Structuring A Paragraph: Grammar Review Study Guide

Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Structuring A Paragraph: Grammar Review Practice Exercises.

Paragraphs are groups of sentences centered on a focused topic. The writer of a good paragraph makes sure to include a topic sentence, descriptive detail sentences, proper organization, and a central focus. When you have to write only one paragraph, you should also include a summary sentence at the end that restates or reviews the main idea, using different words. Let's look at these components more closely.

The Topic Sentence

Every paragraph must identify its topic or purpose for the reader. This is one of its most important components. Although the topic or purpose doesn't have to be found in the paragraph's first sentence, it usually is. However, you could find it in the middle or even the end of a paragraph.

  • Spelunking, or cave exploring, is a sport with many avid followers. Spelunkers, as the cave explorers are called, have formed clubs worldwide to promote and support the unusual, and sometimes extreme, sport.

Detail Sentences

Detail sentences provide support and elaborate on the ideas in your paragraph. With these sentences, you can flesh out your topic with vivid details and explain or clarify your paragraph's main idea by including facts or proof. Detail sentences that don't fulfill this purpose should be eliminated because they distract the reader from your main point.

Once done out of necessity for shelter or under the guise of scientific study, cave exploring has now been taken to an entirely new level of safety and expertise.

For the sport's athletes, from novice to expert alike, stamina and strength are a necessity. Spelunking requires the cave explorer to be a good crawler and climber, be able to negotiate well in small openings and crevices, and traverse safely in vertical spaces with the use of ropes. In recent decades, spelunking equipment and protective gear have been introduced and improved in light of its growing popularity.

Paragraph Organization

The order of your sentences in your paragraph is important. Your readers expect your ideas to be presented a logical, linear (A-B-C) order. If your ideas don't flow properly, your reader will get lost in the confusion. Think of it this way: If you were going to write a paragraph explaining how to make a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich, you would not begin by writing Throw away the banana peel.

Paragraph Focus

Besides order, your paragraph must have focus and symmetry. Like a balance scale you use in school, your topic sentence is the calibrator, and the trays on either side of it hold your supporting details. If your paragraph is about the leafand-shoot diet of the three-toed sloth, and your sentences remain on topic, the scale will remain balanced because you are focused. If, however, you begin elaborating on the sloth's innate ability to suspend itself motionless on a single branch for 20 hours, then you've strayed off topic, and your balance scale begins to tip.

The Five-Paragraph Essay

What if you need to write more than one paragraph? Then what? In school, you are usually expected to write essays upward of five paragraphs in length. You write book reports, research reports, and reaction papers for classes and are expected to write persuasive and narrative essays on standardized tests. The format for the five-paragraph essay is, for the most part, fixed: an opening paragraph (to Announce your topic), three body paragraphs (to Build your topic), and a concluding paragraph (to Close your topic). This is the common A-B-B-B-C pattern. For the most part, your paragraph components remain the same, with a few exceptions. Let's examine this more closely.

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