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Developing your essay

Learn more about how to develop your essay: from brainstorming to organizing your writing

Body paragraph checklist

If you're reviewing body paragraphs before submitting an essay or article, see below for 10 common problem areas. Please note that there may be differing expectations based on the document type and audience (e.g., course essay, dissertation, journal article); if you are unsure of what is expected for your work, please check with your instructor, program head, or journal editor before you submit the document. For information on writing academic paragraphs, please visit Body Paragraphs.

1.  Is the first line of the paragraph indented 0.5 in.or 1.27 cm, as per the APA Style rules?

See #7 in the APA Style Formatting Checklist or the APA Style (7th ed.) Formatting Checklist for information.

2.  Does the topic sentence, which is usually the first sentence of a paragraph, present a clear claim or argument?

A claim or argument is a defendable statement with which someone could agree or disagree. Have you clearly stated your position in the first sentence of the paragraph? To learn more about how claims differ from facts, please see the Claims and Facts video. Also, is there a clear connection between the claim expressed in the topic sentence and the thesis statement for the document?

For more information, see Topic Sentence with Argument/Claim in the Writing an Academic Paragraph video and links to resources in the More Paragraphing Resources.

3.  Have you provided evidence (e.g., quotations or paraphrases) that support the claim?

Think of the reader as someone who disagrees with your claim; what evidence would be most convincing to change that reader’s mind? Have you presented that evidence in your paragraph? For more information, see Research Evidence in the Writing an Academic Paragraph video.

4.  If you’re using quotations, are the quotations presented within sentences versus acting as stand-alone sentences?

Embedding quotations in sentences gives context that will help your reader understand why you think the quotations are relevant or significant. Do you have any stand-alone quotations in your paragraphs? See Is My Quotation Effective? and Introducing Quotations in Quoting, Summarizing, and Paraphrasing for more information.

5.  If you’re paraphrasing information, is the wording sufficiently different to avoid any concerns about plagiarism?

Paraphrasing requires authors to explain other authors' ideas in their own words, but paraphrasing involves more than moving a few words around or swapping words out for other words. Paraphrases that are too close to the original may be considered plagiarism; see Summarizing and Paraphrasing in Quoting, Summarizing, and Paraphrasing for information and examples.

6.  Have you cited all quotations and paraphrases per the APA Style rules?

Failing to cite quotations and paraphrases is plagiarism, and failing to cite quotations and paraphrases correctly may also be considered plagiarism. See the APA Style Citations Checklist or the APA Style (7th ed.) Citations Checklist for information and examples.

7.  Have you provided your analysis to explain how you connect the evidence to the claim?

Are you helping the reader understand your thinking about the connection between the evidence and the claim, versus leaving it up to the reader to understand the connection as you do? See Analysis in the Writing an Academic Paragraph video; also see Who is Your Audience?

8.  Have you provided a conclusion that indicates the discussion in the paragraph is finishing and reminds the reader of the key details?

See Conclusion in the Writing an Academic Paragraph video for more information.

9.  Have you provided a transition to the next paragraph?

See Transition in the Writing an Academic Paragraph video for more information.

10.  Have you used transitional words and/or phrases throughout the paragraph to connect ideas? 

Transitional expressions (e.g., for example, therefore) help to link ideas within paragraphs so your reader can easily see how the ideas work together to provide a well-structured argument. For more information and examples, see Transitional Expressions and Transitional Sentences.

Bonus tip

Read the paragraph out loud slowly enough that someone else could understand you to check for easily missed errors, such as typos, grammatical errors, and overly long sentences. If you have to take a breath before a sentence is done, it’s likely the sentence is too long.

For planning templates that incorporate paragraph structure, see Finalize Your Document Plan and Plan Writing With PowerPoint.

Download the body paragraph checklist