The main body is the key part of your essay, where the bulk of your marks will be gained or lost. In this Bite we’ll look at how to tackle the main body, with particular focus on the individual building blocks of your essay – paragraphs. We’ll illustrate a simple paragraph model which will help you write a main body that is well structured, properly evidenced, and critically engaged with the task at hand.
The Main Body
The main body is the most important part of your answer and is where most of the marks will be gained or lost. When planning the main body, you should be conscious of how well the paragraphs flow on from each other – whilst it’s not always possible to have a completely smooth structure, there should be some sort of logic to the order in which you deal with different points. This is where a failure to plan can really cost you (see Essay Bite 3). If you simply start writing, you are much more likely to produce a poorly structured answer which jumps backwards and forwards between largely unrelated points.
When thinking about planning your main body, it might be helpful to think about paragraphs as individual units of argument. A good general rule is one point = one paragraph. Each paragraph should have a distinct job to do in your essay, be that to provide some background detail or to make a specific point or argument.
Another important thing to think about is paragraph length. Whilst there is no optimum length, it’s definitely possible to have paragraphs that are too long or too short. If you tend to write very long paragraphs, it’s worth checking that you’re not breaking the one point per paragraph rule. Consider splitting the paragraph up in such circumstances, to ensure that each of your points or arguments gets the space to develop fully. More problematic are short paragraphs. These are often easy to spot because you’ll see several short, one or two sentence paragraphs on the same page, almost resembling a series of bullet points rather than fully developed arguments.
One basic way of structuring your main body paragraphs which helps you stick to the one point per paragraph rule as well as ensuring appropriate paragraph length is to think about paragraphs as a cup of T.E.A.
T = Topic Sentence
Skilled writers make use of topic sentences to signpost and give structure to their work. A topic sentence is really just an introduction to the paragraph; it states the main topic or point of the paragraph without going into any detail. Topic sentences can also be used as structuring devices – for example, if a paragraph begins, ‘However, other studies suggest…’ then your reader knows that you are going on to give an alternative argument to that in the preceding paragraph.
E = Evidence
This is where you show off the fruits of your research. In academic work, we need to back up our points or arguments with cited evidence – this might be in the form of a quote, or you might paraphrase someone else’s arguments, or you may draw upon images, tables and figures, or even your own primary research.
A = Analysis
Some students struggle with this aspect of essay writing. But if you’re not being analytical, then all you’re really doing is presenting other people’s ideas and words. It’s your own analysis that will elevate an essay from the lower end of the marking scale towards the higher marks. To help ensure you’re being sufficiently analytical, look at your topic sentence and evidence and ask yourself the question ‘So what?’ How does the evidence help you illustrate your point? What do you want your reader to notice? How does this point help you to advance your overall argument(s)? These questions will help you to interrogate your ideas and encourage a sufficient level of critical depth.
It should be noted that T.E.A. is a simple approach, and that sometimes you will need to write more complex paragraphs. However, this model gives you the basis for including all the elements you need for a well-structured and convincingly argued essay. And if you can build an awareness of this structure into your research and planning, you’ll make the writing-up process a whole lot more straightforward.