unfortunately, significant problems and limitations exist in the current treatment of children with ADHD. Treatment with stimulants produces side effects, such as sleep problems and loss of appetite, and thus is not ideal or recommended for very young children (Corcoran, 2011; Faraone, Biederman, Morley, & Spencer, 2008). Although pharmacotherapy and behavioural management generally improve parent and teacher reports of children’s social skills, once treatments stop, so too do children’s improvements (MTA Cooperative Group, 2004). Moreover, when parents are stressed or dealing with their own mental health issues, they may not be able to properly implement the skills learned in behaviour training, resulting in more frustration and negative reinforcement of the parent–child conflict (Bögels, Hellemans, van Deursen, Römer, & van der Meulen, 2014). Therefore, it is imperative to investigate other psychosocial interventions that can improve the well-being of the entire family system.

The highlighted topic sentence above in our example paragraph links back to the information in the previous paragraph (not shown here), which outlined treatments for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It also introduces the main idea to be discussed in this paragraph: the limitations of those treatments.

Tips for writing your topic sentence:

  • When you refer to information in a previous paragraph, make sure you are clear about what you are referring to.
  • Don’t use pronouns such as ‘it’ or ‘they’, and don’t use ‘the former/latter’, which can be confusing.

 

B. Subsequent sentences

Subsequent sentences, or the “burger filling”, develop the idea and provide further detail that elaborates, explains, justifies or analyses the argument.

Referring to the same example,

Unfortunately, significant problems and limitations exist in the current treatment of children with ADHD. Treatment with stimulants produces side effects, such as sleep problems and loss of appetite, and thus is not ideal or recommended for very young children (Corcoran, 2011; Faraone, Biederman, Morley, & Spencer, 2008). Although pharmacotherapy and behavioural management generally improve parent and teacher reports of children’s social skills, once treatments stop, so too do children’s improvements (MTA Cooperative Group, 2004). Moreover, when parents are stressed or dealing with their own mental health issues, they may not be able to properly implement the skills learned in behaviour training, resulting in more frustration and negative reinforcement of the parent–child conflict (Bögels, Hellemans, van Deursen, Römer, & van der Meulen, 2014). Therefore, it is imperative to investigate other psychosocial interventions that can improve the well-being of the entire family system.

In this example, the highlighted subsequent sentences back up the claim made in the first sentence with evidence from the literature. Each sentence briefly summarises why previously mentioned treatments are unsuitable. It helps build a strong argument.

Tips for your ”burger filling”:

  • Stick to a single theme. For example, referring to our example paragraph, it would be confusing to discuss both the advantages and disadvantages of treatments in the same paragraph.

 

C. Final sentence

The final sentence, or bottom of the bun, summarises the information, and may provide a link to the following paragraph.

Look at the example again:

Unfortunately, significant problems and limitations exist in the current treatment of children with ADHD. Treatment with stimulants produces side effects, such as sleep problems and loss of appetite, and thus is not ideal or recommended for very young children (Corcoran, 2011; Faraone, Biederman, Morley, & Spencer, 2008). Although pharmacotherapy and behavioural management generally improve parent and teacher reports of children’s social skills, once treatments stop, so too do children’s improvements (MTA Cooperative Group, 2004). Moreover, when parents are stressed or dealing with their own mental health issues, they may not be able to properly implement the skills learned in behaviour training, resulting in more frustration and negative reinforcement of the parent–child conflict (Bögels, Hellemans, van Deursen, Römer, & van der Meulen, 2014). Therefore, it is imperative to investigate other psychosocial interventions that can improve the well-being of the entire family system.

This sentence sets the scene to introduce the current study in the next paragraph.

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Last but not least, here are some general tips on paragraph writing :

  1. Vary the length of sentences.
  2. Avoid sentences over 35 words.
  3. Feature one or two ideas, at most, in any one sentence.

Hopefully you should now have a more concrete idea about how to structure paragraphs. Good luck!

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