Supporting Paragraphs

"A paragraph is a sentence or group of sentences that develops a main idea. Paragraphs serve as the primary building blocks of essays, reports, memos, and other forms of written composition" (Hult and Huckin, The New Century Handbook, 103).

In essence, paragraphs control the design and structure of the written composition. Paragraphs in the middle of your composition develop the thesis statement and provide transition ideas between supporting details.

Paragraphs should be "unified, coherent, and adequately developed, while flowing from one to the next as smoothly as possible" (Hult and Huckin, The New Century Handbook, 103).

Rule to Remember

Make sure all your paragraphs are unified, coherent, and adequately developed.

"A unified paragraph focuses on and develops a single main idea. This idea is typically captured in a single sentence, called a topic sentence. The other sentences in the paragraph, the supporting sentences, should elaborate on the topic sentence in a logical fashion (Hult and Huckin, The New Century Handbook, 104).

The supporting sentences, also called the body of the paragraph, are used to support, explain, illustrate, or provide evidence for the idea expressed in the topic sentence.

Topic Sentence expresses a paragraph's main idea
Body of the Paragraph develops the main idea expressed in the topic sentence

The main characteristics of a well-written paragraph

Unity Is achieved by keeping details in the paragraph focused around the central idea.
Coherence Linking individual sentences within a paragraph should be done in a logical way; the paragraph itself should be connected with the rest of the composition by following the natural progression of thought. Use transitional words and phrases to ensure the smooth flow of thought.
Adequate Development Each paragraph should be long enough to develop in full the main idea expressed in the topic sentence.

Rule to Remember

Introduce a topic sentence in your paragraph and then let the rest of the sentences build details to support it.

A paragraph should not introduce any other evidence or provide information that does not support the main idea; otherwise, the paragraph will lack unity and coherence.

Find logical subdivisions in your argument and organize them into unified paragraphs.

It is common to start a paragraph with a topic sentence and then let the rest of the sentences build details to support it. However, this is not by any means the only or the best pattern. The topic sentence can appear in any part of the paragraph or sometimes it can be implied.

Topic sentences at the beginning of a paragraph

In the following two paragraphs, the topic sentence appears at the beginning:

The environment the teacher creates in the classroom plays one of the most crucial roles in successful learning. This is true of any setting, whether the teaching occurs in a long academic program or in a tutoring situation. The teacher is a role model, a person students can trust, a guide, and a mentor. It is the responsibility of the teacher to create a low-anxiety environment in order to allow the students to enjoy the learning process. A good teacher tries to find out what works best with a particular learner or a group of learners and goes from there. What needs to come first in any learning situation is not a specific aspect or principle of methodology but the learners themselves.

From a Teaching Practicum Reflection Paper

Online education has become more popular than other forms of distance education because it offers learners a great deal of flexibility. Students have the freedom to work at their own pace, time, and chosen location. The flexibility of online learning makes it a very powerful tool that enhances learning, provides motivation for self-directed study, and, at the same time, increases convenience for learners with effective use of place and time. Online education is an excellent solution for those who consider learning to be a lifelong process. For adult learners, it provides the possibility to manage work, family, and other activities while still being able to take classes.

From a student research paper on Advantages and Limitations of Web-Based Instruction

"A topic sentence should, if possible, do four things: (1) provide a transition from a the preceding paragraph, (2) introduce the topic of the paragraph, (3) make a main point about this topic, and (4) suggest how the rest of the paragraph will develop this point" (Hult and Huckin, The New Century Handbook, 104).

Suggestions for writing paragraphs

  • Avoid paragraphs that are either too long or too short
  • Develop a single idea in a paragraph
  • Use different patterns of paragraph development (narration, description, definition, example, comparison and contrast, analogy, cause and effect, or process)
  • Provide transitions between paragraphs to make your writing flow smoothly (refer to the section on Transitions)

Rule to Remember

Audience also affects the choice of language, vocabulary, and sentence structures.

Reasons to start a new paragraph

  • Introduce a new idea
  • Emphasize an idea
  • Introduce a logical pause
  • Introduce a subtopic
  • Conclude the composition

(Lunsford, The Everyday Writer, 48)

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