in A Level, English Language, Essay Technique, Writing Skills

Part 2 – Cautious Paragraphs

How are you handling evidence? Is it providing the points you want to make?

If you’ve made it through the previous lesson’s activities, then well done! You have introduced your argument and set yourself up to discuss the main linguistic issues raised by your source material.


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Now you are in what feels like slightly safer territory… the ‘Main Body’ paragraphs. These sections make up the essay itself and will win you the majority of the marks available.

The structure of your paragraphs

For years now, your English teachers have been coaching you through constructing paragraphs using the ‘3 Part Paragraph’ technique. Some call it PEE (Point, Evidence, Explanation), some call it PQC (Point, Quotation, Comment), some call it SEA (Statement, Evidence, Analysis), a rose by any other name smells just as sweet.

For my purposes, I use the acronym TEA, which stands for:

  • Topic Sentence
  • Evidence
  • Analysis

Topic Sentences are incredibly important for setting up what you are about to discuss and making sure that it is firmly anchored in the question you have been asked. So, in Paper 4, your Topic Sentences may be structured something like:

“A key issue raised in both Texts is the issue of _____insert key linguistic question raised by the texts here_________.”

Now, if you copy that phrase exactly at the start of each of your paragraphs, you will have an essay that plainly gets the job done, but will sound a little dry and clunky. As you develop your essay-writing voice, you need to find more interesting and engaging ways of adapting that phrase to be more reflective of your style and to be more adapted to the discussion you are having. A little later in the course, we will look at killer topic sentence starters.

So an example may be: ‘Perhaps the most controversial issue raised in both Texts is whether or not categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’ are derived from scientifically valid differences, or simply social constructs.’

Evidence is the section of the paragraph where you show that you are taking quotations or data from the texts and that you fully understand the attitudes and ideas that are being suggested by them. When you handle Evidence, you need to make sure you do the following things:

  • Frame the evidence by saying who said it and where
  • Show that you comprehend the general stance of the speaker
  • Show that you are not automatically assuming rightness or wrongness of the evidence
  • Embed the evidence in your grammar

So an example might be:

In his book exploring the differences between ‘male brains’ and ‘female brains’, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen makes the somewhat deterministic claim that ‘people with the female brain make the most wonderful counsellors, primary school teachers, nurses, carers, therapists, social workers, mediators, group facilitators or personnel staff’.

After this, I would want to bring in a piece of evidence from the other text which seems to either support or dispute the claim made in my first piece of evidence. Make sure that when you introduce the evidence you make it clear whether or not it is congruent or incongruent with the idea mentioned in the first piece. So an example might look like this:

An ideologically opposed stance is adopted by Thomas Weaver, who adopts the social constructivist stance in his online message-board comment, stating that ‘any “gender-based” differences in verbal communication style are cultural/social, not biological, so those differences — if/when they exist — are not inherent in being male or female.’

Analysis is where you get to really show off your expertise and your ability to process this data in light of your wider knowledge. Make sure that in your analysis section you are doing the following things:

  • Continuing to engage with the evidence and the question
  • Placing everything in the context of your wider research and knowledge
  • Showing that you know the limitations of any claims, research or data which you refer to
  • Show that you know how context influences the way we interpret information

Professor Baron-Cohen’s claims certainly have a greater claim to scientific credibility by virtue of their publication context. However, if one were to view them through the lens of the dominance model espoused by critics such as Robin Lakoff, then one may notice a high level of convenience that a male author has identified a list of low-paid industries which are ‘naturally’ suited to the female brain, whereas the more lucrative and prestigious equivalents are more ‘suited’ to the male brain. Should we then view ‘genderlect’ such as up-talk and hedge-phrasing as a reflection of women’s more caring and compassionate disposition? In this sense, one could certainly read Baron-Cohen’s comments as being analogous to Otto Jesperson’s ‘Deficit Model’ from the early 20th Century and open to the same levels of criticism as Deborah Cameron has publicly levelled at Deborah Tannen for explaining away patriarchy as a benign case of natural difference.

Conversely, Weaver gives us an entirely Butlerian reading of male-female differences, in which all variation between male and female behaviour is described as social constructs – artifices designed to protect a hegemonic structure. There are certainly moral and political reasons to take this view seriously – and social progress has done much to unearth the injustices of power distribution between the sexes. However, given our scientific awareness of differences in the physiology and chemical make-up of male and female bodies, it would seem unlikely that 100% of personality variability across the two groups is to be explained by artificial social structures. The best explanation would seem to be that Baron-Cohen and Weaver are both perceiving a partial view of the overall picture: male and female personalities as they manifest themselves through language are highly influenced by their environment in terms of societal expectations espoused by media-texts, parenting styles, schooling experiences, workplace experiences and social class. However, studies of personality traits also lead us to the sense that there are some inherent factors that make a person who they are, and that there are plausible reasons to make links between this and physical sex.

Your Task

Now we have had a little think about how discursive paragraphs work. Have a go at writing one for yourself in response to the essay you’ve been working on over the past few lessons!

Phil Brown, 2021


Thanks for reading! If you find this useful, take a look at our other English Language and Literature courses here.