Writing Help: Paragraphs

A Guide to Writing Good Paragraphs

The following explanations have been compiled from various writing manuals. Writing manuals with examples of these key concepts are readily available in the library and bookstore.


Paragraph Structure

Most paragraphs in an essay have a three-part structure: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.

Introduction: the first section of a paragraph. The introduction should include:

  • the topic sentence
  • if needed, background introductory information
  • if needed, a transition from the previous paragraph

Body: follows the introduction. This section discusses the main idea by using:

  • facts
  • arguments
  • analysis
  • examples
  • other means of discussing the topic

Conclusion: the final section. This section either:

  • provides your conclusions (what have you demonstrated?), and summarizes the connections between the ideas and information presented in the body of the paragraph and your main idea; OR
  • sometimes a paragraph concludes with a direct transition to the next paragraph, or a setup for the transition in the next paragraph.


CHECKLIST: Does your paragraph have a single main idea expressed in a topic sentence? Is your paragraph unified, coherent, and well developed?


Topic Sentences

A well-organized paragraph supports or develops a single main idea. This main or controlling idea is expressed in a sentence called the topic sentence. A topic sentence should:

  • substantiate or support an essay's thesis statement
  • unify the content of a paragraph
  • tell the reader the subject or topic that the paragraph will discuss


Writing Unified Paragraphs

A paragraph is unified when it focuses on a single idea and develops it. A paragraph without such a unifying idea is confusing and hard to follow.

You can create a unified paragraph by using a topic sentence and ensuring that all the sentences in your paragraph support the unifying idea this topic sentence expresses.


Writing Coherent Paragraphs

A paragraph is coherent if all its sentences are logically related to one another (and, of course, to the topic sentence).

You can achieve coherence in your paragraphs by arranging details in logical order (cause and effect, definition, example, comparison and contrast), and by using transitional words and phrases, parallelism, and repeated key words.


Writing Coherent Paragraphs 1:
Arranging Details in Logical Order

Even if a paragraph's sentences are all about the same subject, they lack coherence until they are arranged according to an organizing principle. Paragraphs arranged in logical order present details or ideas in terms of their relationships to one another.


Writing Coherent Paragraphs 2:
Using Transitional Words and Phrases

Transitional words and phrases aid coherence by indicating the relationships among sentences. By establishing logical and sequential connections, transitional words and phrases tie together ideas in a paragraph.


Writing Coherent Paragraphs 3:
Using Parallel Structure

Parallelism—the repeated use of similar grammatical structures—can help to establish coherence.


Writing Coherent Paragraphs 4:
Repeating Key Words

Repeating key words or phrases—those essential to meaning—throughout a paragraph aids coherence by reminding readers how the sentences relate to one another and to the paragraph's unifying idea.

You should not repeat yourself monotonously—a well-written paragraph must have variety. You should strive to balance the need to vary your vocabulary against your audience's need to understand what you have written.


Writing Well-Developed Paragraphs

A paragraph is well developed when it contains the support—examples, statistics, evidence, quotations, and so on—readers need to understand the paragraph's unifying idea. A good rule of thumb: you cannot adequately discuss any idea in three sentences. A well-developed paragraph would easily fill three-quarters of a standard typewritten page.