English - Paragraph

1 - What is a Paragraph?

There is no simple answer for this question. On the Internet and books on writing, you will find a variety of definitions and model paragraphs with a variety of characteristics.

Possibly the simplest definition for a paragraph and one that gives the greatest flexibility is this:


a paragraph is a series of sentences that focus on a single subject or topic. 

Using this definition we can say that a basic paragraph contains three parts:

A reader might also expect to find:

  • (1) examples/details illustrating the paragraph’s generalization(s) on the topic sentence
  • (2) transitional words and phrases that provide coherence to the paragraph.

In composing a paragraph, writers should also take into account their readers.

3 - Parts

3.1 - Topic Sentence

A topic sentence is usually the first sentence in a paragraph. You use the topic sentence to tell the reader what the paragraph is about. Each topic sentence has two elements:

  • Topic
  • and Purpose.

3.1.1 - Topic

To write an effective topic sentence, you need to know your topic, the subject of your paragraph. When choosing a topic for a paragraph, you need to choose one that is narrow but still allows for development.

For example, you might want to use the topic:

  • “student fear”
  • or “teens and their cell phones.”

Each of these provides a simple topic you can develop.

3.1.2 - Purpose

In addition to the subject, every topic sentence also needs a purpose to explain what the paragraph will say about the topic.

For example, you might write:

  • “Students’ fears hurt their education.”. the paragraph will show how fear hurts educational goals.
  • “Teens are addicted to their cell phones.” the paragraph will show addictive behavior.

Notice how each of these topic sentences clearly states the topic and purpose of the paragraph.

Now look at some examples of common topic sentence mistakes:

  • War is bad. This is too broad a topic for one paragraph. People write books about wars.
  • I ate bananas yesterday. This is a nice statement, but it is too narrow. Once you tell the reader how many bananas, there is really nothing else to say.
  • This paragraph will be about student fears. This is an announcement. The reader has no idea what you want to say about fears, what your purpose is.

3.2 - Supporting detail

The supporting details in your paragraph will form the basis of most of your body sentences. For every detail you include, you will also provide explanation and analysis to link the detail to the idea of your topic sentence.

The best details are vivid, specific, and drawn from your own observation and experience. Many times, these will be “sense” details, what you:

  • see,
  • feel,
  • taste,
  • smell,
  • and hear.

Your supporting details will come by thinking carefully through the assignment or task. You need to be sure that the details you choose are specific and clear.

For the topic sentence: Students’ fears hurt their education, supporting details might include some of the following:

  • Test anxiety
    • Inability to learn
    • Reading
    • Writing
    • Mathematics
  • Social fears at school
    • Self-consciousness
    • Bullying
    • Public speaking
    • Sports
  • Inability to set goals
    • Short term goals
      • Personal
      • Academic
    • Long term goals
      • Career
      • Life
  • Fear of teachers

A writer can choose from this list when developing a paragraph about how student fears inhibit educational achievement. The best choices for supporting details will come from events or experiences the writer has observed firsthand, and the writer can develop supporting details based on information from the writer’s experience and knowledge.

Generally, a well-developed paragraph will include more than three supporting details/examples.

However, each topic will dictate a different set of parameters that you will work through as a writer. Sometimes, one extended example can support the topic sentence, but other times, the topic will require several examples.

3.3 - Concluding Sentence

Every paragraph that stands on its own will have a sentence that functions as a conclusion. The concluding sentence will provide a satisfying final thought for your reader. In a short paragraph, you will not need to summarize what you’ve written, so you should think about why your topic or opinion might be important for the reader to consider or what you would like the reader to remember about the topic.

A good concluding sentence will be memorable and also links back to the topic sentence. In this way, you create unity in your paragraph.

Here are a couple of examples of concluding sentences:

  • To ensure that they will be victorious over fear, students should always keep their long-term goals in mind.
  • In conclusion, people need to balance cell phone usage with face to face communication in order to preserve social skills and relationships.

Notice how each of these sentences sums up the paragraph and leaves the reader with a final, significant thought. In fact, we can predict the supporting details that might be in the paragraph by merely reading the concluding sentence.

4 - Example

In the example is a paragraph that discusses folk remedies and illnesses. The topic sentence is in bold. Note how the information that follows provides details to support and illustrate the topic sentence; no sentences wander from the subject of the paragraph. Notice also the transitional words and phrases that add coherence.

Folk Medicine and Illnesses

Long before prescription medicines existed, people relied on home remedies or folk medicines to cure their illnesses. Even today with over 4 billion (4,000,000,000) prescriptions written annually in the United State alone, many people still rely on folk remedies—whether or not they truly work—to cure illnesses that range from moderate to chronic. For example, if people are suffering from a simple cold, they might try garlic soup, which is supposed to reduce the severity of the illness. Believers in this remedy suggest the cold sufferers have a bowl of garlic soup at least once a day. What if the individual is suffering from rash? According to some, a mixture of oats, honey, and water—well mixed and left on the site of the rash for about ten minutes and then washed off—should clear the rash up quickly. If someone is stung by a wasp or bee, the person can cut an onion in half and place one half of the onion directly on the sting, or the person might mix up a thick paste of baking soda and water and smear the paste over the site of the sting. Both correctives supposedly reduce the pain and swelling associated with the sting. Evenpeople suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, glaucoma, or asthma can find folk remedies that will allegedly help cure or control the disease. For example, if one drinks water in which mango leaves or several okra pods (which have had the ends trimmed) have been soaking overnight, the liquid preparation supposedly helps treat diabetes by regulating insulin levels in the blood. If individuals are suffering from glaucoma, they can eat raw fennel or make the leaves of the plant into a tea to drink or to use as an eye wash to purportedly help the eye problem. Some people claim that drinking a glass of mandarin orange juice or a glass of Coca-Cola each morning will help control a person’s asthma. While people around the world will continue to use home remedies in the belief that the folk cure will successfully treat what ails them, a person should first research the folk remedy well before using it.

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