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CIPPET Study Support: Structuring your work and paragraphing

This guide will help you find resources, understand academic and reflective writing and help you prepare for your coursework and exams

Introduction

Structure is important in academic writing becuase it helps to make your ideas clear, guides the reader's comprehension and can strengthen your arguments. Some academic writing, such as scientific reports, have a given structure or template. In this case, you should find out what is required under each heading and adhere to this; it is most likely mapped to the marking criteria so you will lose marks for not following a stated structure.

Other writing might require you to select and organise the material you are writing yourself and so develop a structure from scratch.  Usually, in the introduction you should set out the structure so that the reader knows what to expect and the order in which it will be presented. The order in which information is presented should be logical so that the reader can follow your ideas and research, ideally write your structure with just one point/argument/idea per paragraph. In addition, the ideas should flow or be linked so that the reader is drawn through an explanation or argument, rather than stopping and starting at each new point.  The conclusion to the piece should draw together all the points or ideas and come to a conclusion.

Whether you are following a template or devising your own structure, paragraphs in academic writing can be thought of like a ‘mini-essay’ with an introduction, main body and conclusion. The first line introduces the point being made, the main body presents and discusses the evidence to support the point and the final line concludes the point and links it back to the assignment title.

Model of a paragraph

When presenting a point of view, such as a line of argument for an essay, decide on the main points that you want to communicate. A paragraph can be planned (like a mini-essay) using the PEEL format:

Point (Introduction) What is the main topic of your paragraph?

Evidence (Main Body)

Explanation (Main Body)

What evidence is there to support this point?

How and why does the evidence support the point?
Link (Conclusion) What contribution does this point make to your overall argument?

Like any model, not all your paragraphs will fit neatly into this framework, but it is a useful guide to check the balance of your paragraphs: Do you have a clear point? Does the end of the paragraph link to the beginning? Have you interpreted your evidence not just left it there to ‘speak for itself’?

Also it is helpful to think of the length of your paragraphs. If they are only a few lines long, it is unlikely you are interpreting your evidence fully. If they are over a page in length, it is likely you have more than one main point and need to separate them out.

Skip to 5 minutes in on this video tutorial for an explanation and example of the model paragraph or feel free to watch the whole video for more on Targeted Reading and Use of Evidence.

Write concisely and with precision

Do not be tempted to use complex language or expressions that are not your own, just to make your writing appear "academic". Use straightforward language. Your reader needs to understand the information or ideas that you are conveying.

Communicate succinctly without losing vital information or meaning. It is often easier to write fluently and then to edit out unnecessary words and phrases.

Three editing tips to reduce word-count:

1. Go through a paragraph that you have written and cross out any words, or phrases or even a sentence that may be unnecessary. (Or 'grey it out' – change the text colour of the words you might remove to light grey.) Read it again to see if you have lost anything essential to the information or meaning. If you have not, then delete it permanently.

2. Replace phrases with single words meaning the same:

The researcher wanted to find out <--replace with--> The researcher enquired

3. To cut down larger amounts of word count, try writing one sentence which sums up each paragraph. Then read through and rank in importance to your overall answer to the question. Take out the paragraphs that are least important.

Some academic writing, such as scientific informatoin, needs to be especially precise. A reader may need to have all the information required to understand exact conditions of a scientific study and to replicate it. Using simple sentences can be helpful.

Avoid using non-quantifiable descriptions, such as:

The company's production rate was high <--replace with--> The company produced 16,00 units per week.

The wind was strong <--replace with--> The wind measured 6 on the Beaufort scale.

Integrating evidence into your paragraphs

You do not have to refer to each piece of evidence in the same depth. Sometimes you need to show that you understand the wider context of the issue, and a short summary of the key issues and key researchers is all that is needed. For example:

Many studies have investigated household accidents caused by cheese. These studies disagree about the most significant reasons for cheese-based injury with some arguing that choking on cheese poses the highest risk (Muffet, 2008; Moon; 2009; Rennet, 2011). Other studies claim that burns from melted cheese are more hazardous (Rechaud, 1989; Rarebit, 2009), whilst a minority of recent studies have identified slipping on cheese as a growing danger (Skepper, 2011).

A significant amount of reading and in-depth understanding of the field is demonstrated in those sentences above even though the individual mentions of the evidence are quite short. The summary maps out the state of current research and the positions taken by the key researchers, and despite being short it has taken careful reading, grouping, identification, and understanding of the issues.

Sometimes you need to go into greater depth and refer to some sources in more detail in order to interrogate the methods and standpoints expressed by these researchers. For example:

Skepper's recent study introduces a new model for assessing the relative dangers of cheese related-injuries (2011). He identifies the overall total damage done as more important than the frequency of injuries (Skepper, 2011). However, this model does not adequately take into account Archer's theory of 'Under-reporting' which states that people are less likely to report frequently occurring small accidents until a critical mass of injuries are reached (2009).

Even in this more analytical piece of writing, only the relevant points of the study and the theory are mentioned briefly - but you need a confident and thorough understanding to refer to them so concisely.

If you find it challenging to integrate evidence into your paragraphs, have a look at:

Other useful guides

You may find some of the following guides useful in developing your writing: