An assignment to write a paragraph on a topic seems relatively simple and straightforward. Turning that paragraph into an essay may seem daunting. However, an essay has the same basic structure as a paragraph, and there are some simple strategies that can help a writer expand the ideas in a paragraph to a classic five-paragraph essay.
Thesis Statement First
Start with a solid thesis statement. A good paragraph has a topic sentence; a good essay has a thesis statement. They are essentially the same thing -- a sentence that tells the reader the point or purpose of the piece of writing. The topic sentence is usually found at the beginning of a paragraph. The thesis statement of an essay is found within the essay's introduction, typically toward the end of the introduction. Expand on a paragraph's topic sentence to turn it into a thesis statement. One way to do this is to think about the "how" of the topic. A topic sentence that reads, "Coach Jones was an influential person in my life" can be expanded by including information on how the coach was influential: "Coach Jones taught me to be honest, rewarded my diligence and was always patient with me."
A paragraph has a body made up of three to five sentences that support the topic sentence. An essay has a body of two to three paragraphs -- more if the essay is a detailed or in-depth treatment of the topic -- that support the thesis statement. A simple strategy is to take each of the paragraph's body sentences and use them as topic sentences to write paragraphs that will become the body of the essay. Continuing with example in the first section, one of the body sentences in the paragraph might be, "Coach Jones encouraged me to be honest with him, my teammates and myself." The writer could use this as a topic sentence and support it by giving examples of how she was honest with the coach, her teammates and herself.
A stand-alone paragraph has a concluding sentence, while an essay has an entire paragraph devoted to the conclusion. Of course part of a conclusion’s job is to allow the reader to feel a sense of closure to the essay, but beyond that, a conclusion should leave the reader with a thought that inspires him to continue to think about, remember or maybe even act upon the subject of the essay. Some strategies for writing conclusions are to make a prediction, offer a solution or a recommendation or state an opinion about the essay's topic based on the information in the body paragraphs. A conclusion about the influential coach Jones may discuss the writer's opinion that more adult mentors are needed in children's lives.
It may seem backward to write the introduction of an essay last instead of first, but this is a strategy that works well. The introduction may be the only part of the essay that does not have a counterpart in a stand-alone paragraph. An introduction may be developed by beginning it with a famous quote, a definition, or a little-known, surprising fact or statistic -- all of which are related in some way to the topic of the essay. The essay about coach Jones may include a definition of the word "influential" in the introduction, or it may include a researched statistic about how many teenagers consider themselves to have been influenced by an adult mentor.
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images