Skip to main content

Paragraphs: Organization (MEAL Plan)


Duke University's Thompson Writing Program (n.d.) recommends that you organize the material within a paragraph according to the MEAL plan:

Main Idea: Your topic sentence stating the concrete claim the paragraph is advancing.
Evidence: Paraphrase or direct quotations from the source material you are using to support your topic sentence's claim.
Analysis: Your explanation and evaluation of the evidence; explaining the evidence you provided and its relevance in your own words.
Lead Out: Concluding; preparing your reader to transition to the next paragraph (and the next claim).

The MEAL plan matches the general format of academic writing on many levels: that of assertion, evidence, and explanation.  Many students make the mistake of writing toward a topic sentence or claim, rather than from one; keeping the MEAL plan in mind as you write will help you begin your paragraphs strongly and develop your analysis thoroughly.

Duke University Thompson Writing Program. (n.d.). Paragraphing: The MEAL plan. Retrieved from

Outlining Strategies

Outlining your first draft by listing each paragraph's topic sentence can be an easy way to ensure that each of your paragraphs is serving a specific purpose in your paper.  You may find opportunities to combine or eliminate potential paragraphs when outlining—first drafts often contain repetitive ideas or sections that stall, rather than advance, the paper's central argument.

Additionally, if you are having trouble revising a paper, making an outline of each paragraph and its topic sentence after you have written your paper can be an effective way of identifying a paper's strengths and weaknesses.