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Paragraphs can…

  • divide writing into easily manageable sections
  • signal the introduction of a new idea or point
  • signal a change of direction in an argument: ‘However, when we examine Shakespeare’s later works, it is evident that…’
  • summarise what has been said so far before moving on to the next stage of an argument

Jot down some ideas in response to the following questions before scrolling down to compare your answer:

What problems might be caused (or revealed) by paragraphs that are too long?
What problems might be caused (or revealed) by paragraphs that are too short?



If paragraphs are too LONG:

  • the material may not be effectively split up
  • the essay may be rambling off the point
  • it is more difficult for the reader to follow

If paragraphs are too SHORT:

  • there is insufficient space to develop points properly, so they may seem superficial
  • the reader may find the essay disjointed, and it gives the impression of a series of disconnected points

Linking words and phrases

Linking words and phrases should be used to show the direction of your argument throughout your essay, not just at the beginning of paragraphs. Click on the button to reveal some examples of linking words and phrases which...

  • signal a reinforcement of ideas → in other words, for example
  • signal a development in ideas → moreover, more importantly
  • signal a change in ideas → instead, on the other hand, however, in contrast, nevertheless
  • signal a conclusion → thus, therefore, ultimately

Do not try to use words like ‘thus’ or ‘therefore’ to suggest a connection between one idea and another where no logical connection actually exists!

Linking your paragraphs

To make your essay flow smoothly and to construct a clear argument, it is essential to link your paragraphs together carefully. Here is an example from a book about Chinese business practices, showing the end of one paragraph and the beginning of another:

By using family titles to name their colleagues, Chinese co-workers shape their business relations in terms of the well-known conventions and roles of the family and social structure.
Interaction between employers and employees also finds a basis in family-centred codes of behaviour. 

The author’s main point is that family relations are the basis for all Chinese social relations, including those in the workplace. The end of the first paragraph sums up the way that Chinese co-workers interact. The beginning of the second paragraph focuses on the way that Chinese employers and interact with their employees.

The beginning of the second paragraph mirrors and repeats words from the end of the first one. The word ‘family’ appears in both paragraphs, while the ‘employers’ and ‘employees’ of the second paragraph bears a relationship of similarity and contrast to the ‘co-workers’ of the first paragraph. The word ‘interaction’ mirrors the word ‘relations’. The phrases ‘shape their business relations in terms of’ and ‘finds a basis in’ say similar things. The author keeps his main point – all relations are modelled on family relations – before us, while working through different examples of it.

One way of thinking about it is that paragraphs should introduce a new point without losing sight of the old one; they should bring out the relationship between the last point and the new one. Linking words and phrases work in both directions, backwards and forwards.

Here are some weak paragraph links which do not fulfil this important role:

  • ‘Another point is that…’
  • ‘I will now discuss the issue of X…’

Activity: paragraph comparison

Below are some paragraph links, with the last sentence of one paragraph leading on to the first sentence of the next. Think about how the links are being made in each case before clicking below to access some suggestions. 

1 2 3

[...] Matto de Turner's Aves sin nido therefore touches only briefly on cultural structures of power, without elaborating how local 'custom' can work to dispossess the indigenous population [...]

Castellanos, on the other hand, is concerned precisely with such cultural power structures [...]

[...] The chapters written from the perspective of the educated Marito are interspersed with chapters ostensibly written by a radio soap opera writer in such a way that neither is given precedence in the novel [...]

This juxtaposition of high and lowbrow culture throughout the novel forces the reader to compare and contrast the different styles and also to criticise the popular form [...]

[...] As the novel progresses we can see that the biographical events begin to share something in common with the plot of a soap opera. The events that take place in Mario’s life edge constantly towards sensationalism like those of the radio serials: both involve family scandal, elopement and violence.

Despite these areas of blurring, the distinctions between the two parts of the novel remain clearly delineated, given the rigidity of the novel’s structure [...]

Now click here to access feedback for comparison with your answers.

Activity: Linking ideas

Read this excerpt from an essay (pdf). How well do you think this writer links her ideas? Are there any criticisms you would make of her links? Highlight the words and phrases in the text which define the relationship between different points and/or help to guide the reader through the argument. You can either print the text and highlight manually or amend on screen.

Once you have highlighted some text, click here to access feedback for comparison, with linking text highlighted.

Check back through your next essay for paragraph links. Are you helping your reader by guiding him/her through your argument with signposts in this way? Make an effort to do this wherever possible when you come to write your next essay.