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Structuring and Writing your Essay : sub-module 2 of 3 of academic writing under types of writing hub

Academic Writing is the main form of writing required in post-secondary education. It involves understanding the key components of how to write an essay, formulate an argument or main idea, conduct academic research, integrate sources, and write effectively.


Top Tips

  • Structure your paper.Most writing will have some form of an introduction with supporting paragraphs or points and a conclusion.
  • Remember your topic sentences.If you are writing paragraphs, each supporting paragraph should have a clear topic sentence.
  • Never “drop” a quotation into your writing.Always introduce the quotation and explain it after.
  • You don’t always have to use a quotation to make your point.You can get the key point and express it in your own words (paraphrasing and/or summarizing).
  • Use transitional words or phrases – signal words. This will help your reader see the relationships between the sentences, between the paragraphs, and in the development and support of your ideas.
  • Cite all of your sources of support.Plagiarism is painful. The college librarians can help.

Writing Effective Paragraphs

Writing clear, well-structured paragraphs is key to an effective essay. Paragraphs must be ‘on topic’ or unified. They should flow together with transitional words or phrases to help your reader see the relationships between the sentences, between the paragraphs, and in the development and support of your ideas. Browse the tabs for information on the following aspects of writing effective paragraphs:

  • Types of paragraphs
  • Paragraph structure
  • Transitions

Learn About the Types of Paragraphs and How to Use Them

Paragraphs are normally grouped into longer structures like articles, essays, or reports. In these larger structures, specific paragraphs have specific, specialized purposes or functions. When developing your ideas in written form, be aware of the specialized roles that your paragraphs play, and ensure that they are doing what you want them to do.

Watch this video or read the text below to learn about the types of paragraphs found in an academic essay.

The Introductory Paragraph is sometimes viewed as a ‘hook’ or ‘grabber’. In part, its function is to engage readers and make them want to continue reading. It also introduces the main ideas to be supported in the essay and should present the thesis or claim— in other words, the writer’s position on a subject.

The Supporting Paragraphs do just what their name suggests: they support the thesis. That is a critically important job. Support paragraphs focus on a specific topic or point of support and develop that point of support by discussing and presenting reasons, evidence, and examples that are designed to convince us that the thesis is, in fact, worth considering.

Take time in developing your supporting paragraphs. They can make or break your essay. Use examples or evidence from credible sources to support and illustrate your points.

Finally, we have the Concluding Paragraph. This is the writer’s last chance to engage the reader. Typically, it will present the thesis and the supporting points for the final time in a mini-summary. The writer might want to bring things together at the end, maybe by stressing the importance or significance of your argument, by asking questions that keep your readers thinking, or by suggesting actions that they might take.

Elements of a Supporting Paragraph

Watch this video or read the text below to learn about the elements of a paragraph.

A supporting paragraph in an academic essay should have five main elements. Learn more about each element below.

The topic sentence of a supporting paragraph should begin with your point. It should clearly state the topic of the paragraph and make a connection to the thesis. The topic sentence is usually at the beginning of the paragraph.

The point you made in the topic sentence should be further discussed in this section. The writer must make the significance of the issue clear to the reader.

The point made in the topic sentence and elaboration sections should be followed up with a specific supportive example. Readers tend to remember examples more because they illustrate the point clearly. Evidence is also another form of support for your paragraph.

This can include quotations or paraphrased passages with the proper documentation. When you use quotations or paraphrases, make sure to include an introduction to a quotation or paraphrase (often called a 'lead-in' phrase), the quotation/paraphrase, the citation for the sourced material, and an explanation of how the sourced material relates to your point. (Step 3 should be repeated for each quotation/paraphrase).

This sentence should restate the main point as a way to conclude the paragraph. Remember: The reader is not as aware of the ideas as the writer is, so it is the responsibility of the writer to keep the reader on track by restating the main idea from the beginning of the paragraph at the end.

Transitions are important parts of the essay. They help to guide the reader through the paragraphs and the essay, in general, in order to better understand the points and the overall argument. A transition doesn’t have to be a sentence or two. It can be a word, a phrase or even several sentences.

Review What You've Learned

Activity: Accessible PDF Version- opens in a new window

Learn About Transitions and How to Use Them

Transitional words and phrases help show relationships between ideas, create a logical flow, and create a sense of connectedness called Coherence. Transitional words and phrases can be used both within and between paragraphs to create a sense of flow.

Watch this video or read the text below to learn about transitional words and phrases, and how to use them in your writing.

Below, you will find examples of transitional words and phrases that you can use in your own writing. For a longer list of transition words and phrases, download the PDF 'Transitional Words and Phrasesopens in new window.

  • and
  • in addition
  • furthermore
  • moreover
  • above all
  • especially
  • indeed
  • in fact
  • of course
  • most important

For Comparison

  • similarly
  • in the same way
  • likewise

For Contrast

  • although
  • but
  • despite
  • even though
  • however
  • in contrast
  • on the other hand
  • whereas
  • yet

For Cause

  • because
  • for this reason

For Effect

  • as a result
  • consequently
  • so
  • therefore
  • after
  • before
  • finally
  • first (etc.)
  • in future
  • meanwhile
  • then
  • when
  • while
  • consequently
  • finally
  • in conclusion
  • in short
  • in summary
  • on the whole
  • so
  • to conclude
  • to summarize

Writing your Essay

In academic essays, you need to back up your arguments with supporting information such as quotations and facts from other sources. You also need to use your own words to show that you understand the information. Regardless of how you include supporting evidence, you always need cite your sources. Browse the tabs for information on the following aspects of incorporating sources into your essay:

  • Quotations
  • Summarizing
  • Paraphrasing
  • Citing and Academic Integrity

Using Quotations in Essays Without Making a Splash

Watch this video to learn how to include quotations in your essays in a seamless and effective way.

Answers to Your Quotation Questions

A quotation, or quote, is someone else’s thoughts or ideas used word-for-word in writing in order to provide evidence or support.

Quotations are only one of the ways that you can integrate sources into your writing. Here are the reasons you might choose to use a quotation instead of a paraphrasing or summarizing:

  • The quotation is worthy of further analysis.
  • The author’s words are particularly strong or memorable (the passage cannot be adequately expressed in another way).
  • The quotation lends credibility to an argument by enlisting the support of an authority on the topic.

If the exact wording of an argument is not important, consider paraphrasing or summarizing the passage.

When you include a quotation, it is helpful to integrate the quote into your sentence or paragraph by giving some context to the quotation. The following verbs and phrases are among those commonly used to introduce quotations:

  • writes
  • claims
  • says
  • According to X,
  • Explains
  • Suggests
  • Argues
  • In X’s view,
  • States
  • Concludes
  • Demonstrates
  • In the words of X,

All quotations should be credited to the source in both the essay and in a Works Cited page. Some well-known style guides include the MLA, the APA, and the Chicago Manual. Quotations are formatted differently depending on their length. The following examples are in the MLA style.

Short quotations

Normally, quotations should be integrated into the paragraph while maintaining the flow of the essay. Short quotations are identified by the use of quotation marks. Punctuation within a quotation should remain unchanged except for the last period in the sentence, which should instead appear after the citation.


In reference to the time period of “A Tale of Two Cities,” Dickens writes, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” (11).

Long quotations

A quotation that is longer than three lines should be formatted as a block quotation. Long quotations should only be used when absolutely necessary as they may disrupt the flow of an essay and are sometimes viewed as an attempt by the writer to lengthen the essay. Note that quotation marks are not used for block quotations and that the citation sits outside of the ending period. Long quotations should be introduced with a colon after the lead in.


“A Tale of Two Cities” begins with a passage that effectively uses anaphora and oxymora to illustrate the parallels and contradictions present in the story:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, . . . we had everything before us, we had nothing before us . . . – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. (Dickens 11)

Altering the source’s words

A quotation may have to be altered because it is too long, or its tense or grammatical structure is different from the rest of the essay. Missing text is indicated with an ellipsis (. . .). Other changes to the text should be within square brackets.


Dickens describes the great divide between the rich and the poor before the French Revolution as, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, . . . we had everything before us, we had nothing before us” (11). At the end of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” Prospero wishes to return to a real life in Milan, where “every third thought shall be [his] grave” (V.i.308).

A quotation should be followed by an analysis of its importance. It should provide support for, but never take the place of, the writer’s argument. As such, the writer should try to avoid ending a paragraph with a quotation.

Summarizing a Source

A summary is a brief description of the main ideas or concepts in an essay, article or story. It is very useful in determining what information is necessary and what information acts as ‘filler’; that is, what are unnecessary details. It is often an account of someone else’s ideas, and so it is important to give credit to the author. When somebody reads your summary, they should be able to get a clear idea of what the essay, article or story is about without actually reading the original.

Here are some tips to help you write a summary:

  • Use the title, the first paragraph, the concluding paragraph and any special print features or diagrams to help you find the author’s thesis or central point.
  • Examine concluding paragraphs closely. As part of their function, they often contain mini-summaries.
  • When you read the middle or supporting paragraphs, ask yourself what purpose they serve. Their primary purpose is to introduce points of support— you need those!
  • Pay close attention to the topic sentences of the supporting paragraphs.
  • Pay attention to transitional words and phrases that act as signals. For example: Another reason is….
  • Leave out extended examples. In summarizing, these examples are unnecessary.
  • Make it very clear to the reader that you are presenting the author’s ideas, not your own. Use phrases like "According to the author…", or "The author concludes that…"
  • Paraphrase the author’s ideas. Don’t ‘copy and paste’.
  • Use direct quotations sparingly in your summary. Allow yourself only the very best quotation where the author makes the point in a striking, memorable way.
  • Save your critical reactions to the author’s ideas for that part of the assignment that asks you to comment or criticize.

Paraphrasing a Source

A paraphrase is the rewording of a passage into one’s own words. It generally deals with smaller sections of text, such as one paragraph, rather than an entire story or essay.

Paraphrasing is used for information in non-fiction documents.

It is usually used to restate a piece of information for use as a secondary source in an essay. Fiction, however, is more focused on descriptive language and can't be captured effectively by paraphrasing.

Paraphrasing is primarily about summarizing information in non-fiction documents.

A summary condenses and highlights only the key points in a passage, whereas a paraphrase restates the original in different words. A summary is a more useful tool for dealing with an essay or story. It helps to highlight only the main points. A paraphrase is more useful for indirectly quoting small passages from a source, by telling exactly what it says, but saying it in your own words.

  • Look away from the original, then write.
  • Take notes, then go back a few days later and try to paraphrase again. It is sometimes good to have some distance from the passage so you can put it in context and retain the main ideas.
  • Change the structure. Start at a different point in the paragraph or passage. This will force alternate sentence construction and varied word choice.
  • Combine multiple short sentences and try to edit and shorten lengthy sentences.
  • Change words and phrases from the original and avoid repetition.

Rules for paraphrasing

  1. Only use a limited number of words from the original, or else it will be necessary to use quotation marks.
  2. Keep the paraphrase approximately the same length as the original.
  3. It is necessary to cite paraphrased passages directly after the paraphrase, not only in the 'Works Cited' list or bibliography.
  4. Try to use paraphrasing as an alternative to using direct quotes, which should be reserved for remarkable words/phrases that can’t be expressed in any other words.
  5. Understand the article as a whole before you paraphrase. It is important to understand what the article is about and what the author’s stance on the topic is before you try to explain what he or she is saying.
  6. Do not merely replace words with synonyms. It is necessary to restate the whole meaning in a completely different way. Synonym – a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another in the same language.

Shared language

Shared language is the language shared among a group of people in a certain discipline or genre.

The following categories are types of shared language:

  • Conventional designations, e.g. physician’s assistant; chronic back pain
  • Preferred bias-free language, e.g. persons with disabilities
  • Technical terms and phrases of a discipline or genre, e.g. reduplication, cognitive domain, material culture, sexual harassment.

You do not need to cite shared language. It is more like terminology than a way of expressing something. It is better to use shared language than to attempt to express simple concepts in your own words.

  • Citing: Paraphrased, summarized, and quoted passages must all be acknowledged using an appropriate citation system – usually MLA or APA – both within your piece and in a stand-alone page at the end of an essay. Visit this module for help citing your sources.
  • Academic Integrity: Academic integrity means upholding the values of your school with respect to the production of your academic work. Visit this module to make sure you understand your responsibilities as a student and scholar.