Paragraphs and Topic Sentences Help
What Are Paragraphs?
By definition, a paragraph is one or more sentences about a single idea. They're also one of a writer's most important tools. They divide the text into manageable pieces of information, and lead the reader by signaling the introduction of new ideas.
Like essays, paragraphs generally have three parts:
- a beginning that introduces the topic of the paragraph and often expresses the main idea of that paragraph in a topic sentence
- a body that develops and supports the main idea
- a conclusion that expresses the main idea, if it was expressed in the introduction; offers concluding thoughts about that topic; and/or offers a transition to the next paragraph
Here's an example of a complete paragraph:
The African country of the Democratic Republic of Congo has had a turbulent past. It was colonized by Belgium in the late nineteenth century and officially declared a Belgian territory by King Leopold in 1895. The country, called the Belgian Congo after 1908, was under Belgian rule for 65 years. Then, in 1960, after several years of unrest, Congo was granted independence from Belgium. The country was unstable for several years. Two presidents were elected and deposed, and there was much arguing over who should run the country and how. Finally, in 1965, a man named Mobutu Sese Seko rose to power. Though the country was remarkably rich in resources such as diamonds, under Sese Seko's rule, the people lived in complete squalor. Still, Sese Seko brought some stability to the region. He ruled for 32 years, until the people finally rebelled in 1997.
The first sentence in the paragraph introduced the topic and expressed its main idea; it is the paragraph's topic sentence. The next seven sentences develop and support that idea. Then, the last two sentences conclude the paragraph well. They remind readers of the main idea (the country's unstable past) and lead them into the next paragraph by introducing the 1997 rebellion that removed Sese Seko from power.
Developing Strong Paragraphs
Paragraphs are the essay in microcosm. Just as an essay is driven by one main idea (its thesis), a good paragraph is also held together by one controlling idea. This idea is usually stated in a topic sentence.
Topic sentences are like mini thesis statements. Just as your thesis statement expressed the main idea of your essay, topic sentences express the main idea of each paragraph. Like a thesis, the main idea must:
- make an assertion about the subject. This assertion can be fact or opinion. Here are examples of each:
- Fact: Another strategy plants and animals use to protect themselves is mimicry.
- Opinion: The most interesting strategy plants and animals have developed for protection is mimicry.
- be general enough to encompass all of the ideas in the paragraph. If it isn't, you're probably trying to cover too much material in the paragraph.
It's logical to begin a paragraph with the topic sentence, but there's no rule compelling you to place it there. There are different ways to lay out an argument within a paragraph, and depending on the one you use, your topic sentence might be better as the last line, rather than the first.
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