I. General Structure
Most paragraphs in an essay parallel the general three-part structure of each section of a research paper and, by extension, the overall research paper, with an introduction, a body that includes facts and analysis, and a conclusion. You can see this structure in paragraphs whether they are narrating, describing, comparing, contrasting, or analyzing information. Each part of the paragraph plays an important role in communicating the meaning you intend to covey to the reader.
Introduction: the first section of a paragraph; should include the topic sentence and any other sentences at the beginning of the paragraph that give background information or provide a transition.
Body: follows the introduction; discusses the controlling idea, using facts, arguments, analysis, examples, and other information.
Conclusion: the final section; summarizes the connections between the information discussed in the body of the paragraph and the paragraph’s controlling idea. For long paragraphs, you may also want to include a bridge sentence that introduces the next paragraph or section of the paper. In some instances, the bridge sentence can be written in the form of a question. However, use this rhetorical device sparingly, otherwise, ending a lot of paragraphs with a question to lead into the next paragraph sounds cumbersome.
NOTE: This general structure does not imply that you should not be creative in your writing. Arranging where each element goes in a paragraph can make a paper more engaging for the reader. However, do not be too creative in experimenting with the narrative flow of paragraphs. To do so may distract from the main arguments of your research and weaken the quality of your academic writing.
II. Development and Organization
Before you can begin to determine what the composition of a particular paragraph will be, you must consider what is the most important idea that you are trying to convey to your reader. This is the "controlling idea," or the thesis statement from which you compose the remainder of the paragraph. In other words, your paragraphs should remind your reader that there is a recurrent relationship between your controlling idea and the information in each paragraph. The research problem functions like a seed from which your paper, and your ideas, will grow. The whole process of paragraph development is an organic one—a natural progression from a seed idea to a full-blown research study where there are direct, familial relationships in the paper between all of your controlling ideas and the paragraphs which derive from them.
The decision about what to put into your paragraphs begins with brainstorming about how you want to pursue the research problem. There are many techniques for brainstorming but, whichever one you choose, this stage of paragraph development cannot be skipped because it lays a foundation for developing a set of paragraphs [representing a section of your paper] that describes a specific element of your overall analysis. Each section is described further in this writing guide.
Given these factors, every paragraph in a paper should be:
- Unified—All of the sentences in a single paragraph should be related to a single controlling idea [often expressed in the topic sentence of the paragraph].
- Clearly related to the research problem—The sentences should all refer to the central idea, or the thesis, of the paper.
- Coherent—The sentences should be arranged in a logical manner and should follow a definite plan for development.
- Well-developed—Every idea discussed in the paragraph should be adequately explained and supported through evidence and details that work together to explain the paragraph's controlling idea.
There are many different ways you can organize a paragraph. However, the organization you choose will depend on the controlling idea of the paragraph. Ways to organize a paragraph in academic writing include:
- Narrative: Tell a story. Go chronologically, from start to finish.
- Descriptive: Provide specific details about what something looks or feels like. Organize spatially, in order of appearance, or by topic.
- Process: Explain step by step how something works. Perhaps follow a sequence—first, second, third.
- Classification: Separate into groups or explain the various parts of a topic.
- Illustrative: Give examples and explain how those examples prove your point.
Arnaudet, Martin L. and Mary Ellen Barrett. Paragraph Development: A Guide for Students of English. 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents, 1990; On Paragraphs. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Organization: General Guidelines for Paragraphing. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; The Paragraph. The Writing Center. Pasadena City College; Paragraph Structure. Effective Writing Center. University of Maryland; Paragraphs. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; Paragraphs. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Paragraphs. University Writing Center. Texas A&M University; Paragraphs and Topic Sentences. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Weissberg, Robert C. “Given and New: Paragraph Development Models from Scientific English.” TESOL Quarterly 18 (September 1984): 485-500.
Good Paragraph Development:
As Easy as P.I.E.
A paragraph is a group of related sentences detailing one clear point related to your thesis. A good paragraph is thoughtful, unified, coherent, and well-developed. If you are having trouble developing or explaining your key points within your paragraphs, check to see if your paragraphs have these three essential structural parts: a point, information, and an explanation.
One way to understand and remember paragraph structure is to think of the word P.I.E.
- P = Point
- I = Information
- E = Explanation
|Point||Often, the point is the TOPIC SENTENCE.|
|Information||The information is the EVIDENCE used to support/develop the point.|
|Explanation||The explanation is the writer’s ANALYSIS, elaboration, evaluation, or interpretation of the point and information given, connecting the information with the point (topic sentence) and the thesis.|
Short Example of P.I.E. at work
(your paragraphs, of course, will be longer and more detailed):
Ironically, rock climbing accidents can also be caused by user error. Of the many dangers that rock climbers face, many can be prevented. Each year nearly one out of every three accidents is preventable (Climbing 35). According to certified guide Jessie Guthrie, “many people—even advanced climbers—get hurt every year because of careless errors” (304).Careless errors typically involve failure to check partner’s equipment and lack of basic rescue skills. Because of user error and other avoidable mistakes, rock climbing can be harmful.
(point, information, and explanation)
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