A paragraph is a collection
of related sentences dealing with a single topic. To be as effective as possible, a paragraph should contain
each of the following: Unity,
Coherence, A Topic Sentence, and Adequate Development. As you will see, all of these traits
overlap. Using and adapting them
to your individual purposes will help you construct effective paragraphs.
The most important
paragraphs in an essay introduce your topic to your reader. Your introduction may be one
paragraph in a fairly short essay or several paragraphs in a longer essay. Just as there is no requirement for
the number of paragraphs in an introduction, there is no requirement for the
content. Sometimes, students
create for themselves a formula for introductions: always begin with a catchy quotation; always begin with a
question; always begin by rewording the assignment. Each of these approaches may be appropriate for some
essays. None is appropriate for
proper introduction should
*invite the reader
to join you in considering your topic
reader a clear idea of what the essay is about
reader an idea of the kinds of sources you are considering
reader a sense of the context for your topic
Approaches To Writing An Introduction
Beginning with a question
begin your essay with a question, you ask your reader to consider with you
the problem that inspired you to write.
What question are you trying to answer in your essay? Why is this
question important to you and to your readers?
Beginning by Stating a Position
are writing an argumentative essay, you may decide to begin by stating your
position in the first paragraph.
When you state your position, however, you need to be sure to help
your reader understand the context for your argument. Your thinking about this topic did
not spring from nowhere: why is
this topic important to you? Why should it interest your readers?
Beginning by Offering Background
readers may be unfamiliar with the topic about which you are writing, your
introductory paragraph may serve to give them necessary background. Sometimes that background can
summarize the results of other people's writing about the topic. Sometimes background information can
place your topic in a larger context.
Beginning by Defining
you present an essay to readers, you want to be sure that you and your readers
are defining terms in the same way.
Starting out by defining key terms may be useful when those terms are
confusing or able to be misread.
Beginning by Illustrating
An illustration, example, or
anecdote can be an effective way of generating your readers' interest in your
essay. Vivid details,
suspenseful narrative, or interesting descriptions can make your reader want
to continue reading.
Illustrations, however, should relate to the focus of your essay.
The development of an introduction
can be determined by the following parts, which move from the general to the
specific. Though an introduction
often takes the form of a single paragraph in a short essay, this is by no
means a hard and fast rule.
Regardless if one uses a single paragraph or three paragraphs, the
introduction should be proportionately no more than one-fifth of the overall
GENERAL: Introduce readers to a general subject in
relation to your essay's topic; provide a "hook" to interest
readers to read further.
NARROWER: Announce the topic of your essay as a more
specific issue within the general subject. (In response essays, this is where the text is
introduced for the first time by way of the author's full name; the
author's authority and/or credentials; the essay's full title in quotation
marks; and the author's thesis or position in paraphrase). Narrow the scope of your topic by
stating or implying an attitude about it.
SPECIFIC: Assert your central claim, or thesis requiring
the remaining essay to provide or support that claim; forecast an
organizational and developmental strategy for the essay that will
follow. (In response essays,
this is where you state your agreement or disagreement with the author, or
add your own position or perspective as requested by the topic.)
A typical body paragraph
should concern itself with a single focus. If it begins with a one focus or major point of
discussion, it should not end with another or wander within different ideas.
The number of body
paragraphs to which a writer should dedicate her essay development is often
debated. In a rigidly structured
five-paragraph essay, three body paragraphs develop three points implicitly
raised in the thesis. This,
however, should be regarded as a minimal number, but
not necessarily an optimal number; or, to look at it in
another manner, three body paragraphs are the least development
expected of you because your thesis should bear enough complexity to warrant
at least three points of further discussion.
body paragraphs do the work of building the essay's argument, they are
defined most by the kind of support they use, which in turn classifies the
kind of paragraph you are writing by its developmental structure. Typically, body paragraphs organize
themselves around the following pattern of development.
In a topic sentence or two, offer a claim of
fact, assert a point or opinion (claim of value), or suggest a course of
action (claim of policy)
In a sentence or two, expand the topic by
defining or redefining terms, or by discussing the nuances and complexities
of the topic assertion
Using a clear pattern of development, introduce
evidence that illustrates or verifies the topic assertion.
In a sentence or two, state what you feel is
the relevance of your support to your topic point
Reiterate the topic assertion as a consequence of
support and interpretation; introduce verb al or logical bridges to the
topic of the next paragraph.
Your concluding paragraph
should give your readers a sense of closure or completion. Very often, your concluding paragraph
will develop naturally as you finish writing your body paragraphs. You should, however, keep the following
guidelines in mind as you develop your concluding paragraph:
you are using a flashback organizational pattern for the narrative
paper, are you returning the reader to the "present"?
the narrative paper and in the process paper, are you ending with an
explanation of a lesson learned or insight gained?
the definition paper, are you returning to a more general discussion of
the concept or event you are defining, emphasizing the value that this
concept or event holds for you in your personal culture?
the argumentation paper, are you EITHER pulling all of your arguments
from the body paragraphs together into one convincing concluding
argument OR restating, in a new and fresh way, the main point that the
arguments in the body paragraph support?
should avoid doing the following in concluding paragraphs. While there are those that believe
the first two, especially, are necessary in argumentation papers, these
techniques can take a fairly good paper and turn it into BAD writing. Be sure that your concluding
paragraph exemplifies the same kind of careful consideration during
development that your body paragraphs do.
restating the thesis statement from the introductory paragraph in
exactly the same words
listing the main points of each of the body paragraph
introducing an entirely new topic
you have written your concluding paragraph, reread your thesis
statement. Has your paper
strayed from the original thesis? Do you need to rewrite the thesis
statement, the concluding paragraph, or both? A common freshman writing error
is letting the paper develop naturally to its conclusion, even if it strays
from the thesis, then submitting the paper without making sure that the
thesis statement and the conclusion express the same opinion. Don't be afraid to change your thesis
statement to reflect the main idea of the paper that you have written, but do
be sure that the rest of the paper supports that final thesis statement.
you have written your concluding paragraph and you know what your paper is
really about, it's time to work on the introductory paragraph.
Coherency is the trait that makes the paragraph easily
understandable to a reader. You
can help create coherence in your paragraphs by creating logical bridges and
verbal bridges (i.e., transitions).
same idea of a topic is carried over from sentence to sentence
sentences can be constructed in parallel form
words can be repeated in several sentences
words can be repeated in several sentences
can refer to nouns in previous sentences
words can be used to link ideas from different sentences
A topic sentence is a
sentence that indicates in a general way what idea or thesis the paragraph is
going to deal with. Although not
all paragraphs have clear-cut topic sentences, and despite the fact that
topic sentences can occur anywhere in the paragraph (as the first sentence,
the last sentence, or somewhere in the middle), an easy way to make sure your
reader understands the topic of the paragraph is to put your topic sentence
near the beginning of the paragraph.
(This is a good general rule for less experienced writers, although it
is not the only way to do it).
The topic (which is
introduced by the topic sentence) should be discussed fully and
adequately. Again, this varies
from paragraph to paragraph, depending on the author's purpose, but writers
should beware of paragraphs that only have two or three sentences. It's a pretty good bet that the
paragraph is not fully developed if it is that short.
Some methods to make sure
your paragraph is well-developed by one of three kinds of support:
Rely on what other credible people
as valuable opinion, or
what ought to be done
Quote experts and scholars to corroborate or
To cite and interpret data (facts, statistics,
evidence, details, and others)
To segregate ideas or topics into categories
that can be analyzed in closer detail
To use a pattern of examples and a longer
illustration, followed by interpretation
To offer a chronology of an event or a
procedure (time segments)
To evaluate causes and reasons; examine effects
To compare or contrast traits and arguments
between two or more related subjects
Use of concrete details of one subject to
clarify or suggest the abstract details of another unrelated subject; draw
a metaphorical comparison
Use of rhetorical devices based in logic
(deductive and inductive reasoning) in order to convince others to take a
Describe the topic with sensory detail and
figurative language to convey a mood or an attitude
Use an anecdote or story to illustrate a
Define terms in the paragraph to reflect
values or agendas
Analyze the topic to convey a perspective, a philosophy
or an impression
Use rhetorical devices based in emotion and
character in order to convince others to take a position