The MEAL Plan is an easy, effective strategy for organizing information within paragraphs.

Each paragraph in a paper should include the following components: Main idea, Evidence, Analysis, and Link.


All paragraphs should have a main idea/point. Typically, this main idea is expressed in a topic sentence—a sort of mini-thesis statement for your paragraph. Often, a topic sentence is the first sentence of the paragraph, though it may come after or within a transition statement. If you have trouble identifying the main idea of a paragraph, try writing “This paragraph is about …” and then finish the sentence. You then can cross out the phrase and revise the rest into a clear, strong topic sentence as in the following example:

  • This paragraph is about why Steelman is a better superhero than Green Muscle.
  • This paragraph is about Why is Steelman a better superhero than Green Muscle?
  • Steelman’s ingenuity makes him a better superhero than Green Muscle because this quality allows him to reason and make decisions based on his intellectual abilities.


This next section of the paragraph elaborates on the main idea. Depending on the type of assignment, the paragraph might require one or more of these Es:

  • Explanation—Do you need to explain key terms, concepts, or events? What information in the paragraph may be especially complex or unclear?
  • Evidence—Does the main idea of the paragraph need documented sources and facts to support it? Make sure to cite outside information.
  • Examples—Other main ideas are best suited to examples, either from personal experience or research, to illustrate or highlight elements of the main idea.


Once the main idea has been stated and developed, it is time to break those ideas down and analyze them. In other words, this is the section of the paragraph where the HOW? WHY? or WHO CARES? of the main idea is explained.


Linking refers to the link between a paragraph and the paper’s thesis. Make sure you have made this connection clear to the reader; never assume readers will figure the connection out for themselves. Use your connection to the thesis to transition smoothly to the next paragraph.

The following is a paragraph in which the MEAL Plan has been successfully applied. Notice how the Main Idea, Evidence, Analysis, and Link are implemented below:

Steelman possesses qualities that make him a more effective superhero than Green Muscle. As Steelman, Tawny Stork chose the life of a superhero. Stork, a genius engineer and the mastermind behind the steel suit, uses reason and brains to defeat villains. Impulsive as he may be, Steelman uses his intellectual abilities to overcome obstacles. Green Muscle, however, reached superhero status accidentally. Brace Bunner, the human form of Green Muscle, is an equally intelligent physicist; however, he only reaches superhero status through anger. Once Brace Bunner becomes Green Muscle, all intellect ceases to exist. While Green Muscle may possess great strength, his inability to control this strength weakens him. Steelman’s intellectual skills, reasoning skills, and the fact that he chooses to protect the world from super villains gives him an advantage over Green Muscle. Green Muscle and Steelman may make a great team if fighting together. Steelman would outsmart Green Muscle any day, but this would only make Green Muscle angrier and therefore stronger. If the two were to fight each other, it would be a close brawl.

  1. The topic sentence expresses the main idea of the paragraph. The rest of the paragraph should relate to the qualities Steelman possesses that make him a more effective superhero than Green Muscle.
  2. The fact that Steelman posseses qualities that make him a more effective superhero than Green Muscle is an example of evidence that supports the topic sentence.
  3. These sentences explore how Steelman’s qualities make him a more effective superhero than Steelman; therefore, these sentences provide analysis of the evidence that the writer has included in this paragraph.
  4. The final sentences of this paragraph explicitly link everything that the author has discussed in the paragraph back to the thesis.
TIP: When you are finished writing a paragraph, read through it again and make sure that every single sentence has something to do with the main idea. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t belong in that paragraph. You may need to start another paragraph, or that piece of information may not be relevant to your paper and, therefore, should be deleted.

TIP: When you’ve completed a draft of your paper, try our Reverse Outlining technique (see handout or ask your writing assistant) to assess your organization and paragraphing further.

To print a copy of this handout, please click here.