To write a good essay, research paper, or any piece of academic or writing task, you must know how to construct a good paragraph. Although this guide introduces you to the easy steps, you need to write a great paragraph, it covers the techniques you can master to write the best paragraphs from now on.
In the end, you will write complete, orderly, unified, and coherent paragraphs that make reading through your work easier.
A paragraph is a collection of sentences that are organized around a central topic or idea.
Paragraphs are important when writing any piece. You begin with a letter, then a word, then your sentences, then the paragraph, then your essay, research paper, term paper, white paper, etc.
As a fundamental rule, each paragraph must focus on just one idea spread through its topic sentence, evidence/examples, and the closing sentence.
A solid paragraph ensures a flow of ideas in the readers' minds and improves the clarity of your writing. To write A+ grade essays, research papers, or even stories, you need to master the paragraph.
And to write that good paragraph, you need to master the four critical elements of paragraph writing and how each ensures that you end up with the best paragraphs.
Students mostly ask about the length of a paragraph, including the appropriate number of sentences a paragraph should have.
Even though there is no definitive word count, at its basic, a paragraph has five sentences: a topic sentence, three supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence.
You can have more than five sentences in a longer paragraph. However, to maintain unity, coherence, orderliness, and completeness, balancing the number of sentences in your paragraph matters.
In terms of word count, a basic paragraph is between 100-200 words in length, comprising 3-5 or more sentences.
We have seen excellent paragraphs as short as 12 words and some as long as 12-13 sentences in length. What matters is how correctly the points are laid out and that each paragraph bears a single point or idea supported by facts, examples, and evidence, then transitioned to the next.
A lot of writers and students often find it difficult to judge when to begin a new paragraph. Primarily, this happens when you cannot distinguish between the topic sentence and your thesis statement.
A thesis is your essay's central or main idea, while a topic sentence is the main idea in a paragraph. Therefore, you can only have one thesis and many topic sentences supporting the thesis.
You can begin a new paragraph when:
A paragraph will only be complete if:
Finally, when writing, consider the paragraphs as part of the larger argument and not stand-alone units. This means that there must be a good flow between paragraphs through transitioning of ideas.
Although writing is a challenge, it does not have to be difficult when you know how to develop good paragraphs. The steps below can help you write paragraphs that get you an A+ in your paper.
Before you begin to write a paragraph, it is usually standard practice to have an outline. Now, if you already have an outline for the paper you are writing, it is easy to know the purpose of your paragraphs. That said, you need to know the main idea or the controlling idea that organizes the paragraph.
Draft a sentence that sums up your argument and introduces the focus of the sentence – your topic sentence. The topic sentence should be specific, focused, and detailed enough to cover within 100-200 words in a paragraph. As well, it should be general enough that you can develop it in more many sentences.
Immediately after writing the topic sentence, ensure that you expand and explain its meaning so that the reader understands why it matters to your overall argument.
Immediately after the topic sentence, offer evidence that supports the idea in the topic sentence. For example, you can use statistics, quotations from scholarly sources, summarize, paraphrase, and quote secondary sources, qualitative or quantitative studies results, and descriptive examples such as events, art, pieces of lyrics, etc.
With the evidence provided, it is now time to explain the significance of the evidence to your reader. Your approach depends on the type of evidence you gave. Whichever piece of evidence you decide to tell the reader its implication for your argument, your interpretation of its meaning, and how it develops the ideas in the paragraph.
Finally, conclude your paragraph by linking to your main point – the one in the topic sentence. You should also show how the evidence supports your thesis.
After concluding the paragraph, you can read through the final result and ensure there is coherence, unity, flow, orderliness, and that the paragraph is complete.
In a nutshell, good paragraph writing must portray unity, order, coherence, and completeness. These elements fortify the basic structure of a paragraph comprising five sentences, namely a topic sentence, three supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence.
The secret of good paragraph writing lies with these four elements. So, when you use them correctly, you will turn an average paragraph into a great paragraph that gives you a gold-star essay. Let’s dig into these elements
Unity in paragraphing refers to the connection of a paragraph to the main idea. It begins with the topic sentence of your paragraph.
As indicated before, each paragraph has a single controlling idea that is expressed in a topic sentence.
When a paragraph is unified around the main idea, with the supporting sentences each providing details and discussion that fortifies the topic sentence, that paragraph is unity.
Therefore, you need to ensure that your paragraphs each have an outstanding topic sentence that aligns with the theme and the points you want to make.
Another vital element of a good paragraph order. Order refers to how you organize your supporting sentences – the ones that come after the topic sentence.
You can choose to use an order of importance, chronological order, point-by-point order, or other logical presentation of detail to make a solid paragraph. The definite organization ensures that your paragraph meets the definition of being orderly.
In an orderly paragraph, the readers are at peace and ease following through the ideas, connecting the dots with the main idea and the topic sentence, and make meaning of the topic.
Orderliness, in a paragraph, helps the readers avoid confusion.
When a paragraph is coherent, it means that it has the quality that makes it understandable. A coherent paragraph has all the sentences connecting to each other and working in synchrony.
In most cases, using transition words and a good choice of words when writing ensures coherence. The words knit together sentences in a paragraph by bridging one sentence to the other.
Transitions can be used to show spatial relationships (e.g., above, next to, below), order (first, second, third...etc.), or logic (additionally, in fact, as such, furthermore…. etc.). There also has to be consistency in point of view and verb tense when writing a paragraph to improve coherence.
Coherence is also related to the length of a paragraph. If a paragraph is too short, you should develop its controlling idea or combine it with another paragraph for coherence. If it is too long, consider dividing the paragraph into two.
You can create coherence by creating parallel structures where you construct sentences with the same grammatical structure to make them clearer. You also need to have consistency in verb tense, number, and point of view. Equally, use transitions between sentences and paragraphs.
A good paragraph has to be complete, which means that it must be well-developed. A complete paragraph has all the sentences clearly and sufficiently written to support the main idea–thesis.
Typically, for your paragraph to be complete, you need the topic sentence, three supporting sentences, and the closing sentences.
Your closing sentence, concluding sentence, or last sentence in your paragraph should summarize your main idea by reinforcing the topic sentence and offer a transition to the next paragraph.
You can use different paragraph organization strategies or structures when writing a paragraph, depending on which one you’ve mastered well. In most cases, good academic writers do the organization without realizing they used a given structure in their paragraph. Such a level of mastery makes writing attractive and less boring. Now, let’s build the writer spirit in you.
A paragraph has three distinct parts:
PEAL is a paragraph organizational structure that helps writers formulate a developed argument and supported analysis when writing and speaking.
PEAL stands for Point, Evidence, Application/Analysis, and Language. The PEAL paragraphing technique is a formulaic or methodological structure of writing that helps craft well-developed, coherent, and focused paragraphs.
You can turn the question in your essay’s prompt in a statement or a point and use transitions to connect the thinking and examples.
In a paragraph, the point refers to your topic sentence. It is a claim of what is to be proven within the paragraph.
As with the PEEL and Schaffer paragraphs, your first sentence is followed by pieces of evidence. Again, you can use textual evidence to support your established point. Use the direct quotation for stronger evidence but give the right citation at the end or beginning of your sentence.
This is usually the bulk of your paragraph that connects the evidence back to the point that it is supporting and explains how and why the evidence is significant.
It analyzes the evidence you have presented. It is akin to the “Explanation” section of a PEEL paragraph. This is usually the longest section that requires logical, critical, and original thinking.
To complete the paragraph, you need to link the points you’ve made in the paragraph to the essay question, topic, or thesis.
The link is your concluding sentence.
In a nutshell, make a statement or claim (POINT), use transitions to connect thinking and examples. First, you need to identify two pieces of EVIDENCE that support your example, then ANALYZE the examples to show how they prove your POINT. You can then LINK back your reader to the POINT to remind them of your main idea.
In the short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” Richard Connell uses foreshadowing to create suspense and keep his audience engaged (POINT). One example of foreshadowing that is meant to create suspense is when Whitney is talking to Rainsford while they are on the ship’s deck at night and says, “Even cannibals wouldn't live in such a God-forsaken place,” in reference to an ominous island they are sailing past at the time (Connell 9). (EVIDENCE). By stating that the island is such a terrible place that even those who are not morally opposed to eating other humans would not live there, Connell successfully creates suspense, making the reader want to know what could possibly be that bad. This is important because the description and detail lead the reader to believe something will go wrong soon, and helps build the uneasy and mysterious suspense that drives the plot forward (ANALYSIS). Moreover, the fact that Whitney and the sailors on board know this island’s legendary status engages the reader, making them want to know more about this “God-forsaken” place called Ship-Trap Island (Link).
The PEEL paragraph format is the same as the PEAL technique. It stands for Point, Evidence, Explanation, Link (PEEL).
This is the main point in the paragraph or if you like the topic sentence. It contains a single idea that the paragraph is about. It expresses the main idea or the central argument of the paragraph.
Evidence refers to statistics, quotes, examples, illustrations, or facts from authoritative sources such as primary and secondary scholarly sources.
The evidence is followed by an explanation of the evidence and how it supports the paragraph's main idea (Point).
The final or concluding sentence bridges to the next paragraph and links to the main idea in the topic sentence.
Read our article on the PEEL format to help you structure your paragraphs better.
Related Article: PEEL Paragraphing Technique
The Schaffer model for paragraphs helps you organize your evidence and thoughts to form coherent, unified, orderly, and complete paragraphs.
A basic Schaffer paragraph comprises five sentences:
Let’s break down the Schaffer paragraph into details:
This is the leading sentence in every body paragraph. It tells your reader what exactly a paragraph is about. A topic sentence (TS) should be short, clear, and concise.
It does not necessarily have to be backed by proof or evidence. Instead, you need to introduce your reader to the idea.
All the other components of a paragraph must relate to the topic sentence, which means it has to be specific. It is the mini-thesis in your paper as it tells the reader about the point you are proving in a paragraph.
The concrete detail comes after the topic sentence. Considering the hamburger, the concrete details are the meat. Therefore, the CD supports the topic sentence (TS).
It might include examples, statistics, plot points, quotes, and facts from the text or academic sources. Given its purpose, you cannot argue with it. Instead, the concrete detail has to be the evidence that supports the main idea of the paragraph.
A concrete detail can either make or break your argument. Therefore, the source you use when developing it must be accurate, reliable, and scholarly. You are allowed to use direct quotes but avoid basing the paragraphs around vague opinions or ideas.
The commentary sentences (CM) refer to the analysis, interpretations, examples, and insights you give concerning the topic sentence. These sentences discuss the meaning of the concrete detail. Instead of restating the evidence or providing a summary, you need to analyze your ideas and present analysis.
The commentary is where you explain how the evidence supports your argument and elaborate on what it means. Then, you infer from the evidence and write about the insights that the evidence provides. As you write this paragraph section, ensure that you link to the topic sentence to focus your argument.
The concluding sentence or the closing sentence is the last sentence of each body paragraph. It summarizes the points made in a paragraph and transitions the paragraph to the next paragraph. Equally, a closing sentence also connects your paragraph to the main thesis of your paper.
The sentence can commence with phrases like “Therefore,” “consequently,” “due to,” or “as a result,” which links the evidence to the major argument of your essay.
When writing longer paragraphs, you are allowed to go beyond the five-sentence format. You can have a single topic sentence, several concrete details, and commentary as outlined below:
Here are two sample paragraphs to clarify the Schaffer paragraphing technique.
In the fairytale “Cinderella,” the main character feels mistreated (TS). For example, Cinderella must do all of the cooking and cleaning for her family (CD). These chores keep her isolated and friendless. The stepmother is thus able to give Cinderella even more work, which prevents her from going to the ball (CM). Therefore, Cinderella feels abused by the very people who are supposed to love her (CS).
In the fairytale “The Three Little Pigs,” the third pig is very wise (TS). For example, remembering his mother’s warning about a wolf, he builds his house out of sturdy brick (CD). The wolf is unable to blow down the brick house (CM). This shows that the third pig is smarter than his brothers, who were both eaten by the wolf (CM). In conclusion, the third pig not only outsmarts his brothers but the “big, bad” wolf as well (CS).
Now that you understand how to develop good body paragraphs, it is essential to know that good paragraphing saves you trouble when editing.
After completing your paragraph, read through it to ensure a good flow and transition to the next paragraph. When writing, do not use long words. Instead, write in simple language and, if possible well-known synonyms to vary your writing instead of repeating the same word many times.
Besides, do not get bogged down in the minor details of the paragraphs, leave that to the editing and proofreading stages of your essay. As long as the points are clear, connected, and well-laid out, move to the next paragraph.
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