5.3 Building with Paragraphs

Preview

This section of Ch. 5 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 .

All paragraphs focus on a single idea, provide details that explain or illustrate, and end with a final thought or a transition to the next idea. But introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions actually have very different purposes.

Introductory Paragraphs

Your introductory paragraph is an invitation to your readers to consider what you have to say and then to follow 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, present the topic and the writer’s opinion about the topic (this is called the “”), and supply any necessary background information. In a long paper, it might also 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: “Lots of 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 (your topic and your point about that topic).

Exercise 1

Go to Ch. 7 and read just the first paragraph in each of these professionally-written essays:

  • “How to Mark a Book” by Mortimer Adler
  • “Black Exhaustion” by Pilot Viruet
  • “Only Daughter” by Sandra Cisneros (note: read the first 2 paragraphs in this one)

Then, consider what each introductory paragraph is doing and answer these questions in your notebook:

  • Which of the techniques listed above is each author using?
  • Which paragraph most engaged you and why?
  • Did you find yourself wanting to know more after reading the introduction, or did you at least clearly understand the subject of the rest of the essay?

Body Paragraphs

A body paragraph is just like the stand-alone paragraphs we worked on in Ch. 5.2, except most body paragraphs either end with a transition to the next paragraph rather than a conclusion or begin with a transition from the previous paragraph.

Topic sentences are vital to body paragraphs because they connect readers to your thesis and remind them what your essay is about. A paragraph without a clearly identified topic sentence will often be 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; they are too obvious and typical. To say that “most students worry about exams” is not as effective as saying “the average community college student often feels overwhelmed during finals.”
  • Be selective. When faced with lots of examples or explanations that could prove your thesis, you may think you need to include everything. But effective writers resist the temptation to overwhelm. Choose wisely. If you have five reasons why exercise programs fail, pick the best three.

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 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.
  • 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 express your point, 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 2

Go back to Ch. 7 and read just the last paragraph in these professional essays:

  • “How to Mark a Book” by Mortimer Adler
  • “Black Exhaustion” by Pilot Viruet
  • “Only Daughter” by Sandra Cisneros

In your notebook, consider what each concluding paragraph is doing and answer these questions:

  • Which of the techniques listed above is each author using?
  • Which paragraph most engaged you and why?
  • Could you feel the sense of finality, of being finished, in each of these paragraphs?

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

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

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