Paragraph Structure: How to Write a Body Paragraph | Essay Writing Part 4

Posted on November 17, 2017 by Patrick Condliffe

Welcome to our post on How to Write a Body Paragraph. This is part 4 in our Essay Writing Series. It will teach you Band 6 paragraph structure for your essays.

Some common issues students have with their essays are:

  • What is a sustained argument?
  • How do I produce a sustained argument?
  • What is paragraph structure?
  • Why is paragraph structure important?
  • How do I compose a well-structured body paragraph? 

In this post, we will explain what a sustained argument is; what the theory behind paragraph structure is; and discuss how to produce a body paragraph that develops a sustained argument. We will then show you an easy step-by-step process for writing great body paragraphs.

 

Table of Contents

1. Basic Paragraph Structure
2. Sustained Arguments
3. Recapping Essay Structure
4. Writing a Body Paragraph with a T.E.E.L structure
5. Organising Notes
6. Paragraph Structure: How to Write a Body Paragraph – A Step-by-Step Guide
7. Body Paragraph Structure – A Checklist for Using Evidence

If you are unsure how to write an introduction or compose topic sentences, then you should read the previous posts in the series:

These are essential pieces of structure that you need to have in your essay to score a Band 6 result. These posts will give you the foundations of essay structure that we build on in this post.

Read on to learn how to write Band 6 body paragraphs.

 

Basic Paragraph Structure: How to Write a Body Paragraph | Essay Writing Part 4

While many students think otherwise, essay writing is not a mystery. Essay writing is a practical skill that can be learned and improved through practice and dedication. One of the most important skills you must learn is how to develop examples from a text into an argument that supports your thesis.

 

What is paragraph structure?

Body paragraphs are where you support your thesis with evidence. In the case of an English essay, these are where you present your examples and quotations from the text and explain how they support your argument. For example:

  1. Begin a body paragraph with a statement that outlines what you will discuss;
  2. Support it with evidence – that is, examples from the text;
  3. Discuss that evidence and explain what techniques are present and how they develop meaning;
  4. Explain how that evidence links to your argument and supports it.

Do you see the value of this paragraph structure?

This structure introduces your ideas, supports them, and then connects your evidence back to your thesis. This is the structure of a sustained argument.

Clearly, body paragraphs only work well if they are clearly signposted and well structured. Remember, the aim of a good essay is to produce a sustained argument. In this series of posts you have seen us use that term consistently.

But what does a sustained argument actually achieve?

“A sustained argument develops an argument so that the work is done for the reader!”

The information the reader wants is presented and developed in such a way that it is clearly and easily digestible. Having a strong paragraph structure is crucial for this.

 

Paragraph Structure, Sustained Arguments, and the Ease of Reading

Let’s explain how this works and why ease of reading is important.

When we read we don’t like to have our concentration broken. We like to have an argument and its evidence presented clearly and logically. This means that we don’t need to stop and think, or stop and reread, in the midst of reading a piece of writing. This is why signposting is important.

Signposting gives structure and signals to a reader where in an essay they are. Signposting, especially by using topic sentences, consistently orientates readers in the argument – these signposts enable you to see what is being argued and how it relates to the bigger picture in the essay.

If the signposting is flawed and the argument is not consistent, the reader will get distracted. Or worse, they will stop reading and have to start again further up. People are more often convinced by an argument if it is well structured and easy to follow.

Think about what that means for a moment.

“Arguments seem more logical if they are easy to read and follow.”

So, your essay needs to be easy to read and follow. You don’t want your marker to have to reread part of your essay or stop and think about whether your argument is logical or makes sense. To do this, you must ensure that you have a sustained argument.

Let’s recap how to build the foundations of this in the introduction, before we move on to explain how to write body paragraphs that sustain your thesis.

 

Recapping Introductions and Topic Sentences 

In our previous posts, we discussed how the key parts of an introduction – the thesis and thematic framework – connect to the signposting in the body paragraph.

Let’s see how that worked again:

 

Blog-English-How-To-Write-A-Thematic-Framework-Essay-Structure
Diagram: Essay Structure and Signposting (©Matrix education, 2017)

 

As you can see, there is a clear and direct connection between the topic sentence and the two central parts of the introduction. This is integral to a sustained argument and what you need to capitalise on in your body paragraphs.

The best way to do this is to present evidence in a methodical way that both supports and reasserts your topic sentence. This, in turn, will clearly sustain your overall thesis throughout your response. Consequently, this will increase its readability and make it more persuasive.

Let’s have a look at how to do this using a T.E.E.L structure.

 

Writing Body Paragraphs Using a T.E.E.L Structure

Remember, body paragraphs are where you present your evidence. You need to present evidence in a way that supports your thesis and topic sentence. This kind of paragraph structure will increase readability and aid the logic of your argument.

The best method for this is to use a T.E.E.L. structure.

What is a T.E.E.L structure?

T.E.E.L refers to:

  • Technique
  • Effect
  • Explanation
  • Link.

This is the ideal structure that Matrix English students are taught to use when writing their body paragraphs. Rather than presenting a list of quotations and techniques, a T.E.E.L structure develops these pieces of evidence into a thorough argument. This is essential for a sustained argument and, thus, a Band 6 result.

The diagram below may help you to visualize T.E.E.L parts of the paragraph:

Diagram: Elements of a T.E.E.L paragraph (© Matrix Education 2017)

It is important to note that these components can be presented in any order. You can begin with the evidence or the explanation of how it links to the topic at hand. The important thing is doing all of the steps involved.

Let’s consider a student who is writing an essay on William Shakespeare’s Macbeth for Year 11 Critical Study of Literature. To to do this we must first assemble some notes.

 

Organising your notes for better body paragraph structure

A good body paragraph needs evidence. So be sure to analyse your text thoroughly for evidence to discuss before starting an essay.

It is important that you organise your evidence and notes in a logical manner that makes it easy to write practice essays. Matrix students learn how to tabulate notes so they can learn to write dynamic essays, rather than learning how to memorise essays. Good paragraph structure is meaningless without meaningful analysis!

For this example, we will continue looking at Macbeth and the question from the previous posts in this series. For the purpose of writing a body paragraph, we will look at the text through the lens of Year 11 Module B – Critical Study of Literature.

 

What is Year 11 Module B?

Year 11 Module B is the Critical Study of Literature. In this module, students study canonical texts and engage in a critical study of their themes and construction. They take into account a text’s context and develop their own critical interpretation of the text and decide whether it has distinctive qualities and textual integrity.

When we develop our analysis of Macbeth we will connect it to the requirements of this module.

Let’s have a look at one way to tabulate your notes for study:

Character
Macbeth
Lady Macbeth
Motivation/ Perspective
  • Desire for Power
  • Morality
  • Desire for Power
  • Morality
Examples
  • “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition which o’er-leaps itself, and falls on th’other.” (1.4.25-28)
  • “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.” (2.2.63-66)
  • “Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since? And wakes it now to look so green and pale at what it did so freely?” (1.5. 35-38)
  • “Out, damned spot! out, I say!–One: two: why, then, ’tis time to do’t.–Hell is murky!–Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and a’feard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?” (5.1.39-43)
Technique
  • Personification, rhetorical questions, and irony
  • Rhetorical questions, religious allusion, motif, and aphorism
Explanation
  • In this monologue, Macbeth compares his ambition to a horse that leaps again and again without direction. He laments that he does not have the drive to spur it on and so it falls “on th’other.”
  • In this soliloquy, Macbeth examines his conscience after killing King Duncan and committing regicide. He has a moment of realisation and comprehends the enormity of his crime for the first time.
  • Lady Macbeth is ambitious for power. She needs to gain it vicariously, through her husband Macbeth. And so she goads him with insults about his courage and ambition.
  • Lady Macbeth is going mad from guilt. She is hallucinating indelible blood stains on her hands – “the damned spot” – that symbolises the guilt and immorality she bears.
Connection to Module
  • This text presents the universal themes of ambition and morality. We see these developed through Macbeth’s struggle with himself for power.
  • These quotations use a series of techniques to convey the texts central concerns – ambition and morality. Shakespeare’s use of these techniques characterise Macbeth in a complex manner as a man who both seeks power, but must wrestle with his guilt.
  • Macbeth meditates on the desire for power and the guilt that comes when it is attained through immoral acts. These ideas are epitomised through the character arc of Lady Macbeth.
  • These quotations demonstrate the changing characterisation of Lady Macbeth. She changes from a power hungry and powerful woman desirous of power to a mad and guilt-ridden lady who seeks absolution through death.
Table: Study notes for Year 11 Module B: Macbeth (© Matrix Education 2017)

 

In this table the text is broken down by character, themes, technique, effect, and connection to the module.

Think about that for a moment.

Do you do this? You should!

Tabulating your notes like this allows you to easily transform your notes into part of an argument.

This table layout allows you to easily see the connections between the different components of a T.E.E.L paragraph. You can draw these components together to craft powerful analytical statements about the text that are supported by evidence. This is the most important part of paragraph structure: connecting these pieces of information to develop an argument.

Thus, we can use the information from this table to produce a body paragraph. Let’s look at how to use this evidence and analysis to put together a Band 6 response. But first we need to have quick refresher of the question, thesis, and topic sentences that we developed in the previous posts.

 

Recapping our Thesis and Topic Sentences

Before we consider the details of paragraph structure, we need to revisit the thesis statement and topic sentence. In the first post in the series, we looked at the following question:

 

“William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is not about revenge, it is a play concerned with morality and madness.”

To what extent do you agree with this statement? Make use of detailed references to the play in your response.

 

And in the second post, we developed the following thesis in response to it:

“The resolution of The Tragedy of Macbeth (1606) is driven by revenge. However, it is Shakespeare’s interrogation of the morality of Macbeth’s actions and his subsequent descent into madness that is the central focus of the text.”

We decided to look at the following themes:

  1. Revenge
  2. Morality
  3. Madness

And in the third post, we produced the following topic sentences to support our argument.

  1. Revenge – “Macbeth’s awareness of the violence and depravity of his actions makes him fear vengeance and expect it to fall on him.”
  2. Morality – “Macbeth’s struggle with his increasing immorality foreshadows the text’s depiction of vengeance”.
  3. Madness – “Macbeth descends into madness, and paranoia, as he struggles to come to terms with the murderer he has become.”

Now we have evidence and a question to work from, we will write a body paragraph using the second topic sentence and the theme of morality.

 

Paragraph Structure: How to Write a Body Paragraph – A Step-by-Step Guide

Evidence supports your arguments and demonstrates your logic to the reader.

Take a second to let that sink in.

This means that your evidence must be relevant to your argument and be explained clearly.

Let’s see the steps that Matrix English Students are taught to use for writing Band 6 responses:

 

Step 1: Analyse the text

Paragraph structure begins with analysis. We have done this already. This is the information that we have organised into our table above. You will need to ensure that you have gone through you text, in detail, as we have above.

If you need help analysing your texts, look at our Literary Technique Series of posts.

 

Step 2: Decide which evidence is best for the point you are trying to make

We have several quotations in the table above, but they don’t all suit the argument we are trying to make.

For the purposes of this example we will write a shorter body paragraph that uses the following to quotations.

  1. Macbeth: “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition which o’er-leaps itself, and falls on th’other.” (1.4. 25-28)
  2. Lady Macbeth: “Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since? And wakes it now to look so green and pale at what it did so freely?” (1.5. 35-38)
  3. Macbeth: “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.” (2.2. 63-66)

We will use these because they both directly address the statement – “Macbeth’s struggle with his increasing immorality foreshadows the text’s depiction of vengeance.”

 

Step 3: Decide the order of your evidence

Paragraph structure requires logical ordering. We need to organise the evidence in a logical manner that best supports our position. This may be a sequential order that reflects the order of events in the text, or it could be more of a thematic approach that develops a theme.

In this instance we are trying to analyse the character development of Macbeth, so we will present and discuss the quotations in the sequential order they appear in the text.

Our body paragraph outline is dictated by our examples:

  1. Macbeth questions his morality.
  2. Lady Macbeth questions Macbeth’s masculinity.
  3. Macbeth comes around to Lady Macbeth’s point-of-view.
  4. Macbeth feels guilt stricken after killing King Duncan.

Notice how these quotations follow the character arc of Macbeth? This will give our paragraph a logical structure.

It is important to mentally draw up a body paragraph outline that is logically structured. This is essential for a sustained argument.

 

Step 4: Introduce your first example

There must be a logical progression to paragraph structure. The segue, that is the transition, between topic sentence and your first example must develop the idea and seem like part of an argument, not the introduction of a list.

Thus, this statement needs to connect the idea we have introduced in the topic sentence to the example from the text. So, in keeping with this process we need to connect the theme of morality and concept of character development to our first example.

That would look like this:

  • Macbeth’s struggle with his increasing immorality foreshadows the text’s depiction of vengeance. Macbeth likes the concept of wielding more power, but he struggles with the morality of acquiring it.

Consider the logical structure of this:

  • The second, bolded sentence begins to develop the concept introduced by the topic sentence.
  • It presents a logical segue to the example that we decided to use, which develops the theme of morality.

The next step in paragraph structure is to introduce the example and discuss how it is developing meaning (its technique) and what this represents (its effect).

 

Step 5: Explain the technique and effect present in the example

The body paragraph requires evidence to make an argument. Good paragraph structure requires examples to be introduced and explained.

So, now we need to explain how this example develops meaning in the text. To do this we have to present the technique and explain how it develops a theme. In this case, the theme is Macbeth’s flawed morality. We need to present information in this rough sequence:

  1. Introduce the example;
  2. Name the technique;
  3. Discuss the effect of the technique. How does it develop meaning?

For our example, the statement we would produce is:

Macbeth’s struggle with his increasing immorality foreshadows the text’s depiction of vengeance. Macbeth likes the concept of wielding more power, but he struggles with the morality of acquiring it. Macbeth uses an extended metaphor of a rider and a jumping rider to describe his ambition. His assertion that “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition which o’er-leaps itself, and falls on th’other” suggests that he is being driven by external forces, not his own drive. Consequently, his ambition is ill-planned and he perceives himself as set to eventually fail in his quest for power.

 

The bolded statement above introduces the example and states the technique – extended metaphor. (If you are unsure of what a metaphor is, and how one works you should read this post that explains metaphors.)

The underlined sentences introduce the example and explain what the technique is doing, this is its effect.

Now we need to explain why this example is relevant to our argument.

 

Step 6: Explain why this example supports your argument

Explaining why evidence supports your point is THE most important part of paragraph structure. It is the connective tissue that yokes your argument together – joining evidence to your thesis and topic sentence. You don’t have paragraph structure without these statements!

“Presenting evidence is important. But it alone doesn’t develop an argument.”

If you are being told that your “evidence does not support your position”; that you “don’t have a sustained argument”; or you are “listing evidence”, then you are either not doing this step, or not doing it adequately. This is why your paragraph structure is flawed. So let’s fix it!

Our example supports our topic sentence because it develops the character arc of Macbeth from noble to corrupted. Macbeth’s uncertainty and self-awareness, here, gives us a hint of the downfall that awaits him later in the text.

This is important analysis and an explanation of our logic. So, we should state that in our body paragraph. Matrix English students would learn to write something along the lines of:

Macbeth’s struggle with his increasing immorality foreshadows the text’s depiction of vengeance. Macbeth likes the concept of wielding more power, but he struggles with the morality of acquiring it. Macbeth uses an extended metaphor of a rider and a jumping rider to describe his ambition. His assertion that “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition which o’er-leaps itself, and falls on th’other” suggests that he is being driven by external forces, not his own drive. Consequently, his ambition is ill-planned and he perceives himself as set to fail in his quest for power. Macbeth’s struggle with the moral issues of regicide foreshadows the cycle of murder and suspicion he will fall into. Macbeth will need to continue killing to hold on to power – acts that clash with his sense of morality. 

The bolded statement explains how this piece of evidence supports the topic sentence. Now we need to introduce a new example and develop it in the same way.


Step 7: Introduce the next example and discuss it

Now that we have produced the first example and developed it into an argument, we need to continue doing this. We will repeat this process with our second example. Good paragraph structure requires a series of examples discussed in depth.

The second part of our paragraph will look like this:

Lady Macbeth pricks the sides of Macbeth’s ambition by asking him “Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since? And wakes it now to look so green and pale at what it did so freely?” (1.5. 35-38) Lady Macbeth personifies his masculinity as drunken hope, implying that he only has ambition when he is drunk and boasting and not when he is sober and doing. While Macbeth has a sense of morality, his prideful masculinity is a bigger motivator. Lady Macbeth’s insult catalyses him to discard his moral doubts and kill King Duncan.

Notice how we have included the same steps, only this time they are presented in a slightly different order.

This is perfectly fine. The main point is that you ensure all the steps are present. The order is not important as long as it reads clearly and logically.

Changing up your order of information is a way of keeping your readers engaged. You don’t want them to find your writing monotonous. It needs to be engaging!

We need to use one more example to show the development of Macbeth’s character. Let’s consider Macbeth’s significant moment of aganorisis (a moment of personal insight or realisation) from his soliloquy in Act 2 and use this to finish this body paragraph’s argument:

Macbeth soon comes to regret his act of regicideRealising the enormity of his actions and sin, Macbeth asks himself “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.” (2.2. 63-66). This hyperbolic metaphor represents a moment of aganorisis, Macbeth sees his sin to be so great that not all waters of the earth can wash the blood from his hands. Macbeth’s earlier doubt about the morality of his actions has solidified into overwhelming guilt and regret.
  • The italicised sentence introduces the idea being developed.
  • The bolded statements introduce the quotation and technique.
  • The underlined statements discuss the effect and link this example back to the topic sentence.

This piece of evidence concludes the logic of our argument. Remember the logical argument structured into our body paragraph was:

  1. Macbeth questions his morality.
  2. Lady Macbeth questions Macbeth’s masculinity.
  3. Macbeth comes around.
  4. Macbeth feels guilt stricken after killing King Duncan.

Next, we need to finish off our body paragraph with a statement that reflects the content and logic while connecting to the topic sentence and thesis.

 

Step 8: Write a concluding statement that summarises your paragraph and connects it to your thesis.

Good paragraph structure requires a body paragraph to have an independent structure as well as fit into a larger argument – the essay as a whole – as an integral part.

To finish a paragraph effectively, we need to summarise what we have been talking about. You need to craft a statement that reflects the concerns of the paragraph and connects it to the thesis statement. It needs to do this in a way that orientates the paragraph as part of an argument.

Remember our thesis was:

  • “The resolution of The Tragedy of Macbeth (1606) is driven by revenge. However, it is Shakespeare’s interrogation of the morality of Macbeth’s actions and his subsequent descent into madness that is the central focus of the text.”

And our topic sentence was:

  • “Macbeth’s struggle with his increasing immorality foreshadows the text’s depiction of vengeance”.

We argued that:

“Macbeth is a good man with a moral centre led astray by ambition.”

But this doesn’t account for the notion of vengeance we introduced in the topic sentence. Our final statement needs to address the mode of Macbeth’s downfall so it can be developed further in the essay’s final paragraph.

We can sum up our argument by stating that:

  • Thus, this reflection introduces the sense of guilt and moral turpitude that will shadow Macbeth and lead to his downfall. Macbeth is a violent, but noble individual whose desire for power corrupts him and drives him horrible acts that lead to his downfall.

You can see that this clearly connects the body paragraph to the overall argument we are making while summing up what we have just discussed.

Note that rather than making one long statement, we have broken this idea down into bite-sized chunks. This increases the readability and ensures that our readers can follow our argument. This is what good body paragraph structure does – it structures arguments logically and enhances their readability. You need to marry clarity and complexity in a body paragraph!

An exemplar Body Paragraph

Take a second to read through the whole paragraph we have written.

Macbeth’s struggle with his increasing immorality foreshadows the text’s depiction of vengeance. Macbeth likes the concept of wielding more power, but he struggles with the morality of acquiring it. Macbeth uses an extended metaphor of a rider and a jumping rider to describe his ambition. His assertion that “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition which o’er-leaps itself, and falls on th’other” (1.4.25-28) suggests that he is being driven by external forces, not his own drive. Consequently, his ambition is ill-planned and he perceives himself as set to fail in his quest for power. Macbeth’s struggle with the moral issues of regicide foreshadows the cycle of murder and suspicion he will fall into. Macbeth will need to continue killing to hold on to power, acts that clash with his sense of morality. Lady Macbeth pricks the sides of Macbeth’s ambition by asking him “Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since? And wakes it now to look so green and pale at what it did so freely?” (1.5. 35-38) Lady Macbeth personifies his masculinity as drunken hope, implying that he only has ambition when he is drunk and boasting and not when he is sober and doing. While Macbeth has a sense of morality, his prideful masculinity is a bigger motivator. Lady Macbeth’s insult catalyses him to discard his moral doubts and kill King Duncan. Macbeth soon comes to regret his act of regicide. Realising the enormity of his actions and sin, Macbeth asks himself “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red” (2.2. 63-66). This hyperbolic metaphor represents a moment of aganorisis – Macbeth sees his sin to be so great that not all waters of the earth can wash the blood from his hands. Macbeth’s earlier doubt about the morality of his actions has solidified into overwhelming guilt and regret. Thus, this reflection introduces the sense of guilt and moral turpitude that will shadow Macbeth and lead to his downfall. Macbeth is a violent, but noble individual whose desire for power corrupts him and drives him to horrible acts that lead to his downfall.

 

Clearly this is a sustained argument. Matrix students get one-to-one help from tutors and teachers to learn how to write these during the Matrix Term and Holiday courses. You must follow the same approach when you try to write you own sustained argument for your essays!

 

Step 9: Begin your next paragraph

Now that you have produced one body paragraph, you need to produce one to two more to further support your argument.

If you are unsure what to do, use this handy body paragraph structure checklist to make sure you are doing all of the steps!

 

Body Paragraph Structure – A Checklist for How to Use Evidence:

 

  1. Make sure your example is relevant to the question and thesis;
  2. Make sure that the evidence supports your topic sentence. Ask yourself, “how does this example support my argument?”
  3. Don’t list examples. Anybody can memorise a selection of examples and list them. You must produce an argument;
  4. Discuss the technique used in the example and the effect this has on meaning. (T.E.E. Structure);
  5. Explain why the example supports your argument;
  6. Ensure that you use at least three examples per paragraph.
  7. Remember, it is the quality of the example and your discussion of it that will get you the Band 6 result you need!

Always be mindful that is very important that you structure your body paragraphs in a logical and systematic manner. Why?

“Body paragraphs need to do more than present examples, they explain their relevance to audiences.”

Doing this everytime will always ensure that you are producing a sustained argument. Remember, killer body paragraph structure is the secret-sauce of a Band 6 result!

 

What next?

Now that you’ve put together an introduction and body-paragraphs you need to conclude your essay with a powerful but concise conclusion. Read our final post in our Essay Writing Series to learn how to produce a killer conclusion!

 

Want to take your English skills to the next level?

 

© Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au, 2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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