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Building up your argument paragraph by paragraph

In your paper you need to build up your argument step by step, using each paragraph to build on the points from the last one. Paragraphs are basically the building blocks of an paper and the more you concentrate on making each one present a coherent point in a clear structured way whilst linking to the last one, the better your paper will be.

Each paragraph within a paper should have a single main theme, point or argument. Begin a new paragraph every time you introduce a new theme, point or argument. Closely linked sub-themes, points and arguments may also be included within the same paragraph. When you look at a paragraph, you should be able to sum it up in a single short statement.

Each paragraph should contain

  • the 'topic sentence' - the main theme, point or argument should be stated in the first sentence. This sentence announces the topic but it should also make a transition from the previous paragraph.
  • supporting material - which could involve: providing a brief history of the topic specified in the topic sentence; developing the argument of the topic statement, stating the reasoning behind the argument of the topic sentence; introducing examples to support and/or challenge the argument of the topic sentence (which could take the form of facts, statistics, quotations, brief anecdotes, etc.); evaluate this evidence: compare or contrast sources; analyze causes and reasons; examination of effects and consequences; discuss issues raised; etc; discuss one or more of the topic sentence's key terms. Explain any unclear terms.
  • concluding sentences - any conclusions should be drawn at the very end of the paragraph. Your concluding sentence should ideally link back to the topic sentence, and possibly to the following paragraph. You may often find that there is no need to provide a concluding sentence.

Look at the passage of writing below and consider:

"Despite the tremendous spread of girls’ education in Arab countries, women continue to suffer more than men do from a lack of opportunities to acquire knowledge (topic). This occurs despite the fact that girls excel in knowledge pursuits, outstripping boys in competitive academic performance (support).

In terms of basic indicators, the Arab region has one of the highest rates of female illiteracy (as much as one half, compared to only one third among males) (topic). It also displays one of the lowest rates of enrolment at the various levels of education. This is in spite of the success of some Arab states, most notably those in the Gulf, in increasing the percentage of girl’s enrolment and narrowing the gap between the sexes at the three levels of education (support).

The relatively greater denial of educational opportunities to girls contrasts with Arab public opinion (topic). The Report’s field study indicates that the majority of people believe that girls have a right to education on an equal footing with men (support).

Female enrolment in university education has risen, yet women are still concentrated in fields such as literature, the humanities and the social sciences where they constitute the majority (topic). These are the subjects in least demand by employers. By contrast, enrolment rates for females in fields that lead to jobs, such as engineering and science, are noticeably lower. Again, this trend runs counter to Arab public opinion which favours letting women students choose their fields of specialization.

International data indicate that girls in the Arab region perform better in school than boys (topic). Drop out rates for girls are lower than those for boys in all the countries for which data are available (support). Notwithstanding this, discrimination against women in Arab countries continues to limit their access to knowledge despite the mass of statistical and other evidence indicating that Arab girls are the better learners, especially on the first rungs of the educational ladder (complication).

The share of girls among top scoring students in all Arab countries where data is available is over 50 percent (support). Since, on average, girls account for fewer than half those enrolled in education, this achievement underlines their academic ascendancy. Such achievement is all the more remarkable given the unhelpful societal and familial environment that some face arising from the myth that a girl is destined for the house and that education and work are basically male domains.

The Report thus stresses that Arab countries stand to reap extraordinary benefits from giving men and women equal opportunities to acquire and utilise knowledge for the advancement of society. What deprive the region of these gains are its harmful and discriminatory practices that hold back women (conclusions)."

From: UNDP, Arab Human Development Report 2005: Towards the Rise of Women in the Arab World, 2005

Length of paragraphs

Be careful that your paragraphs are not too long or too short. A single sentence is not a paragraph: the argument in the topic sentence will need to be developed and supported with evidence. Conversely, if you bundle a lot of material into a single paragraph it gives the impression you do not have control over your subject. If a paragraph appears to be too long, look to see if there is more than one major theme, point or argument in it. If there is, separate them into two or more paragraphs.