Archived Material (writing)

This book is about the strategies that you can employ in order to write well, and the writing process. It deals with the mechanics of writing well, as well as offering an approach to academic writing.

Writing academically


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To create a perfectly-formed paragraph:

  • Give one main idea -this can be supported and sit in its own paragraph.
  • Express your main idea with the topic sentence – a clear statement of the main idea.
  • The remainder of the paragraph should give support to the topic sentence.
  •  Avoid including any more main ideas in this paragraph.
  • Start a new paragraph when you find yourself wanting to write a new topic sentence.
  • A linking sentence can be put in before the topic sentence if you want to link this paragraph to the previous one.

Techniques to support the main idea:

  • Explanation - Clarify your point. Define any important terms. Rephrase what you said. Work through any difficult or confusing concepts.
  • Expansion - Give details. Give additional information. Build a bigger, broader understanding.
  • Illustration - Give examples. Use real incidents, recorded activities or anecdotes. Quote the experts. Compare and contrast to other ideas.
  • Evidence - Give facts, facts, statistics or a chronology of events. Quote the experts.
  • Application - How does the idea work? What does it imply? What effects does it have? What examples of the idea in action can you cite?

Techniques to achieve clear referencing back to the main idea:

  • key words - Repeating key words from the main idea, or synonyms (words with the same meaning)
  • pronouns - (it, she, they) referring to a person or thing already mentioned
  • reference words - (that, this) which link related ideas, e.g. One such experiment...; In this way,...; These academics...
  • general class words - (these characteristics, this process, theories like this)
  • linking expressions - (Another example of this is..., To support this concept...)

Example: "I met John yesterday. He said he needs to see you."
John is the main idea, and the supporting sentence refers to John as ‘he’. Make it clear that each of your supporting sentences are about the same main idea.

Pay close attention to the characteristics of a bad paragraph below.

A badly written paragraph will often have:

1. More than one main idea

Example: "Academic writing must have clearly written sentences. It must also have clearly written paragraphs. Clear sentences are short, to the point and have both subject and predicate. Clearly written paragraphs give main ideas in a topic sentence, supported by other sentences. They must have coherence. This is, each part of the sentence must be logically related and show the links between sentences."

Commentary: Unfortunately this paragraph deals with two main ideas. They are main ideas because both of them are supported by other sentences (e.g. ‘Clear sentence are...’ and ‘Clearly written paragraphs give...’). Mixing up main ideas means that the reference words get confused and the idea being talked about can get mixed up.

Improved version:"Academic writing must have clearly written sentences. Clear sentences are short, to the point and have both subject and predicate. Sentences also need to have coherence. This is, each part of the sentence must be logically related.Further, academic writing must also have clearly written paragraphs. Good paragraphs give main ideas in a topic sentence, supported by other sentences. Paragraphs also must have coherence. This is done by have clear links between sentences."

2. An undeveloped main idea

Example:"You must write clear paragraphs when you are writing an academic essay. Simple as that."

Commentary: This example paragraph does have a topic sentence and it sounds like it’s stating a clear main idea – ‘clear paragraphs’. However, it gives no further information, and nothing to support the main idea.This paragraph is undeveloped. The main idea has no support.

3. An unclear main idea

Example: "Keep it simple, you don’t need three huge words when one little one will do. Short, simple sentences and simple words; you’ll understand much better than any super-long, jargon-filled academic diatribe will get you. You’ve got to show what links your thinking as well and the best way to do that is to plan it all out with diagrams, map it out, shape up the structure before you actually start to write the thing and that’s what makes it work."

Commentary: the paragraph seems to introduce several main ideas: using short words; using short sentences; linking ideas together; planning an essay. However, it is unclear which of these ideas are intended as a main idea. None of them are developed.

Sentences and paragraphs summary (PDF opens in new window)