A paragraph that serves as a stand alone piece of writing, meaning it is not part of a larger work such as an essay, must contain several elements:
Major Supporting Details
Minor Supporting Details
Often the topic sentence, which provides the main idea, is located at the beginning of the paragraph; however, that is not a requirement. The topic sentence could be located anywhere in the paragraph. For new writers the first sentence is an excellent starting point.
Most students have had a teacher in the past who required a specific number of sentences for each paragraph. While in truth paragraphs can be of most any length, 8-10 sentences will usually support a paragraph topic fairly well.
In addition to the physical elements of a paragraph listed above, a good paragraph needs to possess several specific traits. A good paragraph should be unified. That means all the sentences in the paragraph work together to support a single idea. A good paragraph should be well developed, meaning it contains enough details to support the topic sentence. Finally, it should be organized. Organization in a paragraph refers to the arrangement of details. In a narrative, a paragraph that tells a story, details should appear in chronological, or time-sequence, order. To be effective, a descriptive paragraph may need to present details in spatial (pertaining to space) order so that the reader may visualize what is being described. Climactic order presents details in order of importance. Thus, an effective causal analysis (cause and effect) will employ climactic order. For example, a writer of the effects of tobacco usage would save the most severe effects until close to the end of the paragraph.
Part 2 The Topic Sentence
As mentioned already, the topic sentence provides the reader, or audience, with the main idea of a paragraph. Therefore, this sentence will not be as specific as the detail sentences within the paragraph. It provides two things primarily: the topic of the paragraph plus the controlling idea. The controlling idea limits the topic often by identifying time parameters, providing an opinion, itemizing major points, or performing some other functions that alerts the audience to specific points that will appear in the paragraph and the order in which they will appear. Consider these topic sentences:
My bedroom provides me with a sanctuary from the outside world, a place to express my individuality, and an ideal setting to do the things I enjoy most.
While most girls spend much of their time attempting to rid themselves of flaws, my friend Ellen is beautiful, intelligent, and has a wonderful personality.
High school graduation meant a celebration for a goal achieved, a departure from my childish behavior, and a new road filled with challenges.
Each of these sentences announces to readers what they may expect in the remainder of the paragraph. Each identifies three major points that will be dealt with in the paragraph, thus limiting the paragraph. These points will each be dealt with more specifically later in the paragraph in the order in which they appear in the topic sentence.
Remember when writing topic sentences that facts do not work as topic sentences because they do not lend themselves to the development of a controlling idea.
Part 3 Transition
Organization within a paragraph is simplified through the use of transition words. Below is a list of some commonly used words that help writers maneuver through creating and adding paragraph details and, as a result, make reading easier and more interesting.
again, also, and, and then, finally,
first, second, third, next, still, too
Time after a few days, after awhile, afterward, as long as, as soon as, at last, at that time, before, earlier, immediately, in the meantime, in the past, later, meanwhile, now, shortly, soon, then, until, when
Comparison again, also, in the same way, once more
Contrast although, but, despite, even though, however, in contrast, instead, on the contrary, on the one hand, on the other hand, still though yet
after all, even, for example, for
instance, in fact, specifically, such as, to illustrate, the following example
Cause and Effect as a result, because, consequently, for this purpose, so, then, therefore, to this end
Place above, adjacent to, below, beyond, closer to, elsewhere, far, further on, here, near, nearby, opposite to, there, to the left, to the right
Summary or Conclusion as a result, as has been noted, as I have said, as we have seen, as mentioned earlier, in any event, in conclusion, in other words, on the whole, therefore, to summarize
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