- Have you ever read that paper with amazing logical flow of ideas, and a perfect word-choice?
- An essay whose line-by-line narrative was captivating, with stunning yet counter-intuitive arguments that won you over?
Essay-writing is a skill that few people have truly mastered.
I’d like to reveal to you one of their greates secrets: how to craft a compelling paragraph.
The formula for an excellent body paragraph
An excellent body paragraph accomplishes the following:
- Concisely states main argument
- Explains arguments, using evidence to back up claims wherever necessary
- Explores and rejects counterarguments or adjusts initial argument in consideration of counter-claims
- Summarises the adapted main argument and links to next paragraph
Step 1: Focus on one idea
The #1 mistake writers make is trying to squeeze their entire essay into a hundred words. Mostly, they end up frustrated because they can’t fit everything in (and they shouldn’t) and their arguments are weak.
The key here is for you to discuss only one point per paragraph.
Now you may be wondering how that’s even possible. It seems unlikely that anyone can write more than two lines on the same idea without rambling or heading on a tangent.
‘Cause what else would you say about the distance decay model and the theory of frictional effect of distance by Tobler, other than the obvious similarity of their argument?
Probably it feels counter-intuitive to explore ideas like these in their own paragraphs, but backing these up with evidence will help support your essay’s thesis.
Step 2: Support your claims with evidence
So, the first sentence or two in your paragraph depict your mini-argument in relation to the main idea of the essay. But to convince your readers of the value of your claims, you’ll need to put forward supporting evidence.
When you hear the word ‘evidence’ do you immediately think of statistics, like “80% of experts agree”? Facts can easily sway you, which is why they’re so popular (and often considered as the ultimate truth) in academic writing.
Though rather counter-intuitively, statistics may be the reason why your essays fall short. Too often, they’re presented in a biased or misleading manner. So when you use statistics, don’t abuse them!
But statistics aren’t the only tool you want to use…
Examples are one of the best tricks to construct a full-fledged argument. They hook your readers and show how your theory applies in real life.
Consider the following fictitional essay extracts… Which is more persuasive?
"Globalisation is the increasing interconnectivity of countries world-wide through increase in cross-border economic activity, socio-cultural diffusion, and information dissemination. According to statistics published by the British Ministry for Globalisation (BMG), international linkage has increased from 5 percent in 1930 to 74.5 percent in 2010. A similar trend can be observed from Ryan Till's graph of foreign trade, which shows that connections between Beijing and London have increased by 40% between 1990 and 2005."
Globalisation is the increasing interconnectivity of countries worldwide through an increase in cross-border economic acitivity, socio-cultural diffusion, and information dissemination. According to statistics published by the British Ministry for Globalisation (BMG), international linkage has increased from 5 percent in 1930 to 74.5 percent in 2010. For instance, global trade has grown due to the availability of freight planes, which allows perishable goods to be imported from tropical countries, such as mangoes from Ecuador.
Anecdotes are an underused form of examples, and while easily dismissed as untrustworthy, they’ll help you to disprove generalisations.
And if you’re investigating a novel idea, if you’re breaking new ground, you might want to use analogies (comparisons of two similar situations) to support your ideas.
Step 3: Present, evaluate, and reject counter-claims
Let’s face it. All great essays thrive from considering alternative view points. It’s not enough if you just present your ideas. You’ll need to defend other’s objections, by presenting their arguments, evaluating them (ideally without bias) and then rejecting these ideas or altering your initial argument as a result of their claims. But please avoid these logical fallacies in your arguments.
For an example of how this looks in practice, I’ve included a paragraph from one of my essays. It’s by no means perfect, but it serves its purpose…
Step 4: Use transition cues and academic phrases
Let´s get technical…
Transition cues help you to interconnect two distinct ideas, and structure your arguments and evidence logically.
- Reasoning: because, therefore, thus, consequently, as a result, resultedly, thereby, hence, since
- Addition of ideas: moreover, furthermore, additionally, also, not only […] but also, simultaneously, likewise, similarly, firstly, secondly, thirdly, besides
- Example: for example, for instance, specifically, to illustrate
- Contrast: however, in contrast, in comparison, nevertheless, on the contrary, on the one hand […] on the other hand
- Conclusion: in conclusion, all in all, finally, it may be concluded, in sum
- it may be argued that
- it should be noted that
- contested concept/disputed nature of the concept
- in full recognition of/ under consideration of
- under the rubric of
- the range of presuppositions
- the advocacy of/ in favour of
- in rebuttal to
You don’t just want to use the above lists without considering how these words fit in your essay overall. To evaluate whether you’re using transition cues and academic phrases effectively, read your essay out loud. This will point you to any awkward wording and stray fragments in your paragraphs.
Bonus: Sample Paragraph from my TOK Essay Topic “Who am I?”
If you’re still struggling, remember that every skills needs practise ;).
And please share any helpful tips you can think of in the comments below. Thanks.