Paragraph sandwiches and all that jazz

Posted on March 14, 2014 by Marie No Comments

Writing a sophisticated research essay involves putting together a sophisticated argument.  So what is it that takes your content to the next level? What is that hooks your reader?

Tell your reader exactly where you are going to go and how you plan to get there  

Your very first sentence should assault your reader’s senses. Do not ease them into your topic. Do not ease them into your argument. In your introduction, be confident and be upfront – tell them exactly what your essay will cover, tell them exactly what arguments you will be drawing upon, and tell them exactly what you will be concluding. Don’t be shy!

I like to think of it this way – if you are half in/half out in your introduction, your reader will only ever be, at best, half convinced that your argument has merit. To have a shot at a committed reader, you need to be a committed writer. It is better to state your argument strongly than hide behind a meek, roundabout, descriptive introduction. If you are wrong, you are wrong, so you might as well state your case properly.

Adopt solid structural choices

You want reading your essay to be a pleasant experience. Going in circles is awfully disorienting. To overcome your reader tuning out to preserve their own sanity – you need to make sure that your paragraphs are well-structured.  So what exactly does this involve?

Progression. Your paragraphs need to progress, both internally and from one paragraph to the next.

Internal progression means having a paragraph sandwich. Each section of your paragraph has a unique role to play, and would be nothing without what comes before it. The first piece of bread is your topic sentence. Introduce your point in a sentence. Then provide your filling:  explain your point. Give examples, draw upon case law, outline the relevant statutory provision, summarise academic commentary that interprets or criticises the legal principles.  Then, this is where it gets really exciting: add your own unique, full-of-flavour sauce. GIVE YOUR OPINION! Do you agree or disagree with your filling? And then: close it all off with another piece of bread. In one sentence summarise the point you have just proven in your excellent sandwich.

Now unfortunately, I don’t have a good food analogy for explaining how you make your essay progress from one paragraph to the next. So we’ll need to stick to a basic building metaphor. Your essay is a wall. Your paragraphs are bricks. Your wall looks the prettiest when the bricks are neatly stacked on top of each other, with concrete sticking them together (? Is it concrete? Or grout? I have no practical skills. But luckily, book nerd looks good on me) The concrete/grout is integral. Without it your wall falls down.

What this wonderful imagery means for your essay writing is that there needs to be some reason why your paragraphs flow from one idea to the next. What binds them together? Do they approach the same issue from a different perspective? Are they a new example that is similarly persuasive? Are they outlining a theory in more depth? Do they deal with conflicting arguments?

You need to be able to see the big picture with your essay and know where everything fits in. Take a step back. Observe what you’d written. If you can’t bridge two paragraphs by way of a succinct topic sentence, think about whether the work actually adds anything to your argument.

A strongly stated, internally consistent and coherent essay is a joy to behold. Best of luck!


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© Marie Katherine Hadley 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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