Most people think they know all about paragraphs; unfortunately many of those people are wrong and misuse paragraphs in their own writing - and lose marks in coursework and exams! So what do you need to know about this important 'structural unit'.

A paragraph is made up from perhaps five individual sentences. This is an average but is a fair target to set for your own paragraphs. The first sentence is used to introduce a topic - it is called the topic sentence. This first sentence is then followed by four or five linked sentences that do no more than explain and develop the topic just introduced.

In an essay there will be three different kinds of paragraph: an introductory paragraph, a series of body paragraphs and a concluding paragraph.

The key point about paragraphs in an essay is that their first sentence should always in some way help to answer the question by referring directly or indirectly to the essay question. If it does not, the risk is that the paragraph will lose focus on the essay question and wander onto other - at worst irrelevant - issues that gather no marks and irritate the reader because the essay loses its unity.