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Academic Essay Structure

Body Paragraph Structure

  1. Topic Sentence - the main idea of the paragraph
  2. Evidence - material supporting the claim or main idea
  3. Analysis - your explanation of how the evidence supports the topic sentence
  4. Concluding sentence - claim's significance and connection to the thesis

Body Paragraph Tips

  • Develop one main idea in each paragraph
  • Break up complex ideas into multiple paragraphs (a main point can be discussed across multiple paragraphs)
  • Keep each paragraph approximately ½ to ¾ page long


Student emotional stress and anxiety can be effectively reduced through therapy dog programming. Access to animals in a therapeutic setting has been proven to positively impact mental health (Creagan et al., 2015, p. 101). Creagan et al. have argued that this type of therapy is so successful because petting animals encourages the production of chemicals essential to brain function, like prolactin, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. These mood-stabilizing chemicals assist in generating feelings of comfort, which can be particularly useful in stressful contexts like colleges and universities. In a pilot study of 109 nursing students, a semester of therapy dog programming on campus contributed to a decrease in reported anxiety symptoms (Hall, 2018, p. 205).  This study’s findings illustrate the power of animal therapy programs on student emotional well-being. Furthermore, a reduction in anxiety may have the potential to bolster resistance to emotional distress and associated conditions like depression. The availability of animal support like this on-campus can significantly impact students’ general emotional well-being and mental health.

Topic Sentence

  • The first sentence of a paragraph the topic sentence; it highlights the main assertion of the paragraph
  • Explicit topic sentences are a unique hallmark of academic writing. You can find great examples of them in most academic journal articles, but you won’t find them in most popular nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, or websites




  • If your evidence comes from research, it must be cited & referenced.
  • Evaluate your sources before deciding to use them (be critical of where you find information).
  • Avoid piling up research without explaining how or why it supports your argument.




Making a convincing argument requires the integration of evidence into your paper using quoting and paraphrasing. Quoting is when you use your source’s exact words in the same order (copy and paste). Paraphrasing is when you put a source’s ideas into your own words and sentence structure.

  • APA style generally prefers paraphrasing over quotation.
  • Quotations can be useful if you need to show the importance of a quote or its author, keep technical wording, or evaluate the way someone said or wrote something.
Method Example Explanation
Quotation (Narrative Citation) Hall (2018) confirmed that “a therapy dog on campus throughout the semester helped significantly decrease students’ symptoms of anxiety” (pp. 204-205). Citation is required for quoted material. Reporting verbs help introduce quotations. Quotation marks “_” go around copy and pasted (quoted) material.
Quotation (Parenthetical Citation) Therapy dogs can be useful for everyone, and anecdotally, even “nursing faculty might also benefit from a therapy dog’s presence” (Hall, 2018, p. 205). Framing contextualizes quoted material.
Altered Quotation This study found that “[nursing students] demonstrated a variety of activities while interacting with the therapy dog…[like] using a toy to play fetch or asking the dog to do a trick and then rewarding the dog with a treat” (Hall, 2018, p. 204). Square brackets [ ] let you add clarifying material that was not in the original text. Elipses … tell your reader that you have removed part of a longer quotation.
Paraphrase (Narrative Citation) Creagan et al. (2015) have argued that this type of therapy is so successful because petting animals encourages the production of chemicals essential to brain function (p. 102). Citation is required for paraphrased material. Reporting verbs can help you introduce paraphrased material.
Paraphrase (Parenthetical Citation) In a pilot study of 109 nursing students, a semester of therapy dog programming on campus contributed to a decrease in reported anxiety symptoms (Hall, 2018, p. 205). Framing contextualizes paraphrased material too.


You need to contextualize evidence so that your reader understands where it came from and how you are using it in your argument.

Purpose Examples
Report evidence Smith (2020) asserted that ______ (p. 4).
Indicate evidence in agreement Recent findings from a Conestoga College study have confirmed that ______ (Smith, 2020, p. 4).
Indicate evidence in disagreement A local union contented ______ (Smith, 2020, p. 4).
Indicate possibility Smith (2020) suggested that ______ (p. 4).
Introduce examples A useful example of ______ is ______ (Smith, 2020, p. 4).
This claim is evidenced by ______(Smith, 2020, p. 4).
Evidence for ______ includes ______ (Smith, 2020, p. 4).
Introduce study findings Smith et al. (2020) illustrated ______ by ________ in their study of _________ (p.4).
In a study of ____, Smith (2020) found ______(p. 4).
Introduce definitions Historically, ____ has meant ____, but Smith (2020) describes its meaning as ______ (p. 4).
____ refers to ______ (Smith, 2020, p. 4).
According to Smith (2020), _____ means ______(p. 4).


  • In a courtroom, the prosecution and defence interpret the same material to make vastly different arguments; it's your job, just like a lawyer, to explain how the evidence supports your argument 
  • Analysis should be your voice (notice it is not cited)
  • You control the meaning of your evidence-- don't leave your reader guessing




Analysis Starters

You can use these sentence starters to help you begin analyzing the evidence you incorporate into your papers.

Analysis Prompt Sentence Starter
What does the research mean? In other words ______.
Why is the research interesting or effective?  Her research is interesting because it shows ______.
How does this research support your thesis?  This research demonstrates ______. impacts ______.
Why is this research important to your argument? Since ______ impacts ______, it is important to ______.
What does the research imply?  This research suggests that ______.
What are the strengths or weaknesses of the research? Although the author ______, he fails to ______.

Concluding Sentence

  • Lead your reader through your paper; now that they have read this paragraph, what next & so what? 
  • In longer papers, concluding sentences can help link complex ideas together that have been broken up over multiple paragraphs