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

Summary

In this episode, I discuss paragraph development using the acronym, M.E.A.L. (plan).

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.

Body Paragraph (BP) Development

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).

Consider the acronym, M.E.A.L., as in MEAL plan, when developing a body paragraph. The MEAL Plan does not apply to an introduction paragraph, transitional paragraph, or conclusion paragraph.

Main Idea (Original idea-no citation): When developing a body paragraph (BP), each sentence serves a particular purpose. A BP typically begins with the main idea of the paragraph, called, “the topic sentence”. A reader should be able to get the gist of the meaning of the text by reading only the topic sentence of each BP. It’s common for English language learning writers to find it challenging to develop a topic sentence to begin each BP. Sometimes a topic sentence can be determined before developing the BP, while at other times, the topic sentence is unclear until the entire BP has been written. Either way, a topic sentence should begin each BP and express clearly the one idea (or claim; See Toulmin Method in Organizing Your Argument).

When developing a topic sentence (the main idea of the BP), there are a few things to keep in mind. 1) Try to avoid using copula verbs, the most common being the verb “to be”. As stated earlier, the topic sentence is a claim, a position, an assertion, a proposition, an opinion, etc. that represents one idea. Avoid expressing facts as a topic sentence. 2) A topic sentence should not be too general nor too specific. A topic sentence should be more specific than the thesis statement and section title (level II heading) and more general than the evidence sentences within the paragraph that express examples, details, facts, statistics, etc. To make a topic sentence more specific add prepositional phrases, relative (adjective) clauses, and subordinating (adverbial) clauses. 3) Avoid using personal pronouns in the topic sentence and instead (re)state its antecedent (i.e., the noun the personal pronoun represents). 4) Avoid questions and imperatives when writing a topic sentence. As a general rule, avoid all rhetorical questions throughout your text with the exception of perhaps an essential question in the Introductory Paragraph. 5) Avoid transitions to begin a topic sentence: introductory phrases, sentence connectors, and beginning a sentence with a subordinating clause.

Evidence (Not an original idea: citation required): When developing a literature review, the evidence (sentences) will be the citations used to support the writer’s original ideas. When developing the results and discussion section of a paper, the evidence will be the findings that result from having analyzed collected data. A good rule of thumb is to present the evidence immediately after the main idea of the paragraph (i.e., the topic sentence); that is, the second sentence of the BP. After presenting the first piece of evidence in a BP, then it’s at the discretion of the writer how evidence sentences and analysis sentences are to be stated.

Analysis (Original idea-no citation): 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?

Think of the analysis sentences as a comment, explanation, compare-and-contrast, synthesis, etc., using the writer’s critical thinking skills to interpret and express the point of the evidence as it relates to the main idea of the BP. Analysis sentences can also be used to connect ideas to other parts of the thesis paper that have already been discussed. It’s the writer’s responsibility to express why the evidence relates back to the main idea. An analysis sentence should always come after the evidence it is mentioning. Stated another way, evidence sentences should always precede an analysis sentence.

Link (Original idea-no citation): The linking sentence connects the main idea of the current paragraph (i.e., topic sentence) with the main idea of the next body paragraph and should be the last sentence of the BP. Properly including linking sentences provides flow and connects ideas throughout the section. For this reason, it’s recommended to avoid transitions to begin topic sentences as stated earlier. As an alternative, the final sentence of a BP could also serve as a summary, especially in cases when a BP concludes a section.

MEAL Plan 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)
  • MEEEAL (NO)
  • MEEAAAL (OK)
  • EMEAL (NO)
  • MEAAAL (NO)
  • MEEAEAL (OK)
  • MEAEAL (OK)
  • MEAEL (NO)
  • MEAELA (NO)

Transitions within Body Paragraphs

Avoid using any one type of transition (e.g., sentence connectors). Instead, mix it up a bit and include introductory phrases and subordinating clauses to being sentences within a paragraph. Avoid transitions to begin a paragraph, however.

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.

Links

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

Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/benjamin-l-stewart/message

Published by Benjamin L. Stewart

I´m an EFL teacher educator and foreign language coordinator at the Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes in Mexico.

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