How to write a good paragraph

By Matt Burdett, 21 February 2020

This article is about how to write a good body paragraph in a Geography essay.

Almost every pre-university Geography course will expect you to write an essay. These essays almost always involve some kind of debate. Some students are tempted to present the debate with two paragraphs – one in the affirmative, one in the negative.

The two paragraph problem

The problem with using just two paragraphs is that you end up with a really simplistic essay. In fact, you’re not really encouraging any evaluation of the issue until the conclusion – all you’re doing is making each argument. You might even end up presenting the arguments as equally valid. It also means that you’re probably looking at the question from just one perspective. This table shows some examples of how this often looks to the examiner:

Perspective

Affirmative

Negative

Time

Yes, it’s a long term solution.

No, it’s not a long term solution.

Importance

Yes, it’s important.

No, it’s not important.

Benefit

Yes, it’s beneficial.

No, it’s harmful.

As you can see, this is pretty basic. And it will probably end up being quite descriptive too.

How to write a good evaluative paragraph

Your essay is a chance to show off your evaluation skills. Following this structure is a good start, so have a look below. But don’t feel you have to always follow this. Ideally, you will be original and come up with more of your own style as you develop your writing skills.

Let’s look at a paragraph in its entirety:

“The economic benefits of major sporting events are immense. An Oxford Economics study commissioned by the Lloyds banking group estimated that the 2012 Olympic Games would generate GBP16.5 billion for the British economy from 2005 to 2017. The cumulative causation associated with such an influx of income contributed to the development of long term employment opportunities at the nearby Westfield Shopping Centre, which therefore created knock-on benefits well beyond the period of the Games themselves. Even so, these employment benefits were in relatively low-income positions, and often went to foreign and temporary workers who would agree to the minimum wage. This meant that the local population may not have benefited as much as expected. On balance, the long term jobs still provided an economic benefit, suggesting the benefits of major sporting events outweigh the advantages.”

It doesn’t look much when it’s typed out on the screen, but in a hand-written exam, this is probably two-thirds of a page.

The main point is, you know what the question is, don’t you? Yet you won’t find the question written anywhere on this page. A good body paragraph makes itself clear to the reader even if they don’t know the question. Let’s see how that happened.

Topic sentence

A topic sentence is sometimes known as a thesis statement. It is the first sentence, and should identify the point of the paragraph. For example:

“The economic benefits of major sporting events are immense.”

The examiner can immediately see that the economic benefits are the focus of the paragraph. It has given the paragraph a purpose.

Integrate evidence

The next step is to ensure that you are writing from a position of authority. You have been studying this issue, so show off your knowledge by including some specific evidence. In Geography, this usually comes from a case study.

“An Oxford Economics study commissioned by the Lloyds banking group estimated that the 2012 Olympic Games would generate GBP16.5 billion for the British economy from 2005 to 2017.”

This shows that you are not writing off the top of your head: the ideas you present are grounded in the real world.

Explain in detail

Of course, evidence without explanation is just a list of facts. That leads to a descriptive essay. Aim for things such as:

  • Using connectives like ‘because’, ‘due to’, ‘therefore’ and ‘so’ several times
  • Naming a theory that supports your view
  • Linking to other parts of your essay

“The cumulative causation associated with such an influx of income contributed to the development of long term employment opportunities at the nearby Westfield Shopping Centre, which therefore created knock-on benefits well beyond the period of the Games themselves.”

Introduce a counter-argument

More advanced evaluation occurs when you introduce the counter-argument within the paragraph. Remember the two paragraph problem I explained at the start of this article? Well, it wasn’t that the counter-argument didn’t exist – it was just that it wasn’t directly compared to the argument.

You can signal the counter-argument by using phrases like ‘on the other hand’, ‘despite this’, ‘however’, and so on.

“Even so, these employment benefits were in relatively low-income positions, and often went to foreign and temporary workers who would agree to the minimum wage. This meant that the local population may not have benefited as much as expected.”

Just a note of caution: make sure your counter-argument relates directly to the argument. Don’t make the argument about job opportunities being created, and then make the counter-argument about the lack of social opportunities. The counter-argument should be a criticism of what you’ve already said.

Use a hammer statement

Imagine a nail being hammered into the wall. You hit it again and again. That’s what your essay needs to do to answer the question: hit it again, and again, and again.

A good paragraph will end with a hammer statement. This is a statement that sums up the paragraph in relation to the question. It will:

  • Balance the argument and the counter-argument
  • Use words from the question
  • Avoid concluding the entire essay; instead, it will use conditional language

Here’s an example:

“On balance, the long term jobs still provided an economic benefit, suggesting the benefits of major sporting events outweigh the advantages.”

Where next?

This structure means you can have more than one theme. Instead of one paragraph about all the good things and another paragraph about all the bad things, our paragraphs are now structured around themes. This one was about economic benefits versus drawbacks. What other themes would you discuss? Social, political, environmental? Long versus short term? Important versus not important?

What do you think? Do you have any other tips? Comment below!

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