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The Writing Centre
How to write an academic paragraph
A key element in making our writing clear and intelligible is how we choose to group our sentences, and the paragraph
is the basic tool that we have to organize our writing into meaningful units.
Those meaningful units should reflect the categories through which we have chosen to address the issue our paper is
dealing with. Imagine a political science essay addressing the question of whether the Canadian role in the war in in
Afghanistan was justified. How might we analyse that question? What is involved? We might consider the cost in lives
as one aspect of our paper – and we might break that down into civilian and combatant casualties; we might choose to
look at the financial cost too – how much money did Canada spend? We might want to discuss the impact of Canada’s
actions on the overall Afghan security situation and, maybe fundamentally, on Canada’s security situation. We might
consider the effect on Canada’s international reputation, maybe among its allies in the war, and in the wider world. In
a short paper we would need to write at least one paragraph on each of these.
We do not want our reader to be confused as to what the paragraph they are reading is about, so our paragraph should
make its topic clear early on with what is often called a topic sentence: a clear statement identifying the subject of the
paragraph. Let’s try it for the paragraphs that would deal with the financial cost:
Any justification for Canada’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan would have to weigh the financial costs
of the mission in the overall balance.
Our readers now think they know what this paragraph is about, and we should not disappoint them! We now need to
present some information about this financial cost, and back our claims up by citing our sources and explaining the
significance of that information (Note: the topic sentence would be integrated into the paragraph in reality).
Canada’s contribution to the war effort began in 2001 and by 2006 had grown to 3000 military personnel.
Maintaining such a force in the field is not cheap, for although many of those military personnel would have
had to be paid anyway, there are significant additional costs associated with war-fighting. Political scientist
Jay Makarenko (2010) pointed to a wide range of such costs ranging from “accelerated depreciation of
equipment” to having to pay reservists called up to fight in the war (Financial cost section, para.5). Over the
years these additional costs have mounted to a substantial amount, with totals ranging from $18bn (Globe
and Mail, 2014), to the Rideau Institute’s 2008 assessment that by 2011 the cost would have risen to $28.4bn,
which over the course of the 10years that the military operation was in process comes to something like
$2.8bn each year. For a country with a total military budget of $23bn for the financial year 2010/2011 this
constitutes an equivalent to around 10% of overall spending on the armed forces, a significant sum (Robinson,
2011). This may not be the whole story: defence analyst Bill Robinson went on to suggest that without the
war troop numbers could have been reduced and they could still have carried out their non-Afghan missions,
and “additional savings, potentially as much as several billion dollars, might have been realized over that
period”(1). These are significant numbers, representing money that could have made a difference elsewhere,
and Canadian taxpayers might well expect to be able to point to something positive in return.
Note: You can write more than one paragraph on the same
John Hill, 2017