6.3 Building with Paragraphs

Preview

This section of Ch. 6 will cover the following topics:

  • introductory paragraphs
  • body paragraphs
  • concluding paragraphs

Most documents are composed of three types of paragraphs: introductory paragraphs, body paragraphs, and concluding paragraphs. This is true of a short story, a scientific study, a business report, and a college or research paper.

All three types of paragraphs focus on a single idea, provide details that explain or illustrate, and end with a final thought or transition to the next idea.

But introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions have very different purposes.

Introductory Paragraphs

Your introduction is an invitation to your readers to consider what you have to say and then to follow along as you expand your point. If your introductory paragraph is dull or unfocused, your reader will not care about continuing.

The introductory paragraph’s job is to attract the reader’s interest and present the topic and the writer’s opinion about the topic (this is called the “”). In a long paper, an introduction might also supply necessary background information or preview major points.

When writing an introductory paragraph, your main goals are to be interesting and clear. Following are several techniques for strong introductory paragraphs:

  • Begin with a broad, general statement of the topic, narrowing to the thesis. For example: “Voting is a responsibility, but one that is not always easy to accomplish…” Add some detail, then end with the thesis: “Mail-in ballots would make voting cheaper, easier, and less prone to fraud.”
  • Start with an idea or a situation the opposite of the one you will develop.  For example: “In some countries, people have to risk their lives to cast a vote. In the U.S., it is usually just inconvenient.” Add detail that leads to the thesis.
  • Convince the readers the subject applies to them or is something they should know about. For example: “Conversations about politics happen on the bus, at the dinner table, in the classroom. One topic of concern is voter turnout.” Add detail that leads to the thesis.
  • Use an incident or brief story–something that happened to you or that you heard about. For example: “I remember the first time I voted.”  Add more details, then end with the thesis: “Everyone should have the same chance I had to cast their vote. Mail-in ballots would help.”
  • Ask questions so the reader thinks about the answers or so you can answer the questions. For example: “How many people complain about politics? Why do they just talk? Why don’t they vote? Mail-in ballots would make voting easier for many people.”
  • Use a quotation to add someone else’s voice to your own. For example: “Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, ‘Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.’ A key objective in a democracy, then, is to make it easy to vote. Mail-in ballots would do that.”

Notice that each technique starts with some sort of hook to grab the reader’s attention, follows with details, then ends with the thesis. A good introduction will lead the reader to that point.

Exercise 1

Go to Ch. 8 and read just the first paragraph in these student-written essays:

  • “Being Safe: An Informed Approach” by Angela Godfrey
  • “Remembering My Beginnings at Mt. Hood Community College” by Jennifer Steimer
  • “Calming the Butterflies” by Brittany McLaughlin

Answer these questions:

  1. Which of the techniques listed above did the writers use in their introductions?
  2. Did you find yourself wanting to know more after reading these introductions?  Did you at least clearly understand the subject of the rest of the essay?
  3. Which introduction most engaged you? Why?

Body Paragraphs

A body paragraph is just like the stand-alone paragraphs we worked on in Ch. 6.2, except most body paragraphs end with a transition to the next paragraph or begin with a transition from the previous paragraph (one or the other, never both!).

Topic sentences are vital to body paragraphs because they tie the paragraph to your thesis and remind readers what your essay is about. A paragraph without a clearly identified topic sentence will feel unfocused and scattered.

The information in body paragraphs should do the following:

  • Be specific. The main points you make and the examples you use to expand on those points need to be clear and detailed. General examples are not nearly as compelling or useful because they are too obvious and typical. To say “students worry about exams” is not as effective as saying “the average community college student often feels overwhelmed during finals week.”
  • Be selective. When faced with lots of information that could be used to prove your thesis, you may think you need to include it all. Effective writers resist the temptation to overwhelm. Choose wisely. If you have five reasons why exercise programs fail, pick the best three.

Exercise 2

Read Jennifer Steimer’s essay “Remembering My Beginnings” all the way through.

  1. Look at the introductory paragraph and find the thesis statement. Write it down.
  2. Read the second paragraph (the first body paragraph), find the topic sentence, and write down what that paragraph’s topic is.  Below that, briefly list the examples Jennifer uses to support her topic sentence.
  3. Do the same for the third and fourth paragraphs.

If you did this correctly, your assignment should look like an outline for Jennifer’s essay.

Concluding Paragraphs

Conclusions are more than just stopping. A strong concluding paragraph should convey a sense of completeness or closure. What do you conclude based on the points you made? Leave a good final impression.

There are several ways to write an effective conclusion:

  • Philosophize. What does this all mean? End with a thought-provoking insight that asks your reader to think further about what you have written–why the subject is important, what should be done, what choice should be made.
  • Synthesize, but don’t summarize and don’t repeat yourself. Show the reader how the points you made fit together.
  • Predict (what may happen) or make a recommendation (what should be done). Help your reader see the topic differently.

It might be easier to consider what NOT to do in a conclusion:

  • Do not use the phrase “In conclusion.” Readers can see that your essay is about to end. You don’t have to point it out. That is a clumsy transition.
  • Do not simply restate your original point. You have referred to it throughout the paper; repeating it one more time can actually be annoying to the reader.
  • Do not introduce a new idea. A conclusion can expand the reader’s sense of the topic, but it shouldn’t jump to a different topic altogether.
  • Do not make sentimental, emotional appeals. If your argument is well-argued, the reader already agrees with you (or at least has agreed to consider your point).
  • Do not directly address the reader. An essay is written for the general reader. Do not use “you.” If you want to claim your position, say “I.” If you want the reader to feel included, say “we.” If you want to look objective, say “most people” or “students in college.”

Think of an essay like this:

introduction + body paragraphs = conclusion

The equal sign is important. Your point and your support should lead to the conclusion, just like 2 + 2 = 4.

Exercise 3

Look at Jennifer’s essay again.  Compare her introductory and concluding paragraphs.  Explain how she returned to the idea that introduced her essay, but expanded it in a meaningful way.

Takeaways

  • Most documents are built with three types of paragraphs: introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions.
  • The job of introductory paragraphs is to engage the reader and present the paper’s topic in a thesis.
  • Body paragraphs develop the topic with supporting details.
  • Concluding paragraphs wrap the paper up gracefully.

License

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1, 2, 3 Write! by Gay Monteverde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.