Breaking Down the MEAL Plan: Wrapping Up With Lead Out Sentences -->

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Breaking Down the MEAL Plan: Wrapping Up With Lead Out Sentences

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Over the past three weeks, Beth, Sarah, and Jen explained the first three parts of a MEAL plan* paragraph: a main idea, evidence, and analysis. This week we’re going to explore the fourth and final letter of the MEAL plan acronym: L, for “lead out.” 

Breaking Down the MEAL Plan: Part 4: The Lead Out Sentence

Of all the components of the MEAL plan, the lead out is the one I see writers struggle with most often. Maybe it’s because the term “lead out” doesn’t paint as clear a picture in our minds as do “main idea,” “evidence,” and “analysis.” Those three words show up often in course readings and assignments; “lead out,” not so often. So what does it mean to lead your reader out of the paragraph? In order to write an effective lead out sentence, it’s important to know what it is, but also what it is not.

A lead out sentence is:
  • The final sentence of the paragraph.
  • A summary of the main point you want your reader to take away from your paragraph.
  • A resting place for your reader to process what he or she has just read before moving on to new content in the next paragraph.
A lead out sentence is not:
  • A transition sentence.
Yep, that’s right. Though “lead out” sounds like a synonym for transition, for paragraphing purposes, it isn’t. Here’s why.

Imagine your paper is a journey you are taking with your reader. You are the guide, and you have the map; the reader doesn’t know where you are going, but trusts you to lead expertly and to thoughtfully consider how long each leg of the journey should be. Your job is to anticipate the most logical resting points, and group your ideas together in ways that will allow the reader to rest easily between them. These groupings are your paragraphs. The space between each paragraph is a resting point, a place for the reader to briefly process what he or she has just experienced on the leg of the journey just completed: the previous paragraph.

So, what do you want your reader to process while he or she rests up for the next leg? A succinct summary of the main content of the preceding paragraph. If you transition before the resting point, the reader may not be able to rest at all; instead, he or she has to jump instantly into processing a new idea.

As an illustration, let’s look once again at our sample paragraph from the first three blog posts. This time, though, I’ve changed the original lead out sentence to a sentence that transitions to a new idea.
     Many infant and mother deaths can be prevented, especially in the third world. Worldwide, around 11,000,000 children under 5 years old die primarily from preventable diseases, and over 500,000 mothers die from pregnancy- or delivery-related complications annually; almost 99% of these occur in developing countries (Hill et al., 2007). This high number is devastating because while infants in these countries have a high risk of dying, their risk does not stop once they are adults. For women, the lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes is about 100 times higher in Bangladesh than in developed countries (WHO, 2004). The continued failures in implementing straightforward interventions targeting the root causes of mortalities have been responsible for these deaths (McCoy, 2006). The medical community has not been able to come up with simple, cost-effective, and life-saving methods that would help save lives in developing countries. In spite of these high mortality rates, women hold more political seats in Bangladesh than in nearly all other developing nations in the world.

Do you see how that last sentence, while well-written, factual, and smoothly linked to the preceding content, feels jarring at the bottom of that paragraph? If, as a writer, I wanted to move from discussing infant and mother mortality rates in Bangladesh to discussing Bangladeshi women in politics, I could certainly do so, especially if my paper was a broader discussion of life for women in Bangladesh. It would make much more sense, however, to make this transition at the top of the next paragraph, after the reader had rested and taken in the content in this paragraph about high mortality rates. The transitioning sentence would instead become the main idea (that “M” in the MEAL plan) of the next paragraph.

The original concluding sentence of the example paragraph is a perfect example of a successful lead out. Let’s check it against the criteria listed above.
This lack of innovation in the medical field has resulted in the continued unnecessary deaths of thousands of mothers and children.

 Is it the final sentence of the paragraph? Yes.
 Does it summarize of the main point of the paragraph? Yes. It does not repeat the main idea but instead helps tie together all three MEAL components that precede it: main idea, evidence, and analysis.
 Does it help the reader rest before moving on to the next paragraph? Yes. It gives readers content from the previous paragraph to file away in their brain so that they are up to speed on the paper’s argument and are ready to move on.
 Does it wrap up the idea(s) in the paragraph rather than transitioning to a new idea? Yes. It stays with the same ideas, leaving the transition for the beginning of the next paragraph.


Using the MEAL plan can help you write paragraphs that are organized, developed, focused, and easy for readers to understand. Try the MEAL plan with your next piece of writing, and let us know how it goes in the comments!

*The MEAL plan is adapted from the Duke University Writing Studio.

Breaking Down the MEAL Plan with the Walden Writing Center: Part 1: The Main Idea Breaking Down the MEAL Plan with the Walden Writing Center: Part 2: Evidence Breaking Down the MEAL Plan with the Walden Writing Center: Part 3: Analysis Breaking Down the MEAL Plan with the Walden Writing Center: Part 4: The Lead Out Sentence Image Map


Brittany Kallman Arneson
 is a Writing Instructor and the Coordinator of Writing Center Residency Instruction and Design. Brittany also co-hosts WriteCast, the Writing Center's podcast.

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