Introduction to Paragraphs and the MEAL Plan


Paragraphs are the building blocks of your
paper; in an academic paper, each paragraph represents a separate idea. When thinking about paragraphs, it’s important
to think about how you’ll organize and categorize your ideas and information into those paragraphs. The organization and focus of your paragraphs
might be clear to you right away when you start writing a paper or it may be something
you’ll refine as you write and revise your paper. For example, if you have a paper about three
strategies for improving employee performance, you may be able to easily write one paragraph
per strategy. But if you’re writing a longer paper or
if you’re writing about a more complicated topic, you might find that you will rearrange
and develop your paragraphs as your write and revise. Either approach is okay, but just be aware
that the extra refining might be necessary. It’s smart to think about this ahead of
time so you can build in time to revise your paragraphs and their focus and organization. Additionally, prewriting activities like outlining
can be very helpful for writers in envisioning their paragraph organization before they start
writing. In the Writing Center, we use what we call
the MEAL plan to help students conceptualize paragraphs, so let’s talk a little more
about the MEAL plan. The MEAL plan isn’t a template for a paragraph;
it doesn’t mean each of your paragraphs should have one sentence per letter—all
of your paragraphs won’t have just four sentences in this particular order. Instead, think of the MEAL plan as a way to
conceptualize paragraphs. This means that generally, each of your paragraphs
should have each of these elements. M is the main idea, also called the topic
sentence. The topic sentence introduces the focus of
the paragraph, and normally it doesn’t have a citation. This is because it doesn’t include specific
information from your sources, but is instead a general introduction to the paragraph. It’s sort of like if you were introducing
someone to a friend—You wouldn’t just jump right into the details of their life
story, but you’d give a general introduction to get the conversation going, right? The same needs to happen in your paragraphs
with this topic sentence. The E is the evidence, or the examples that
you use to support and develop the main idea. This could include specific information about
a theory or ideas in your field; it could also include statistics or findings from studies. Essentially, any sentence that you cite in
the paragraph—because it comes from a source—is a piece of evidence. The A is the analysis; it connects your evidence
back to the main claim for your readers through discussion. Think of analysis as your explanation of the
evidence and your addition to the evidence. For example, maybe you are discussing the
lack of broadband Internet access in your state’s rural areas; you might include statistics
about how many people have broadband Internet access—that would be your evidence—but
then you’d want to explain why this statistic is important or what it means to your reader—that
would be your analysis. And then the L is the lead out. We also sometimes refer to it as the concluding
or wrap-up sentence of the paragraph. This last sentence is where you give closure
to the paragraph. This might mean you repeat the main idea of
the paragraph (similar to a conclusion paragraph) or you might combine some sort of wrap-up
with some analysis, giving the reader an overall conclusion for the paragraph. The main point here is that you want to avoid
an open-ending to your paragraph or ending your paragraph with evidence. Now that you’ve learned the basics of paragraphs
and the MEAL plan, be sure to watch our next video “Examples of the MEAL Plan” to learn
how you can implement the MEAL plan in your own paragraphs.

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