You probably have seen a student paper in which one paragraph consumes an entire page -- and maybe more. To break up this long block of type, the student might reread the text and insert paragraph breaks to make the paper “easier on the eye.” This is an after-the-fact way to fix an unwieldy paragraph -- to look for shifts in time, place or person and begin a new paragraph right there. But when you know how to organize and write a paragraph properly, you should rarely, if ever, encounter this messy problem.
Craft Topic Sentence
Pinpoint the main idea of your paragraph by writing a specific topic sentence. A topic sentence serves to summarize what the paragraph is about and the direction it will take. A topic sentence should be expansive enough to cover all of the information that is to follow. It also should engage the reader's interest. It might take several revisions to get the topic sentence right, but it's worth the time and effort. Consider this topic sentence: “I viewed it as a strange birthday gift at the time, but I'm glad my mother signed me up for that summer cooking class.” This sentence charts a pathway for the paragraph to follow while giving the writer plenty of options to explore.
Write Elaborating Sentences
Amplify and expound on your topic sentence with three or four illuminating sentences. They might build in terms of importance or intensity, but each sentence should bring added meaning to the all-important topic sentence. While the topic sentence expresses the main idea, subsequent sentences express supporting ideas so that your meaning becomes increasingly clear to the reader. Details are vital to elaborating sentences. For example, elaborating sentences that successively build upon the topic sentence about the summer cooking class might read: “We learned how to prepare quick, one-skillet dinners for busy weeknights. We also learned how to create appetizers and elaborate, pull-out-the-stops dinners for special occasions. And every step of the way, we got to sample our successes -- and our mistakes.” These sentences help the reader visualize the cooking class while conveying a sense of adventure.
Bring Fitting Closure
The concluding sentence in a paragraph can be as tricky, and there is no one “correct” way to write it. So give yourself several renditions to get it right. A closing sentence might supply a humorous or ironic touch. Often, it points forward, in anticipation of the next paragraph. A closing sentence that would add a touch of humor to a paragraph about the summer cooking class, while also creating a link with the topic sentence, might state: “Given how much I learned, I can't wait to see what my mother cooks up for my Christmas gift.”
Check for Relevancy and Unity
Read the topic sentence and then match the subsequent sentences against it to ensure that they all amplify the main point you have established in the paragraph. If any sentence does not fit, tweak it or replace it as needed. Viewed as a whole, the paragraph and all of its pieces should fit together logically. While relevancy is vital, so is flow and unity between the sentences. They should not read in a staccato manner, so use transitional words -- such as moreover, likewise or similarly -- where appropriate between sentences. Transitional words are like bridges, easing the passage from one idea to another. With practice, they become easier to write.
- The Little, Brown Handbook; H. Ramsey Fowler et al.
- The New St. Martin’s Handbook; Andrea Lunsford and Robert Connors
- Prentice Hall Guide to Basic Writing; Emil Roy and Sandra Roy
- Butte College: Writing Paragraphs
- Purdue University: Online Writing Lab: On Paragraphs
- Yale University: Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute: Effective Methods For Teaching Paragraph Development
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