Understanding paragraph structure

I’ll hand out your first essay assignment next week.

As a preview for that assignment, let’s review strategies of writing paragraphs for the essays in this class.

I looked over your student info sheets, and many of you wrote that you want to strengthen your essay writing skills (including help in essay format, punctuation, and grammar).

You want help in organizing your ideas and structuring your essays

Because paragraphs are central to almost every kind of writing, learning how to write one is an important skill in becoming an effective writer of essays.

Just as an essay is a group of paragraphs unified by a single main idea (the thesis), a paragraph is a group of sentences that is unified by a single main idea (the topic sentence).

The thesis statement tells the reader what the rest of the essay is about.

The thesis for Essay 1 (an illustration essay) will be a generalization about Luma’s personality and character that you want to explain to your reader.

We’ll talk about brainstorming for that assignment. Your goal will be to figure out what you think Luma’s main characteristics are or what drives her in terms of your personality.

Once you have enough material to write about, then you can draft a thesis statement and the main ideas in your body paragraphs that develop that thesis.

Here’s a sample thesis statement for that assignment:

Luma Mufleh is a self-sufficient, self-motivated person, with a desire to have a life she can truly call her own.

This thesis tells the reader that the rest of the essay will illustrate this general claim.

The topic sentence is different from your thesis statement. The topic sentence shows only what the paragraph it is attached to is about.

Thesis: Luma Mufleh is a self-sufficient, self-motivated person, with a desire to have a life she can truly call her own.

These are the main ideas of the body paragraphs:

Paragraph 1: Self-sufficient

Paragraph 2: Self-motivated

Paragraph 3: A desire for a life of her own

All of these aspects of Luma need to be discussed further, and they all explain the thesis statement.

Each of these three ideas can become topic sentences. For each idea, there will be a paragraph that explains it.

Change each of these main ideas into a complete sentence, and you’ve drafted a good topic sentence.

Example: One of the strongest aspects of Luma’s character is her self-sufficiency in any situation.

The rest of the sentences in that paragraph will explain this topic sentence.

An effective topic sentence has three characteristics:

1. A topic sentence is a complete sentence.

There’s a difference between a topic and a topic sentence. The topic is what the paragraph is about; a topic sentence, however, is a complete sentence that includes a subject and a verb and express a complete thought.

Topic: Luma’s self-sufficiency

Topic sentence: One of the strongest aspects of Luma’s character is her self-sufficiency in any situation.

2. A topic sentence is more than just an announcement of what you plan to write about.

In this paragraph, I will explain my ideas about Luma’s self-sufficiency.

A topic sentence makes a point about the topic that the paragraph discusses.

3. A topic sentence presents an idea that can be discussed in a single paragraph.

If your topic sentence is too broad, you won’t be able to discuss in just one paragraph. If it’s too narrow, you won’t be able to say much about it.

Topic sentence too broad: Luma’s experience living in America reflects the issues encountered by immigrants after 9/11.

Remember: There is only one thesis statement.

But there is one topic sentence for each body paragraph you write.

THESIS————>PARAGRAPHS>————>ESSAY

TOPIC SENTENCE——>SENTENCES>———>PARAGRAPH

The topic sentence states the main idea of the paragraph, and the rest of the sentences in the paragraph provide evidence (examples and details) to support the main idea.

So when you write your body paragraphs, always check for these elements:

TOPIC SENTENCE
EVIDENCE
TRANSITIONS
SUMMARY STATEMENT

The sentences in a paragraph are linked by transitions, words and phrases (such as also and for example) that show how ideas are related.

At the end of the paragraph, a summary statement reinforces the main idea.

Note: Your topic sentence should focus on only one main idea. Two main ideas can split and weaken the focus of your writing.

Effective paragraphs are unified: in a unified paragraph, all of the sentences directly support the topic sentence.

Including details that are not relevant to the topic sentence makes your paragraph unclear and distracts your reader from the point you are making.

At this point, you might being asking:

How long should a paragraph be? A well-developed paragraph is usually about 8 to 10 sentences long.

Topic Sentence (1)
Evidence – Examples and Details (5-6)
Summary statement (1)

By the way: the first sentence of a paragraph is always indented, starting about half an inch from the left-hand margin. (And every sentence begins with a capital letter.)

Drafting Tip: Once you have brainstormed ideas and formulated a thesis statement, write complete, focused topic sentences in your outlining stage.

Use those topic sentences to develop support and examples and details. Those topic sentences will also keep your essay on track.

St. John uses topic sentences and unified paragraphs through his book.

In Chapter One (“Luma”), for example, he writes about Luma’s family background, describing how they were a “wealthy, Westernized family in Amman, Jordan” (15). And on page 17 is this passage:

The Al-Muflehs were intent on raising their children with their same cosmopolitan values. They sent Luma to the American Community School in Amman, a school for the children of American expatriates, mostly diplomats and businessmen, and elite Jordanians, including the children of King Hussein and Queen Noor. Luma learned to speak English without an accent – she now speaks like a midwesterner – and met kids from the United States and Europe, as well as the children of diplomats from all over the world.

The Al-Muflehs were intent on raising their children with their same cosmopolitan values. (TOPIC SENTENCE ).

They sent Luma to the American Community School in Amman, a school for the children of American expatriates, mostly diplomats and businessmen, and elite Jordanians, including the children of King Hussein and Queen Noor. (EVIDENCE – EXAMPLE AND DETAIL).

Luma learned to speak English without an accent – she now speaks like a midwesterner – and met kids from the United States and Europe, as well as the children of diplomats from all over the world.
(EVIDENCE – EXAMPLE AND DETAIL – AND SUMMARY STATEMENT THAT CONNECTS BACK TO THE TOPIC SENTENCE).


%d bloggers like this: