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Thesis Seminar: M.E.A.L. Plan (paragraph development)

Essential question: How can academic writers develop body paragraphs through an understanding of how different sentences function around one main idea.


In this episode, I discuss paragraph development using the acronym, M.E.A.L. (plan). You might also check out ItC 89: M.E.A.L. Plan - Developing a Body Paragraph for more. 

Attribution: Intro/Outro music: Benjamin Tissot (also known as Bensound)

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Paragraph Types

When writing a thesis paper, there are three different types of paragraphs to consider: an Introductory Paragraph, a body paragraph, a Transitional Paragraph, and a conclusion paragraph. When writing a typical five-paragraph essay, the same types of paragraphs apply except for the transitional paragraph. An introductory paragraph, transitional paragraph, and conclusion paragraph all include a thesis statement or the main idea of the entire thesis.

M.E.A.L. Plan

Like an essay or literature review, a BP has a beginning, middle, and end. Think of a BP as a "mini essay". Each paragraph should develop one main idea, describing what, how, why, when, where, with whom, etc. about a single main idea. A section of a literature review contains a series of main ideas that is organized in a logical fashion: topical, categorical, process, etc. (See 🗻Organizing Your Argument). Thus, BPs are organized within each of the two-four sections of a (2,250-word) literature review in a way that builds an argument related to the section title (level II heading) that relates directly to the thesis statement (or the main idea of the entire essay).

Use the acronym M.E.A.L. when determining how each sentence with a body paragraph functions. Each sentence should function as one of the following: main idea, evidence, analysis, or link/summary.

Main idea: The main idea of a body paragraph is called the topic sentence and it's good practice to include the topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph. The topic sentence should express a claim (i.e., a declarative sentence that is arguable or debatable), position, assertion, proposition, etc. A topic sentence includes a topic (noun phrase that represents the subject of the sentence) and a verb phrase (i.e., comment, opinion, etc.). Choose dynamic verbs when developing your verb phrase and avoid linking (copula) verbs. It's also possible and perhaps necessary to add additional information after presenting the topic and verb phrase that state how, why, when, where, with whom, etc. The trick to writing a good topic sentence is to find the right balance between not being too general nor being too specific. It's good practice to relate each topic sentence directly (explicitly) to the thesis statement, which is the general claim, position, assertion, proposition of the entire essay.

Evidence: Evidence sentences provide examples, details, facts, statistics, etc. that come from an outside source (requiring a citation according to APA). Evidence sentences support the topic sentence by stating what, why, how, when, where, with whom, etc. There are two things to remember when developing your evidence with each body paragraph: 1) evidence proceeds your analysis (see below) and 2) evidence can be lumped together (before the analysis) and/or evidence can be presented in smaller chunks (e.g., evidence, analysis, evidence, analysis, etc.).

Analysis: The role of an analysis sentence is to connect the evidence to the main idea of the BP. As the writer, ask yourself the following:

  1. What is the importance of the evidence as it relates to the topic sentence (main idea of the paragraph)?
  2. What does the evidence mean to the reader of your text?
  3. How do you as the writer interpret the evidence as it relates to the main idea?
  4. How should the reader interpret the evidence in lieu of the main idea from the topic sentence?

Analysis sentences connect the evidence to the main idea of the body paragraph (topic sentences). They also can connect ideas previously mentioned in prior body paragraphs and can also connect directly to the thesis statement. Analysis sentences are when the writer comments, explains, compares and contrasts, synthesizes, analyzes, etc.  Avoid the pitfall of analyzing before you present the evidence. Instead, present the evidence before analyzing examples, details, etc. Analysis sentences are typically original thoughts (no citations required). A common error writers make is to mistake an analysis sentence with another piece of (anecdotal) evidence. When finishing a body paragraph make sure that evidence comes before the analysis and that there is a balance between the evidence and analysis.

Link/Summary: The final sentence of each body paragraph functions as either a linking sentence or a summarizing sentence. A linking sentence connects the main idea of the current paragraph (topic sentence) with the main idea of the next body paragraph. Sometimes body paragraphs will conclude a section or an essay, etc., so in some cases the final sentence summarizes the key points of the paragraph.

M.E.A.L.  Coherence

Since each BP sentence serves a particular purpose, the organization of how each sentence is stated can be the difference between a coherent and incoherent paragraph. Here are a few examples of BPs according to the MEAL plan (* indicate incoherent BPs) - click on the comments to see further explanations:

MEEAAL ok

*MEEEEAL Not ok

MEEAAAL ok

*EMEAL Not ok

*MEAAAL Not ok

MEEAEAL ok

MEAEAL ok

*MEAEL Not ok

*MEAELA Not ok

Paragraph Length

Think of paragraph length in terms of sentences first. Typically, BPs with five-eight well-constructed sentences will have a proper length. If a paragraph has 225 words or more then, it might be necessary to separate it into two or more paragraphs.

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