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Academic writing: a practical guide

Structure & cohesion

Structure & cohesion

General advice for structuring all types of academic writing.

For advice on structuring specific types of writing, visit the relevant page under 'Types of academic writing'.

Structure in academic writing

Academic writing has a clear, logical structure to communicate your points and show the connections between them; a well-structured assignment is easy for the reader to follow and understand.

These general principles apply to structuring most types of academic writing:

  • Use a linear structure where points build on each other - don't jump backward and forwards.
  • Start with more general and then move to the more specific ideas and points.
  • Put more relevant/important information first.
  • Everything is relevant to the main argument or point of the paragraph.
  • Use cohesion to join ideas and points clearly - don't make the reader do the work.
  • Follow any structural requirements for your assignment or type of writing.

It has a beginning, a middle and an end: a guide to structuring academic writing [Google Slides]

Planning structure

The best way to write a well-structured assignment is to have a good plan before you start writing. What's your argument? What are the main points you want to include? What's a logical way to order these points? Don't just launch into writing with no idea of where you're going!

To make a general plan:

  1. Make a list of the information and points to include.
  2. Organise similar points into groups.
  3. Put the groups in a logical order.
  4. Within each group, organise the points logically.
  5. Check the plan to make sure it meets task requirements.

Here's a step-by-step demonstration of planning assignment structure:

Planning: general structure [YouTube] | Planning: general structure [Google Doc]

Paragraph structure

A well-structured paragraph contains one main point or idea - all the information included is relevant to this point. If it's not related to the main point, it probably shouldn't be there!

There are many ways to structure a paragraph, but they generally all include:

  • a topic sentence showing the main point
  • the body of the paragraph, integrating:
    • development of the point: more detail, examples etc.
    • evidence to support the point
    • critical analysis showing how evidence relates to the main point
  • a final wrap-up linking to the overall argument or next paragraph

However, this is only a guide - there are many ways to structure a paragraph. Reading sources from your field will help you to get a feel of ways to organise paragraphs.

Paragraph structure [Google Slides]


If the structure is the order of your points, cohesion is what ties them together and guides the reader through your argument. 

Create cohesion using words and phrases that show the relationships between points. For example:

  • basic connectives: and, or, but, so
  • giving more detail: for example, to illustrate, an example of this is
  • showing contrast: however, although, while, conversely, alternatively
  • showing similarity: another, also, similarly, collectively, taken together
  • cause/effect: leading to, the effect of this is, therefore, this may stem from
  • referencing words: this/that, who, which/that, the groups, these findings
  • showing implications: this suggests that, these findings may mean that, based on this

Cohesive words and phrases are shown in bold in this example paragraph about how language background affects maths skills development:

The time taken to pronounce number words is another linguistic factor that could affect children’s arithmetical development. If number words take longer to pronounce, fewer items can be held in working memory, which could affect the strategies used to solve arithmetic problems (Geary et al., 1993; Geary et al., 1996). In East Asian languages, number words are generally short, one-syllable words, while in English and other languages they can be much longer. The effect of this on working memory is seen in Chinese children’s longer digit span memory compared to their American peers (Geary et al., 1993). It also seems to influence the choice of strategies used by the two groups to solve arithmetic problems, with Chinese children using faster processes than American children (Geary et al., 1996). This limitation of working memory may mean speakers of less transparent languages rely more on slow procedural strategies than speakers of a transparent language, extending even to adulthood (Campbell & Xue, 2001).

More detailed advice and examples: