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A paragraph is a unit of sense within a piece of writing. It makes one clear point and has an introductory sentence and a concluding sentence. A change in paragraph signals a change, or progression, in topic to the reader.
In academic writing, paragraphs usually have a clear topic sentence, evidence, explanation of what the evidence shows, and a mini-conclusion. There are a number of acronyms for remembering this, such as WEED, PEEL, SEE and TEEL. They all basically convey the same principle.
Watch this short video explaining the SEE method:
And see the similar TEEL method with an example:
The ideas in a paragraph need to follow on from each other. Linking words can help show the reader how you are connecting them, but you need to use these transition words accurately and thoughtfully. A favourite linking word is ‘however’ which signals a contrast or contradiction, but if your next sentence doesn’t contain a contrast it will confuse your reader. See this page for more on using transition words:
You may have a clear topic sentence for your paragraph, but the rest of your sentences need to relate to this specifically. If they are only loosely connected to the topic, or contain fragmented or muddled ideas, your paragraph will lose its power and your reader will lose their way. See our page on sentences for more on how to write effectively.
There is no set length for a paragraph but they should be roughly similar lengths. A paragraph that contains only one or two sentences is too short, and will seem more like a throwaway thought than a fully developed idea with evidence. Although we say a paragraph should have a clear ‘topic’, if your paragraph is getting close to a page long, it suggests your topic is complex and needs splitting into sub-topics and separate paragraphs.
The order of your paragraphs has an important role to play in the structure of your essay. Check whether your structure progresses logically by highlighting the first and last lines of each paragraph. This gives an outline that should make sense on its own. See our page on Structure for more strategies: