Female student working on essay

Writing better assignments

Good paragraphs make up the main structure of essays and other assignments

Using paragraphs effectively will help you structure your assignments, meet your marking criteria and improve the quality of writing in your assessments.  

There is more that one way to structure an assignment. You'll need to check your course requirements before you submit your work because different fields and assignments can have their own requirements.

Although this page is aimed at qualitative assignments, the principles of signposting, using well-formed paragraphs, and writing a strong concluding sentence apply to most types of assignment.

The example text on this this page uses the fictional essay title: 'Chocolate is good for you. Discuss.' This content is used to model paragraphing and citations and has been invented for these examples.

Overview of paragraphs

A paragraph should make sense on its own, address a single topic and fit into the material (paragraphs) that surround it. Although each paragraph focuses on one topic you should avoid using one very long paragraph to keep related content together.

Your introductory paragraph should outline your assignment focus. You should create additional paragraphs for sub-points, elements of a point, or a different angle.

A paragraph has three parts:

  • A signpost, sometimes called the 'topic statement', to tell the reader what the paragraph is about. It should be clear if you're starting a new topic, narrowing down the focus to talk discuss it in more depth, or continuing the same topic from a different angle.
  • The paragraph body to expand on the topic. You should include evidence from experience (particularly for practice-based assignments), reflection, and talk about your reasoning using relevant texts, media, data, formulae, facts, a model, or a theory.
  • A concluding sentence or sentences to indicate whether the topic or point continues in the next paragraph, or draws to a close.

Identifying well-structured individual paragraphs

Your reader needs to be able to identify a single topic in your paragraph. If you can't identify the topic in your paragraph, your reader will struggle to identify it.

Before you submit your assignment read your paragraphs to check:

  • your first and last sentences fit together
  • the key points in your paragraph focus on your topic/what you planned to talk about
  • the focus, flow and coherence of the whole paragraph

Identifying problems with flow: the whole assignment

Tips to check the flow of your assignment: 

  • Your assignment show flow even if you only read the first sentence of every paragraph, and you should signpost any changes in focus, direction, topic, theme or point.
  • Read the last sentence of a paragraph and the first sentence of the next – check that it either flows or is clearly signposted. This helps you to check for coherence, logic and flow. If you find a problem, read the paragraphs before and after it –  you might only need to tweak a sentence to put it right.

Download our paragraphs revision sheet

Download this page as a PDF for your essay writing notes.

Do you want help with paragraphs and writing clearly?

We can help. Book your Academic Skills Unit (ASK) tutorial now at academicskills@port.ac.uk.

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