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Evidence-Based Arguments: MEAL Plan


One approach that students may want to use to create effective arguments/paragraphs in capstone writing is the MEAL plan. This is one option for how to construct a paragraph. Duke University's Thompson Writing Program (n.d.) recommended that writers organize the material within a paragraph according to the MEAL plan:

Main Idea: Topic sentence stating the concrete claim the paragraph is advancing.
Evidence: Paraphrase or direct quotations from the source material used to support the topic sentence's claim.
Analysis: Explanation and evaluation of the evidence; explaining the evidence you provided and its relevance in the writer's own words.
Lead Out: Concluding; preparing the 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

For more on organization of the doctoral capstone, also see the writing tips on rhetorical structure and cohesion in a capstone document.

Outlining Strategies

Outlining (or reverse outlining) a first draft by listing each paragraph's topic sentence can be an easy way to ensure that each paragraph is serving a specific purpose in the argument.  Walden capstone writers 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.

For writers who are having trouble revising a paper, making an outline of each paragraph and its topic sentence after the draft is completed can be an effective way of identifying an argument's clarity and flow through the paragraphs presented. Review the SMRTguide on the MEAL Plan and Reverse Outlining