Writing a Research Paper – Body Paragraphs

You’ve got your topic, you’ve got your research, and you’ve got a working thesis. Now how do you put it all together? If you learn the basic building block of the body paragraphs of research papers, your job will be a lot easier. Your introduction and conclusion will probably be structured a little differently, and not every paragraph will follow this format, but it’s a good place to start. This method also helps you get the right balance of your own words and research in the paper, which should be about half and half.

The “Research Sandwich”
As a general rule, each body paragraph will comprise one or more building blocks we’ll call “research sandwiches.”

This is the formula:

Your own words (topic sentence with your opinion)
Research (direct quote or paraphrase to back up your opinion)
Your own words (analysis, summary or transition to the next topic.)

Writing a Research Paper – Body Paragraphs
Let’s say your paper is about how you believe that media images of ultra-thin models contribute to eating disorders in females. This is what a body paragraph might look like, using the research sandwich method:

Your words: If young girls are constantly exposed to pictures of beautiful, thin women, they might think that they must conform to this ideal to be considered attractive and become unhappy with their bodies.

Research: One study found that exposure to media images decreases body satisfaction in girls (Wertheim et al, 47). Researcher James Thomas states that this body dissatisfaction occurs when “the individual accepts societal views of ideal weight and attractiveness and acts in a certain way to achieve the ideal body” (93).

Your words: When girls are not happy with the way they look, they may turn to crash diets or other unhealthy eating habits in order to try and conform to an unrealistic standard of beauty.

A research sandwich can stand alone as a paragraph, or you can put two or three together if the ideas are closely related to form one longer paragraph. It’s important to include smooth transitions from one “sandwich” to the next.
Sometimes this can be accomplished in the concluding sentence of the sandwich, or in the next topic sentence, but be sure you think about the transition so your paper doesn’t seem to jump from topic to topic.

Writing a Research Paper – Body Paragraphs

Here’s an example of a smooth transition from one sandwich to the next:

Your words: If young girls are constantly exposed to pictures of beautiful, thin women, they might think that they must conform to this ideal to be considered attractive and become unhappy with their bodies.

Research: One study found that exposure to media images decreases body satisfaction in girls (Wertheim et al, 47). Researcher James Thomas states that this body dissatisfaction occurs when “the individual accepts societal views of ideal weight and attractiveness and acts in a certain way to achieve the ideal body” (93).

Your words: When girls are not happy with the way they look, they may turn to crash diets or other unhealthy eating habits in order to try and conform to an unrealistic standard of beauty.

Transition: Since the ideal is not based in reality, dieting often leads to perceived failure, causing even more extreme eating habits. 

Your words: This combination of ongoing unhappiness with their bodies and unhealthy dieting is one of the greatest risk factors that leads girls to eating disorders.

Research: Kathryn Miller states that these two factors together “are responsible for adolescent females being particularly vulnerable to eating disorders” (441). Miller also points out that these risk factors can begin many years before the actual eating disorder emerges (441). 

Your words: Young girls, then, who are exposed to media images may start to develop risk factors even before they are out of elementary school.

This section could be one paragraph, or broken into two paragraphs, but either way, you still need a smooth transition between ideas. Sometimes it is helpful to work on research sandwiches individually, decide how to order them in the paper, and then work on transitions. Many students, though, find it helpful to outline the order of the ideas before working on the sandwiches. Whichever way to choose to draft your essay, you will find the following worksheets helpful in organizing and writing your ideas.

Start by writing your working thesis in the space on Worksheet #1 (Remember, your thesis might change as you work on the body of the paper.) Fill in the rest of the worksheet, then move to Worksheet #2 and so on. Write an idea for a transition on the top of the worksheets. This will help you keep your ideas organized!

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