Cutting Up the Paragraph: How to use A.X.E.S. Paragraph Structure

By Erica Wirthlin

Paragraphs are more than a block of text that begin with an indent and end with a period. They are a platform for analysis, criticism, and meaningful insights. Paragraph structure is key to conveying and supporting your opinion as an author. This blog will walk you through the skeleton of an effective paragraph so that you may too harness the awesome power of the paragraph.

Known as the A.X.E.S. Paragraph, the purpose of this skeleton is to lay out all the pieces involved in developing a claim. You can think of yourself as a lumberjack with his own set of axes for doing his job well.  To assemble your “axes”, you will need a few things.

  • Assertion: The first part of the paragraph is your argument. This is not a summary or a general statement, but an assertion that helps support your main thesis. This is sometimes referred to as a “topic sentence” that focuses your readers on the specific subject of the paragraph.
  • eXample: This is where we incorporate the evidence into the paragraph that will develop and defend our claim. This evidence takes the form of concrete detail that could be a direct quote, a paraphrase, data, or a description of an object, just to name a few kinds. You should always introduce the context of your evidence and provide a brief introduction if need be.
  • Explanation: Examples always require an explanation, which is why we provide one directly after they have been introduced into the paragraph. This could be anything from a close reading of key language or revealing a negative correlation, depending on the type of evidence used.
  • Significance: The final part of a paragraph is the “So What?” of your claim and evidence. By reflecting on the importance of the paragraph in light of the main thesis, you should be able to link your argument and its supporting examples back to the main purpose of your paper.

The following is an example of A.X.E.S. at work:

(A) The hydrologic features of the Black Rock desert and its surrounding area make it a unique opponent to sustainable inhabitation and development. (X) Despite technological advances in drilling, viable water access is limited due to its scarcity, location in deep underground aquifers, or any number of geological obstacles, such as hardpan layers (Goin & Starrs 2010). (E) This makes water not only expensive to drill and pump to the surface, but also means its availability and quality are unreliable for potential denizens. (S) As populations in Nevada continue to grow, water scarcity will limit development in potential sites like the Black Rock region.

I hope this tool was useful, now get your A.X.E.S. swinging!


Goin, P., & Starrs, P. (2010). Thus the thunder spoke: water. In Black Rock (pp. 91-92). Reno, Nevada: Black Rock Press

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