Paragraph Structure

The paragraph is the building block of essay writing. The word itself, according to the Oxford Dictionary Online (2015), is defined as “a distinct section of a piece of writing, usually dealing with a single theme and indicated by a new line, indentation, or numbering.”

Paragraphs can be shown through breaks between lines or through indentations of the first line of the paragraph. Paragraphs are important for ease of reading; they help to offer ideas in “chunks” that the eye and brain can more easily comprehend (as opposed to offering information in one large block of text, which is hard to read).

Paragraphs are necessary in academic writing to show changes in ideas or further development of ideas. In academic writing, paragraphs present mini ideas that often develop out of the thesis sentence’s main idea.

Example

Thesis Sentence

A regular exercise regimen creates multiple benefits, both physical and emotional.

Beginnings of Paragraphs

  • One physical benefit of having a regular exercise regimen is longevity. Recent studies have shown that . . .
  • Exercise reduces heart and cholesterol rates when done at least three times per week . . .
  • Another physical benefit of regular exercise is that it results in stronger heart and lungs . . .
  • People who exercise regularly have less trouble with sleep disorders . . .
  • A benefit that spans the physical and emotional results of regular exercise is the release of endorphins, or substances produced by glands as a byproduct of exercise . . .
  • In multiple studies, regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress . . .
  • Because regular exercise often helps to slow the effects of aging and maintain a good body weight, people who exercise regularly experience the emotional benefits of good self-image and self-confidence in their looks . . .


Although all of these paragraph beginnings are related to the main idea of benefits of exercise, they all show a slight shift in content, as the writer moves from one benefit to another.

Topic Sentences

In academic writing, many paragraphs or groups of paragraphs start with topic sentences, which are like mini-thesis statements. Topic sentences are idea indicators, or “signs” that help guide a reader along from idea to idea.

Topic sentences have a topic and an angle, just like thesis sentences. But the angle of topic sentences usually is smaller in range than that of the thesis sentence. Very often the topic remains the same from thesis to topic sentence, while the angle shifts as the writer brings in various types of ideas and research to support the angle in the thesis.

Look at this sample again; these are topic sentences created from the thesis sentence. The topic remains the same in all (regular exercise) and the overall angle remains the same (benefits). But the angle narrows and shifts slightly from topic sentence to topic sentence as the writer brings in different supporting ideas and research.

Thesis Sentence Topic Angle
A regular exercise regime creates multiple benefits, both physical and emotional. Regular exercise Physical and emotional benefits
Topic Sentence Topic Angle
One physical benefit of having a regular exercise regime is longevity. Recent studies have shown that… Regular exercise Physical benefit of longevity
Exercise reduces heart and cholesterol rates when done at least three times per week… Regular exercise Physical benefit of reduced cholesterol
Another physical benefit of regular exercise is that it results in stronger heart and lungs… Regular exercise Physical benefit of stronger heart and lungs
People who exercise regularly have less trouble with sleep disorders… Regular exercise Physical benefit of less trouble sleeping
A benefit that spans the physical and emotional results of regular exercise is the release of endorphins, or substances produced by glands as a byproduct of exercise… Regular exercise Physical and emotional benefits of endorphins
In multiple studies, regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress… Regular exercise Emotional benefit of reduced stress
Because regular exercise often helps to slow the effects of aging and maintain a good body weight, people who exercise regularly experience the emotional benefits of good self-image and self-confidence in their looks… Regular exercise Emotional benefit of better self-image & confidence
Realize that all paragraphs do not need topic sentences. Sometimes, you may need multiple paragraphs to help explain one topic sentence, because you have a lot of supporting information.

When to Paragraph

How do you know when “enough is enough”—when you have enough information in one paragraph and have to start a new one? A very rough guide is that you need more than one or two paragraphs per page of type. Paragraphing conventions online require even shorter paragraphs, with multiple short paragraphs on one screen.

It’s best to deal with paragraphs as part of the revision step in the writing process. Find places where the information shifts in focus, and put paragraph breaks in those places. You can do your best to paragraph as you draft but know you’ll address paragraphing more during the revision process.

Linking Paragraphs: Transitions

Transitions are words or phrases that indicate linkages in ideas. When writing, you need to lead your readers from one idea to the next, showing how those ideas are logically linked. Transition words and phrases help you keep your paragraphs and groups of paragraphs logically connected for a reader. Writers often check their transitions during the revising stage of the writing process.

Here are some example transition words to help as you transition both within paragraphs and from one paragraph to the next.

Transition Word / Phrase: Shows:
and, also, again More of the same type of information is coming; information expands on the same general idea.
but, or, however, in contrast Different information is coming, information that may counteract what was just said.
as a result, consequently, therefore Information that is coming is a logical outgrowth of the ideas just presented.
for example, to illustrate The information coming will present a specific instance, or present a concrete example of an abstract idea.
particularly important, note that The information coming emphasizes the importance of an idea.
in conclusion The writing is ending.

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