RS_Structure_Are your paragraphs and sections building toward an argument? The Uneven U as a tool to check

A well-constructed argument is easy to recognize. Paragraphs and sections feel balanced between argument, evidence, and analysis, and readers can track a logical movement from one sentence or one paragraph to the next. But while writing a first draft, it is quite difficult to determine whether your sentences and paragraphs are building toward a logical and persuasive argument. In fact, crafting organized and logical paragraphs and sections is the work of revision (and often more than one round of it!). This exercise employs Eric Hayot’s theory of “The Uneven U” (more on that below) and asks you to isolate the opening, middle, and ending sentences of your paragraph or the opening, middle, and ending paragraphs of your section to see if they are doing the work they are supposed to be doing.

Writers must understand the function of each sentence within a paragraph and each paragraph within a section. Luckily, most academic writing follows a predictable pattern, one that Eric Hayot, author of The Elements of Academic Style, calls “The Uneven U.” As Hayot explains, the most effective paragraphs and sections open with a general statement, move to provide evidence for the claim, and then summarize and extend the evidence before moving on to make an abstract conclusion. Hayot breaks down an analytical paragraph into sentences, each with its own function, which he categorizes into a series of levels:

5 abstract, general; oriented toward a solution or conclusion

4 less general; oriented toward a problem; pulls ideas together

3 conceptual summary; draws together two or more pieces of evidence, or introduces a broad example

2 description; plain or interpretive summary; establishing shot

1 concrete; evidentiary; raw, unmediated data or information

We have included some examples below, but in general, a well-constructed paragraph or section moves something like this: It generally starts with a 4, moves to a 3 then a 2 and a 1, and then back up the ladder from a 2 all the way up to a 5. Some sentences will fit squarely into one category, while others might start as a 3 or a 2 and move up to a 4 or a 3.


1) Isolate a single paragraph or section in your work. Read each sentence/paragraph slowly and in relation to the text that comes before and after. Using Hayot’s categories of 1-5, assign each sentence/paragraph a level (some might be a mixture of two levels). Take a step back and look at the first half of your paragraph/section. Are the sentences/paragraphs becoming incrementally more specific, and can you isolate the most specific sentence/paragraph you have (it should be a level 1, evidence)? Now do the same with the last half of your paragraph/section — are the sentences/paragraphs becoming incrementally more general? If not, begin the revision process by reorganizing and rephrasing your sentences and paragraphs so that there is a seamless movement from general to specific to even more general.
2) Isolate the last sentence of each paragraph or the last paragraph of each section. Now read through them — are they thinking bigger as a whole? Then isolate the first sentence of each paragraph or the first paragraph of each section. Now read through them — are they thinking bigger but not as general as the last sentence/paragraph you just analyzed?
3) See our exercise First Last Sentence for another method to ensure that your paper follows the Uneven U.


Below, you’ll find two paragraphs — one from the humanities and one from the social sciences — that feature variations of the Uneven U. We have labeled each sentence so that you can see the Uneven U in action.

Uneven U
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