of a Research Paper
The main part of your research paper is called “the body.” To write this important part of your paper, include only relevant information, or information that gets to the point. Organize your ideas in a logical order—one that makes sense—and provide enough details—facts and examples—to support the points you want to make.
- Writing the Body Paragraphs
- Transition Words and Phrases
- Writing Topic Sentences
- Writing Transition Sentences
- How to Make Effective Transitions
- Examples of Effective Transitions
- Drafting Your Conclusion
Writing the Body Paragraphs
The first sentence of your body should continue the transition from the end of your introduction to present your first topic. Often too, your first sentence will be your “topic sentence,” the sentence that presents the topic, point, or argument that will be presented in the paragraph. The body of the paragraph should contain evidence, in the form of a discussion using quotations and examples, that supports or “proves” the topic. The final sentence of the paragraph should provide a transition to the third paragraph of the paper where the second topic will be presented.
- The third and fourth paragraphs follow the same format as the second:
- Transition or topic sentence.
- Topic sentence (if not included in the first sentence).
- Supporting sentences including a discussion, quotations, or examples that support the topic sentence.
- Concluding sentence that transitions to the next paragraph.
The topic of each paragraph will be supported by the evidence you itemized in your outline. However, just as smooth transitions are required to connect your paragraphs, the sentences you write to present your evidence should possess transition words that connect ideas, focus attention on relevant information, and continue your discussion in a smooth and fluid manner.
You presented the main idea of your paper in the thesis statement. In the body, every single paragraph must support that main idea. If any paragraph in your paper does not, in some way, back up the main idea expressed in your thesis statement, it is not relevant, which means it doesn’t have a purpose and shouldn’t be there.
Each paragraph also has a main idea of its own. That main idea is stated in a topic sentence, either at the beginning or somewhere else in the paragraph. Just as every paragraph in your paper supports your thesis statement, every sentence in each paragraph supports the main idea of that paragraph by providing facts or examples that back up that main idea. If a sentence does not support the main idea of the paragraph, it is not relevant and should be left out.
A paper that makes claims or states ideas without backing them up with facts or clarifying them with examples won’t mean much to readers. Make sure you provide enough supporting details for all your ideas. And remember that a paragraph can’t contain just one sentence. A paragraph needs at least two or more sentences to be complete. If a
paragraph has only one or two sentences, you probably haven’t provided enough support for your main idea. Or, if you have trouble finding the main idea, maybe you don’t have one. In that case, you can make the sentences part of another paragraph or leave them out.
Arrange the paragraphs in the body of your paper in an order that makes sense, so that each main idea follows logically from the previous one. Likewise, arrange the sentences in each paragraph in a logical order.
If you carefully organized your notes and made your outline, your ideas will fall into place naturally as you write your draft. The main ideas, which are building blocks of each section or each paragraph in your paper, come from the Roman-numeral headings in your outline. The supporting details under each of those main ideas come from the capital-letter headings. In a shorter paper, the capital-letter headings may become sentences that include supporting details, which come from the Arabic numerals in your outline. In a longer paper, the capital letter headings may become paragraphs of their own, which contain sentences with the supporting details, which come from the Arabic numerals in your outline.
Transition Words and Phrases
In addition to keeping your ideas in logical order, transitions are another way to guide readers from one idea to another. Transition words and phrases are important
when you are suggesting or pointing out similarities between ideas, themes, opinions, or a set of facts. As with any perfect phrase, transition words within paragraphs should not be used gratuitously. Their meaning must conform to what you are trying to point out, as shown in the examples below:
- “Accordingly” or “in accordance with” indicates agreement. For example :Thomas Edison’s experiments with electricity accordingly followed the theories of Benjamin Franklin, J. B. Priestly, and other pioneers of the previous century.
- “Analogous” or “analogously” contrasts different things or ideas that perform similar functions or make similar expressions. For example: A computer hard drive is analogous to a filing cabinet. Each stores important documents and data.
- “By comparison” or “comparatively”points out differences between things that otherwise are similar. For example: Roses require an alkaline soil. Azaleas, by comparison, prefer an acidic soil.
- “Corresponds to” or “correspondingly” indicates agreement or conformity. For example: The U.S. Constitution corresponds to England’s Magna Carta in so far as both established a framework for a parliamentary system.
- “Equals,”“equal to,” or “equally” indicates the same degree or quality. For example:Vitamin C is equally as important as minerals in a well-balanced diet.
- “Equivalent” or “equivalently” indicates two ideas or things of approximately the same importance, size, or volume. For example:The notions of individual liberty and the right to a fair and speedy trial hold equivalent importance in the American legal system.
- “Common” or “in common with” indicates similar traits or qualities. For example: Darwin did not argue that humans were descended from the apes. Instead, he maintained that
they shared a common ancestor.
- “In the same way,”“in the same manner,”“in the same vein,” or “likewise,” connects comparable traits, ideas, patterns, or activities. For example: John Roebling’s suspension bridges in Brooklyn and Cincinnati were built in the same manner, with strong cables to support a metallic roadway. Example 2: Despite its delicate appearance, John Roebling’s
Brooklyn Bridge was built as a suspension bridge supported by strong cables. Example 3: Cincinnati’s Suspension Bridge, which Roebling also designed, was likewise supported by cables.
- “Kindred” indicates that two ideas or things are related by quality or character. For example: Artists Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin are considered kindred spirits in the Impressionist Movement. “Like” or “as” are used to create a simile that builds reader understanding by comparing two dissimilar things. (Never use “like” as slang, as in: John Roebling was like a bridge designer.) For examples: Her eyes shone like the sun. Her eyes were as bright as the sun.
- “Parallel” describes events, things, or ideas that occurred at the same time or that follow similar logic or patterns of behavior. For example:The original Ocktoberfests were held to occur in parallel with the autumn harvest.
- “Obviously” emphasizes a point that should be clear from the discussion. For example: Obviously, raccoons and other wildlife will attempt to find food and shelter in suburban areas as
their woodland habitats disappear.
- “Similar” and “similarly” are used to make like comparisons. For example: Horses and ponies have similar physical characteristics although, as working farm animals, each was bred to perform different functions.
- “There is little debate” or “there is consensus” can be used to point out agreement. For example:There is little debate that the polar ice caps are melting.The question is whether global warming results from natural or human-made causes.
Other phrases that can be used to make transitions or connect ideas within paragraphs include:
- Use “alternately” or “alternatively” to suggest a different option.
- Use “antithesis” to indicate a direct opposite.
- Use “contradict” to indicate disagreement.
- Use “on the contrary” or “conversely” to indicate that something is different from what it seems.
- Use “dissimilar” to point out differences between two things.
- Use “diverse” to discuss differences among many things or people.
- Use “distinct” or “distinctly” to point out unique qualities.
- Use “inversely” to indicate an opposite idea.
- Use “it is debatable,” “there is debate,” or “there is disagreement” to suggest that there is more than one opinion about a subject.
- Use “rather” or “rather than” to point out an exception.
- Use “unique” or “uniquely” to indicate qualities that can be found nowhere else.
- Use “unlike” to indicate dissimilarities.
- Use “various” to indicate more than one kind.
Writing Topic Sentences
Remember, a sentence should express a complete thought, one thought per sentence—no more, no less. The longer and more convoluted your sentences become, the more likely you are to muddle the meaning, become repetitive, and bog yourself down in issues of grammar and construction. In your first draft, it is generally a good idea to keep those sentences relatively short and to the point. That way your ideas will be clearly stated.You will be able to clearly see the content that you have put down—what is there and what is missing—and add or subtract material as it is needed. The sentences will probably seem choppy and even simplistic.The purpose of a first draft is to ensure that you have recorded all the content you will need to make a convincing argument. You will work on smoothing and perfecting the language in subsequent drafts.
Transitioning from your topic sentence to the evidence that supports it can be problematic. It requires a transition, much like the transitions needed to move from one paragraph to the next. Choose phrases that connect the evidence directly to your topic sentence.
Phrases for Supporting Topic Sentences
- Consider this: (give an example or state evidence).
- If (identify one condition or event) then (identify the condition or event that will follow).
- It should go without saying that (point out an obvious condition).
- Note that (provide an example or observation).
- Take a look at (identify a condition; follow with an explanation of why you think it is important to the discussion).
- The authors had (identify their idea) in mind when they wrote “(use a quotation from their text that illustrates the idea).”
- The point is that (summarize the conclusion your reader should draw from your research).
- This becomes evident when (name the author) says that (paraphrase a quote from the author’s writing).
- We see this in the following example: (provide an example of your own).
- (The author’s name) offers the example of (summarize an example given by the author).
If an idea is controversial, you may need to add extra evidence to your paragraphs to persuade your reader. You may also find that a logical argument, one based solely on your evidence, is not persuasive enough and that you need to appeal to the reader’s emotions. Look for ways to incorporate your research without detracting from your argument.
Writing Transition Sentences
It is often difficult to write transitions that carry a reader clearly and logically on to the next paragraph (and the next topic) in an essay. Because you are moving from one topic to another, it is easy to simply stop one and start another. Great research papers, however, include good transitions that link the ideas in an interesting discussion so that readers can move smoothly and easily through your presentation. Close each of your paragraphs with an interesting transition sentence that introduces the topic coming up in the next paragraph.
Transition sentences should show a relationship between the two topics.Your transition will perform one of the following functions to introduce the new idea:
- Indicate that you will be expanding on information in a different way in the upcoming paragraph.
- Indicate that a comparison, contrast, or a cause-and-effect relationship between the topics will be discussed.
- Indicate that an example will be presented in the next paragraph.
- Indicate that a conclusion is coming up.
Transitions make a paper flow smoothly by showing readers how ideas and facts follow one another to point logically to a conclusion. They show relationships among the ideas, help the reader to understand, and, in a persuasive paper, lead the reader to the writer’s conclusion.
Each paragraph should end with a transition sentence to conclude the discussion of the topic in the paragraph and gently introduce the reader to the topic that will be raised in the next paragraph. However, transitions also occur within paragraphs—from sentence to sentence—to add evidence, provide examples, or introduce a quotation.
The type of paper you are writing and the kinds of topics you are introducing will determine what type of transitional phrase you should use. Some useful phrases for transitions
appear below. They are grouped according to the function they normally play in a paper. Transitions, however, are not simply phrases that are dropped into sentences. They are constructed to highlight meaning. Choose transitions that are appropriate to your topic and what you want the reader to do. Edit them to be sure they fit properly within the sentence to enhance the reader’s understanding.
Transition Phrases for Comparisons:
- We also see
- In addition to
- Notice that
- As well as
- Beside that,
- In comparison,
- Once again,
- For example,
- Comparatively, it can be seen that
- We see this when
- This corresponds to
- In other words,
- At the same time,
- By the same token,
Transition Phrases for Contrast:
- By contrast,
- On the contrary,
- An exception to this would be …
- Alongside that,we find …
- On one hand … on the other hand …
- [New information] presents an opposite view …
- Conversely, it could be argued …
- Other than that,we find that …
- We get an entirely different impression from …
- One point of differentiation is …
- Further investigation shows …
- An exception can be found in the fact that …
Transition Phrases to Show a Process:
- At the top we have … Near the bottom we have …
- Here we have … There we have …
- Continuing on,
- We progress to …
- Close up … In the distance …
- In addition to
- Next up
- With this in mind,
- Moving in sequence,
- Proceeding sequentially,
- Moving to the next step,
- First, Second,Third,…
- Examining the activities in sequence,
- As a result,
- The end result is …
- Thus …
- To illustrate …
- One consequence of …
- If … then …
- It follows that …
- This is chiefly due to …
- The next step …
- Later we find …
Phrases to Introduce Examples:
- For example,
- For instance,
- In particular,
- This includes,
- To illustrate,
- One illustration is
- One example is
- This is illustrated by
- This can be seen when
- This is especially seen in
- This is chiefly seen when
Transition Phrases for Presenting Evidence:
- Another point worthy of consideration is
- At the center of the issue is the notion that
- Before moving on, it should be pointed out that
- Another important point is
- Another idea worth considering is
- Even more important,
- Getting beyond the obvious,
- In spite of all this,
- It follows that
- It is clear that
- More importantly,
- Most importantly,
How to Make Effective Transitions
How to make effective transitions between sections of a research paper? There are two distinct issues in making strong transitions:
- Does the upcoming section actually belong where you have placed it?
- Have you adequately signaled the reader why you are taking this next step?
The first is the most important: Does the upcoming section actually belong in the next spot? The sections in your research paper need to add up to your big point (or thesis statement) in a sensible progression. One way of putting that is, “Does the architecture of your paper correspond to the argument you are making?” Getting this architecture right is the goal of “large-scale editing,” which focuses on the order of the sections, their relationship to each other, and ultimately their correspondence to your thesis argument.
It’s easy to craft graceful transitions when the sections are laid out in the right order. When they’re not, the transitions are bound to be rough. This difficulty, if you encounter it, is actually a valuable warning. It tells you that something is wrong and you need to change it. If the transitions are awkward and difficult to write, warning bells should ring. Something is wrong with the research paper’s overall structure.
After you’ve placed the sections in the right order, you still need to tell the reader when he is changing sections and briefly explain why. That’s an important part of line-by-line editing, which focuses on writing effective sentences and paragraphs.
Examples of Effective Transitions
Effective transition sentences and paragraphs often glance forward or backward, signaling that you are switching sections. Take this example from J. M. Roberts’s History of Europe. He is finishing a discussion of the Punic Wars between Rome and its great rival, Carthage. The last of these wars, he says, broke out in 149 B.C. and “ended with so complete a defeat for the Carthaginians that their city was destroyed . . . .” Now he turns to a new section on “Empire.” Here is the first sentence: “By then a Roman empire was in being in fact if not in name.”(J. M. Roberts, A History of Europe. London: Allen Lane, 1997, p. 48) Roberts signals the transition with just two words: “By then.” He is referring to the date (149 B.C.) given near the end of the previous section. Simple and smooth.
Michael Mandelbaum also accomplishes this transition between sections effortlessly, without bringing his narrative to a halt. In The Ideas That Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets, one chapter shows how countries of the North Atlantic region invented the idea of peace and made it a reality among themselves. Here is his transition from one section of that chapter discussing “the idea of warlessness” to another section dealing with the history of that idea in Europe.
The widespread aversion to war within the countries of the Western core formed the foundation for common security, which in turn expressed the spirit of warlessness. To be sure, the rise of common security in Europe did not abolish war in other parts of the world and could not guarantee its permanent abolition even on the European continent. Neither, however, was it a flukish, transient product . . . . The European common security order did have historical precedents, and its principal features began to appear in other parts of the world.
Precedents for Common Security
The security arrangements in Europe at the dawn of the twenty-first century incorporated features of three different periods of the modern age: the nineteenth century, the interwar period, and the ColdWar. (Michael Mandelbaum, The Ideas That Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets. New York: Public Affairs, 2002, p. 128)
It’s easier to make smooth transitions when neighboring sections deal with closely related subjects, as Mandelbaum’s do. Sometimes, however, you need to end one section with greater finality so you can switch to a different topic. The best way to do that is with a few summary comments at the end of the section. Your readers will understand you are drawing this topic to a close, and they won’t be blindsided by your shift to a new topic in the next section.
Here’s an example from economic historian Joel Mokyr’s book The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress. Mokyr is completing a section on social values in early industrial societies. The next section deals with a quite different aspect of technological progress: the role of property rights and institutions. So Mokyr needs to take the reader across a more abrupt change than Mandelbaum did. Mokyr does that in two ways. First, he summarizes his findings on social values, letting the reader know the section is ending. Then he says the impact of values is complicated, a point he illustrates in the final sentences, while the impact of property rights and institutions seems to be more straightforward. So he begins the new section with a nod to the old one, noting the contrast.
In commerce, war and politics, what was functional was often preferred [within Europe] to what was aesthetic or moral, and when it was not, natural selection saw to it that such pragmatism was never entirely absent in any society. . . . The contempt in which physical labor, commerce, and other economic activity were held did not disappear rapidly; much of European social history can be interpreted as a struggle between wealth and other values for a higher step in the hierarchy. The French concepts of bourgeois gentilhomme and nouveau riche still convey some contempt for people who joined the upper classes through economic success. Even in the nineteenth century, the accumulation of wealth was viewed as an admission ticket to social respectability to be abandoned as soon as a secure membership in the upper classes had been achieved.
Institutions and Property Rights
The institutional background of technological progress seems, on the surface, more straightforward. (Joel Mokyr, The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 176)
Note the phrase, “on the surface.” Mokyr is hinting at his next point, that surface appearances are deceiving in this case. Good transitions between sections of your research paper depend on:
- Getting the sections in the right order
- Moving smoothly from one section to the next
- Signaling readers that they are taking the next step in your argument
- Explaining why this next step comes where it does
Drafting Your Conclusion
Every good paper ends with a strong concluding paragraph. To write a good conclusion, sum up the main points in your paper. To write an even better conclusion, include a sentence or two that helps the reader answer the question, “So what?” or “Why does all this matter?” If you choose to include one or more “So What?” sentences, remember that you still need to support any point you make with facts or examples. Remember, too, that this is not the place to introduce new ideas from “out of the blue.” Make sure that everything you write in your conclusion refers to what you’ve already written in the body of your paper.