PEAS: Not Just Vegetables -->

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PEAS: Not Just Vegetables

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The MEAL plan is kind of a big deal around the Writing Center because it’s a catchy, easy acronym for remembering the essential parts of a paragraph and a basic form of paragraph organization: Main idea, Evidence, Analysis, Lead-in. You’ve likely heard us recommend the MEAL plan at residencies, in our webinars, in our paper reviews, and on our website.

That lead-in part of the acronym has always bugged me, though, and I know I’m not alone. The trouble is that students, understandably, see the term lead-in (also sometimes called lead-out) and think they should use the last sentence of the paragraph to transition to the next paragraph. However, the last sentence in a paragraph tends to work better as a concluding sentence that summarizes the ideas in the paragraph. In concluding the paragraph, the writer gives readers a chance to digest those ideas, which helps prepare readers for—or lead readers into—the ideas in the next paragraph. The transitional phrase or sentence that helps move readers to the next point is more effective at the beginning of a paragraph rather than at the end.

We’ve joked that MEAL sounds better than MEAC (Main point, Evidence, Analysis, Conclusion) and that you want to have a full MEAL rather than a dinner of only MEAT (Main point, Evidence, Analysis, Transition), but I still find myself thinking of new ways to discuss paragraph organization without the confusing term lead-in. I was at the local farmer’s market the other day when inspiration struck: PEAS.

The PEAS plan, like the MEAL plan, begins with the point that you’re making in that paragraph, supported by evidence and analysis. The PEAS plan replaces the term lead-in with the term summary, referring to a sentence that wraps up the ideas in the paragraph and ties back to the main point, reminding readers why the paragraph is important to the overall argument.
PEAS image

You may have heard the phrase “two peas in a pod,” but pods usually contain multiple peas. Similarly, in your paragraph, you will need more than one piece of evidence and one sentence of analysis, and the evidence and analysis sentences will be mixed and combined within your paragraph.

The image of several peas nestled inside a pod can help you remember that the order of the evidence and analysis is less rigid than the MEAL plan suggests. Not every paragraph should contain all of the evidence followed by all of the analysis. You might have some paragraphs constructed that way, but some paragraphs will use evidence and analysis followed by more evidence and analysis, and some will combine evidence and analysis within sentences. The evidence and analysis can sometimes be hard to distinguish from each other (that’s one reason why citations are important), but they are both vital to a strong paragraph.

PEAS image

Another component of a strong paragraph is unity. To push the PEAS acronym a bit further, think about how all of the peas (the multiple pieces of evidence and analysis) are nestled within the top of the pod (point of paragraph) and the bottom of the pod (summary). What this image means for academic writing is that the evidence and analysis in your paragraph should fall under the main point of your paragraph. When all of your evidence and analysis clearly connects to your main point, you have what’s called paragraph unity, which helps to focus your argument.

The MEAL plan remains a useful blueprint for paragraph organization, but if you have trouble remembering or understanding the MEAL plan, try following the PEAS plan.

Do you have a suggestion for another paragraph organization acronym? Share it in the comments! 

Anne Shiell

A former teacher of college composition courses, Anne Shiell is a self-described punctuation geek. She recently moved to Indianapolis.

1 comment :

  1. Anne, while I love the MEAL plan you make a great argument for the PEAS plan. What I really like is the graphic of peas with varying order of E's and A's. That really helps show where the "personality" of the paragraph will come out. I think some students think these paragraph acronyms are forcing their writing to sound like a robot. However, I argue that when we read paragraphs organized this way, we simply understand it better. We're not thinking...oh, there's the evidence, there's the analysis; instead the focus is on the smooth transition of the ideas within the paragraph. The scattered E and A peas in your graphic I think show this well. Thanks! ~Dr. Darci Harland