Unit 4 Paragraph structure

Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should:

  • understand the function of a topic sentence
  • be able to use three types of supporting statements: explanations, evidence and comments
  • have started drafting a body paragraph of your graduation thesis

Activity 1: Reading comprehension

Read the paragraph on Google Translate below.

Google Translate

One of the most powerful machine translation tools is Google Translate. This tool provides high quality translations between languages that are linguistically similar to English. The quality of translation drops as linguistic difference increases. This means that the accuracy of translations from German to English is higher than from Japanese to English. The Google Translate using machine translation was launched in 2006 [1]. The early versions of Google Translate were trained on European languages. Google Translate used to be based on statistical machine translation, but in 2016 switched to neural machine translation [2] for Japanese.


[1]. Wikipedia contributors. "Google Translate." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2 Sep. 2018.

[2]. Bahdanau, Dzmitry, Kyunghyun Cho, and Yoshua Bengio. "Neural machine translation by jointly learning to align and translate." arXiv preprint arXiv:1409.0473, 2014.

Activity 2: Understanding the paragraph

Read the paragraph in Activity 1 to answer the following questions.

About 10 years. It was used from 2006 to 2016.

Since 2016, so count upwards from this year to find the answer.

Spanish-English will be more accurate, because the languages are more similiar.

Yes, this whole paragraph is about Google Translate.

Topic sentence.

Topic sentences in English are usually the first sentence in a paragraph in academic texts.

The number shows that information is taken from a source, e.g. a research article or website.

Two. The highest listed number is [2] so that means a total of two sources.

No. Every sentence in this paragraph is not about changing to neural machine translation for Japanese.

Activity 3: Comparison

Work in pairs or small groups and compare your answers.

Activity 4: Structure of a paragraph


A graduation thesis is divided into sections, such as introduction and method. Some sections use visuals, such as tables and figures. Each section has a heading and each section contains one or more paragraphs. Paragraphs consist of one or more sentences. A paragraph should deal with one idea. In academic writing, longer paragraphs tend to begin with topic sentences, and very long paragraphs may end with a concluding sentence.

A typical computer science paragraph begins with a topic sentence. The topic sentence introduces the main idea of the paragraph. This may be followed by one or more sentences. Each of these sentences support the topic sentence. These supporting sentences can be classed as explanations, evidence or comments.

Evidence may refer to other sources, such as conference proceedings, journal articles, websites and other graduation theses. There are a number of ways to refer to sources. The most common way in computer science is to place a number in square brackets in the body paragraph, and list the exact source under the same number in the reference list.


Activity 5: List of steps in research method

List the steps in your research. Do not write sentences, but write noun phrases.

  1. .....
  2. .....
  3. .....

You will use this list to help your describe your research to a partner, and then you will use the list again to draft a paragraph explaining your research.

Activity 6: Spoken explanation of research method

Work in pairs or small groups. Take it in turns to explain your research in Japanese. Begin by explaining in general, and then describe each step in order. Next, repeat, but use English. Listen to your partner and ask questions if the method is not clear.

Activity 7: Paragraph to describe research method

Write a paragraph to describe the steps in your research. Write for a reader who is not familar with your research. Write short clear sentences. In the editing stage, these may be combined. Begin with a topic sentence that describes the whole method.

Useful terms
  • step
  • phase
  • stage
  • period

There are two phases in this research project. Phase one is the development of a new method. Phase two is the evaluation of the new method. In phase one, there are two steps. Step one is the creation of a new algorithm. Step two is the application of the algorithm. In phase two, the speed of the system is measured.

Step-by-step example
  1. There are two stages in my research.
  2. There are two stages in my research. The first stage is the data collection. The second stage is the data analysis.
  3. There are two stages in my research. The first stage is the data collection. The second stage is the data analysis. In the data collection stage, data points from XXX will be collected. In the data analysis stage, statistical analysis will be undertaken using R.
  4. Add more detail...


Answer the following questions:

  1. What is the purpose of a topic sentence?
  2. What is the usual position of a topic sentence in English?
  3. What are the three types of supporting statement?
  4. How many words will you write this week?