In this section you will learn about structuring paragraphs in a clear and logical way. These skills will enable you to look at ways that your own writing can be improved.
Paragraphs contain three main parts: a topic sentence, supporting sentences and a concluding sentence.
A topic sentence contains the topic and an opinion, or controlling idea. It is often, but not always, the first sentence of the paragraph. Paragraphs that begin with the topic sentence move from the general to the specific. They open with a general statement about a subject (and then discuss specific examples). E.g.
A nutritious diet is one way of maintaining good health.
The topic of this paragraph is maintaining good health. The controlling idea is that one way to do this is with a nutritious diet.
Identify the topic and the controlling idea of a sentence.
If you think of a paragraph as a hamburger, the supporting sentences are the meat inside the bun. They make up the body of the paragraph by explaining, proving, or enhancing the controlling idea in the topic sentence. Most paragraphs contain three to six supporting sentences, depending on the audience and purpose for writing.
A supporting sentence usually offers one of the following:
The refusal of the baby boom generation to retire is contributing to the current lack of available jobs.
Many families now rely on older relatives to support them financially.
Nearly 10 percent of adults are currently unemployed in the United States.
“We will not allow this situation to continue,” stated Senator Johns.
Last year, Bill was asked to retire at the age of fifty-five.
The type of supporting sentence you choose will depend on what you are writing and why you are writing. For example, if you are attempting to persuade your audience to take a particular position you should rely on facts, statistics, and concrete examples, rather than personal opinions. Read the following example:
Although it could be argued that there is much evidence to support the upholding of gender stereotypes in radio, the female DJ may give a voice to women which challenges the stereotypical view of the female as passive. (Topic sentence) Barnard (2000) suggests that “. . . the depiction of women in the commercials . . . reveals radio’s true perception of and attitude towards the female listener.” (Supporting sentence: quotation) His suggestion here would be that daytime radio tends to reinforce gender stereotypes; (Supporting sentence: reason) however the decision to hire Zoe Ball to host the BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show in 1997 reflects a decision to redress the balance. (Supporting sentence: example) Ball’s image as being a hardened drinker and her controversial lifestyle have been cited as contributing to what became known in the late 1990s as the ‘ladette culture.’ (Supporting sentence: fact) This suggests then that gender representation on mainstream primetime radio may have a significant impact on British popular culture (Calcutt 2000). (Concluding sentence)
To find information for your supporting sentences, you might consider using one of the following sources:
An effective concluding sentence draws together all the ideas you have raised in your paragraph. It reminds readers of the main point—the topic sentence—without restating it in exactly the same words. Using the hamburger example, the top bun (the topic sentence) and the bottom bun (the concluding sentence) are very similar. They frame the “meat” or body of the paragraph. Compare the topic sentence and concluding sentence from the previous example:
Topic sentence: There are numerous advantages to owning a hybrid car.
Concluding sentence: Given the low running costs and environmental benefits of owning a hybrid car, it is likely that many more people will follow Alex’s example in the near future.
Notice the use of the synonyms advantages and benefits. The concluding sentence reiterates the idea that owning a hybrid is advantageous without using the exact same words. It also summarises two examples of the advantages covered in the supporting sentences: low running costs and environmental benefits.
You should avoid introducing any new ideas into your concluding sentence. A conclusion is intended to provide the reader with a sense of completion. Introducing a subject that is not covered in the paragraph will confuse the reader and weaken your writing.
Taking the time now to understand how paragraphs are structured will pay off during your course.
A concluding sentence may do any of the following:
Childhood obesity is a growing problem in developed countries.
A lack of healthy choices, poor parenting, and an addiction to video games are among the many factors contributing to childhood obesity.
These statistics indicate that unless we take action, childhood obesity rates will continue to rise.
Based on this research, more than 60 percent of children in developed countries will be morbidly obese by the year 2030 unless we take evasive action.
Childhood obesity is an entirely preventable tragedy.
Put the paragraph in the correct order.Activity
This work includes material from the following sources:
Paragraph structure. Univeristy of Leicester. Retrieved from: http://www2.le.ac.uk/projects/oer/oers/ssds/oers/grammar-guides/grammarguidecg.pdf Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
The Saylor Foundation. (2013). Writing for success. Retrieved from http://www.saylor.org/site/textbooks/Writing%20for%20Success.pdf Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Need to talk to someone?
Student Success Team
H Block, Dunedin Campus