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PARAGRAPH WRITING
SKILLS
Zarmina Sadiq
WHAT IS A PARAGRAPH?
Paragraphs are the building blocks of papers.
Many students define paragraphs in terms of length: a paragraph is a group
of at least five sentences, a paragraph is half a page long, etc.
In reality, though, the unity and coherence of ideas among sentences is
what constitutes a paragraph.
A paragraph is defined as “a group of sentences or a single sentence that
forms a unit” (Lunsford and Connors 116).
Length and appearance do not determine whether a section in a paper is a
paragraph.
For instance, in some styles of writing, particularly journalistic styles, a paragraph
can be just one sentence long.
Ultimately, a paragraph is a sentence or group of sentences that support one main
idea. We will refer to this as the “controlling idea,” because it controls what happens
in the rest of the paragraph.
 Good paragraphing greatly assists your readers in following a piece of writing. You
can have fantastic ideas, but if those ideas aren't presented in an organized fashion,
you will lose your readers (and fail to achieve your goals in writing).
HOW DO I DECIDE WHAT TO PUT IN
A PARAGRAPH?
Before you can begin to determine what the composition of a particular paragraph
will be, you must first decide on an argument and a working thesis statement for your
paper.
What is the most important idea that you are trying to convey to your reader?
The information in each paragraph must be related to that idea.
In other words, your paragraphs should remind your reader that there is a recurrent
relationship between your thesis and the information in each paragraph.
A working thesis functions like a seed from which your paper, and your ideas, will
grow. The whole process is an organic one—a natural progression from a seed to a
full-blown paper where there are direct, familial relationships between all of the ideas
in the paper.
The decision about what to put into your paragraphs begins with the
germination of a seed of ideas; this “germination process” is better known
as brainstorming.
There are many techniques for brainstorming; whichever one you choose,
this stage of paragraph development cannot be skipped.
Building paragraphs can be like building a skyscraper: there must be a well-
planned foundation that supports what you are building.
Any cracks, inconsistencies, or other corruptions of the foundation can
cause your whole paper to crumble.
The sentences should all refer to the central idea, or thesis, of the paper
(Rosen and Behrens 119).
ELEMENTS OF PARAGRAPH
To be as effective as possible, a paragraph should contain each of the
following:
Unity, Coherence, A Topic Sentence, and Adequate Development.
As you will see, all of these traits overlap. Using and adapting them to your
individual purposes will help you construct effective paragraphs.
UNITY
The entire paragraph should concern itself with a single focus. If it begins
with one focus or major point of discussion, it should not end with another or
wander within different ideas.
All of the sentences in a single paragraph should be related to a single
controlling idea (often expressed in the topic sentence of the paragraph).
COHERENCE
Coherence is the trait that makes the paragraph easily understandable to a
reader. You can help create coherence in your paragraphs by creating logical
bridges and verbal bridges.
The sentences should be arranged in a logical manner and should follow a
definite plan for development (Rosen and Behrens 119).
Logical bridges
The same idea of a topic is carried over from sentence to sentence
Successive sentences can be constructed in parallel form
Example 1:
Sandra and her father played out in the rain despite the strong protest
coming from her mother. They danced to the tune of the rain and
watched as each droplet fell from the dark skies. She smiled, thinking
of the days when she and her father listened helplessly to the endless
rants of her mother as their soaking bodies form small puddles of water
inside the house.
 Example 2:
The documentary concluded its feature with North Korean soldiers dumping
corpses onto a military truck.
Why would any news program carry such gruesome footage? Surely they
knew what the consequences were for doing so…Instead, representatives
from the news network considered it newsworthy because the clips featured
exclusive content and startling visual images that viewers were interested in.
Verbal bridges
Key words can be repeated in several sentences
Synonymous words can be repeated in several sentences
Pronouns can refer to nouns in previous sentences
Transition words can be used to link ideas from different sentences
Example: Joe is a good employee. Nonetheless, I have to fire him.
A TOPIC SENTENCE
A topic sentence is a sentence that indicates in a general way what idea or
thesis the paragraph is going to deal with.
Although not all paragraphs have clear-cut topic sentences, and despite the
fact that topic sentences can occur anywhere in the paragraph (as the first
sentence, the last sentence, or somewhere in the middle), an easy way to
make sure your reader understands the topic of the paragraph is to put your
topic sentence near the beginning of the paragraph. (This is a good general
rule for less experienced writers, although it is not the only way to do it).
Regardless of whether you include an explicit topic sentence or not, you
should be able to easily summarize what the paragraph is about.
ADEQUATE DEVELOPMENT
The topic (which is introduced by the topic sentence) should be discussed
fully and adequately.
Again, this varies from paragraph to paragraph, depending on the author's
purpose, but writers should be wary of paragraphs that only have two or
three sentences.
It's a pretty good bet that the paragraph is not fully developed if it is that
short.
Every idea discussed in the paragraph should be adequately explained and
supported through evidence and details that work together to explain the
paragraph’s controlling idea (Rosen and Behrens 119).
SOME METHODS TO MAKE SURE
YOUR PARAGRAPH IS WELL-
DEVELOPED
Use examples and illustrations
Cite data (facts, statistics, evidence, details, and others)
Examine testimony (what other people say such as quotes and paraphrases)
Use an anecdote or story
Define terms in the paragraph
Compare and contrast
Evaluate causes and reasons
Examine effects and consequences
Analyze the topic
Describe the topic
Offer a chronology of an event (time segments)
PARAGRAPH STRUCTURE
Most paragraphs in an essay have a three-part structure—introduction,
body, and conclusion.
You can see this structure in paragraphs whether they are narrating,
describing, comparing, contrasting, or analyzing information.
Each part of the paragraph plays an important role in communicating your
meaning to your reader.
Introduction:
The first section of a paragraph; should include the topic sentence and any
other sentences at the beginning of the paragraph that give background
information or provide a transition.
Body:
Follows the introduction; discusses the controlling idea, using facts,
arguments, analysis, examples, and other information.
Conclusion:
The final section; summarizes the connections between the information
discussed in the body of the paragraph and the paragraph’s controlling idea.
The following paragraph illustrates this pattern of organization. In this paragraph the topic sentence
and concluding sentence (CAPITALIZED) both help the reader keep the paragraph’s main point in
mind.
SCIENTISTS HAVE LEARNED TO SUPPLEMENT THE SENSE OF SIGHT IN NUMEROUS
WAYS. In front of the tiny pupil of the eye they put, on Mount Palomar, a great monocle 200 inches
in diameter, and with it see 2000 times farther into the depths of space. Or they look through a
small pair of lenses arranged as a microscope into a drop of water or blood, and magnify by as
much as 2000 diameters the living creatures there, many of which are among man’s most
dangerous enemies. Or, if we want to see distant happenings on earth, they use some of the
previously wasted electromagnetic waves to carry television images which they re-create as light by
whipping tiny crystals on a screen with electrons in a vacuum. Or they can bring happenings of long
ago and far away as colored motion pictures, by arranging silver atoms and color-absorbing
molecules to force light waves into the patterns of original reality. Or if we want to see into the
center of a steel casting or the chest of an injured child, they send the information on a beam of
penetrating short-wave X rays, and then convert it back into images we can see on a screen or
photograph. THUS ALMOST EVERY TYPE OF ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION YET
DISCOVERED HAS BEEN USED TO EXTEND OUR SENSE OF SIGHT IN SOME WAY.
George Harrison, “Faith and the Scientist”
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN TO START A
NEW PARAGRAPH?
You should start a new paragraph when:
When you begin a new idea or point. New ideas should always start in new
paragraphs. If you have an extended idea that spans multiple paragraphs, each new
point within that idea should have its own paragraph.
To contrast information or ideas. Separate paragraphs can serve to contrast
sides in a debate, different points in an argument, or any other difference.
When your readers need a pause. Breaks between paragraphs function as a
short "break" for your readers—adding these in will help your writing be more
readable. You would create a break if the paragraph becomes too long or the
material is complex.
When you are ending your introduction or starting your conclusion. Your
introductory and concluding material should always be in a new paragraph. Many
introductions and conclusions have multiple paragraphs depending on their content,
length, and the writer's purpose.
5-STEP PROCESS TO DEVELOP A
PARAGRAPH THAT ILLUSTRATES A
POINT
Let’s walk through a 5-step process for building a paragraph that illustrates
a point in an argument.
For each step there is an explanation and example.
Our example paragraph will be about human misconceptions of piranhas.
STEP 1: DECIDE ON A
CONTROLLING IDEA AND CREATE A
TOPIC SENTENCE
Paragraph development begins with the formulation of the controlling idea.
This idea directs the paragraph’s development.
Often, the controlling idea of a paragraph will appear in the form of a topic
sentence.
 In some cases, you may need more than one sentence to express a
paragraph’s controlling idea.
Controlling idea and topic sentence — Despite the fact that piranhas
are relatively harmless, many people continue to believe the pervasive
myth that piranhas are dangerous to humans.
STEP 2: ELABORATE ON THE
CONTROLLING IDEA
Paragraph development continues with an elaboration on the controlling
idea, perhaps with an explanation, implication, or statement about
significance.
Our example offers a possible explanation for the pervasiveness of the
myth.
Elaboration — This impression of piranhas is exacerbated by their
mischaracterization in popular media.
STEP 3: GIVE AN EXAMPLE (OR
MULTIPLE EXAMPLES)
Paragraph development progresses with an example (or more) that
illustrates the claims made in the previous sentences.
Example — For example, the promotional poster for the 1978 horror
film Piranha features an oversized piranha poised to bite the leg of an
unsuspecting woman.
STEP 4: EXPLAIN THE EXAMPLE(S)
The next movement in paragraph development is an explanation of each example
and its relevance to the topic sentence.
The explanation should demonstrate the value of the example as evidence to
support the major claim, or focus, in your paragraph.
Continue the pattern of giving examples and explaining them until all
points/examples that the writer deems necessary have been made and explained.
NONE of your examples should be left unexplained.
You might be able to explain the relationship between the example and the topic
sentence in the same sentence which introduced the example. More often, however,
you will need to explain that relationship in a separate sentence.
Explanation for example — Such a terrifying representation easily
captures the imagination and promotes unnecessary fear.
Notice that the example and explanation steps of this 5-step process (steps
3 and 4) can be repeated as needed.
The idea is that you continue to use this pattern until you have completely
developed the main idea of the paragraph.
STEP 5: COMPLETE THE
PARAGRAPH’S IDEA OR
TRANSITION INTO THE NEXT
PARAGRAPH
The final movement in paragraph development involves tying up the loose
ends of the paragraph.
At this point, you can remind your reader about the relevance of the
information to the larger paper, or you can make a concluding point for this
example. You might, however, simply transition to the next paragraph.
(Note: Longer paragraphs must always have a concluding sentence.)
Sentences for completing a paragraph — While the trope of the man-
eating piranhas lends excitement to the adventure stories, it bears little
resemblance to the real-life piranha. By paying more attention to fact
than fiction, humans may finally be able to let go of this inaccurate
belief.
FINISHED PARAGRAPH
Despite the fact that piranhas are relatively harmless, many people
continue to believe the pervasive myth that piranhas are dangerous to
humans. This impression of piranhas is exacerbated by their
mischaracterization in popular media. For example, the promotional
poster for the 1978 horror film Piranha features an oversized piranha
poised to bite the leg of an unsuspecting woman. Such a terrifying
representation easily captures the imagination and promotes
unnecessary fear. While the trope of the man-eating piranhas lends
excitement to the adventure stories, it bears little resemblance to the
real-life piranha. By paying more attention to fact than fiction, humans
may finally be able to let go of this inaccurate belief.
TROUBLESHOOTING PARAGRAPHS
Problem: the paragraph has no topic sentence
Imagine each paragraph as a sandwich. The real content of the sandwich—the meat
or other filling—is in the middle.
It includes all the evidence you need to make the point. But it gets kind of messy to
eat a sandwich without any bread. Your readers don’t know what to do with all the
evidence you’ve given them.
So, the top slice of bread (the first sentence of the paragraph) explains the topic (or
controlling idea) of the paragraph.
And, the bottom slice (the last sentence of the paragraph) tells the reader how the
paragraph relates to the broader argument.
In the original and revised paragraphs below, notice how a topic sentence
expressing the controlling idea tells the reader the point of all the evidence.
Original paragraph
Piranhas rarely feed on large animals; they eat smaller fish and aquatic
plants. When confronted with humans, piranhas’ first instinct is to flee, not
attack. Their fear of humans makes sense. Far more piranhas are eaten by
people than people are eaten by piranhas. If the fish are well-fed, they won’t
bite humans.
Revised paragraph
Although most people consider piranhas to be quite dangerous, they are, for
the most part, entirely harmless. Piranhas rarely feed on large animals; they
eat smaller fish and aquatic plants. When confronted with humans, piranhas’
first instinct is to flee, not attack. Their fear of humans makes sense. Far
more piranhas are eaten by people than people are eaten by piranhas. If the
fish are well-fed, they won’t bite humans.
Once you have mastered the use of topic sentences, you may decide that
the topic sentence for a particular paragraph really shouldn’t be the first
sentence of the paragraph.
This is fine—the topic sentence can actually go at the beginning, middle, or
end of a paragraph; what’s important is that it is in there somewhere so that
readers know what the main idea of the paragraph is and how it relates back
to the thesis of your paper.
Suppose that we wanted to start the piranha paragraph with a transition
sentence—something that reminds the reader of what happened in the
previous paragraph—rather than with the topic sentence.
Let’s suppose that the previous paragraph was about all kinds of animals
that people are afraid of, like sharks, snakes, and spiders. Our paragraph
might look like this (the topic sentence is bold):
Like sharks, snakes, and spiders, piranhas are widely feared. Although
most people consider piranhas to be quite dangerous, they are, for the
most part, entirely harmless. Piranhas rarely feed on large animals; they
eat smaller fish and aquatic plants. When confronted with humans, piranhas’
first instinct is to flee, not attack. Their fear of humans makes sense. Far
more piranhas are eaten by people than people are eaten by piranhas. If the
fish are well-fed, they won’t bite humans.
PROBLEM: THE PARAGRAPH HAS
MORE THAN ONE CONTROLLING
IDEA
If a paragraph has more than one main idea, consider eliminating
sentences that relate to the second idea, or split the paragraph into two or
more paragraphs, each with only one main idea.
Watch this short video on reverse
outlining (https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/reverse-outline/) to
learn a quick way to test whether your paragraphs are unified.
In the following paragraph, the final two sentences branch off into a different
topic; so, the revised paragraph eliminates them and concludes with a
sentence that reminds the reader of the paragraph’s main idea.
Original paragraph
Although most people consider piranhas to be quite dangerous, they are, for
the most part, entirely harmless. Piranhas rarely feed on large animals; they
eat smaller fish and aquatic plants. When confronted with humans, piranhas’
first instinct is to flee, not attack. Their fear of humans makes sense. Far
more piranhas are eaten by people than people are eaten by piranhas. A
number of South American groups eat piranhas. They fry or grill the fish and
then serve them with coconut milk or tucupi, a sauce made from fermented
manioc juices.
Revised paragraph
Although most people consider piranhas to be quite dangerous, they are, for
the most part, entirely harmless. Piranhas rarely feed on large animals; they
eat smaller fish and aquatic plants. When confronted with humans, piranhas’
first instinct is to flee, not attack. Their fear of humans makes sense. Far
more piranhas are eaten by people than people are eaten by piranhas. If the
fish are well-fed, they won’t bite humans.
PROBLEM: TRANSITIONS ARE
NEEDED WITHIN THE PARAGRAPH
You are probably familiar with the idea that transitions may be needed
between paragraphs or sections in a paper.
Sometimes they are also helpful within the body of a single paragraph.
Within a paragraph, transitions are often single words or short phrases that
help to establish relationships between ideas and to create a logical
progression of those ideas in a paragraph.
This is especially likely to be true within paragraphs that discuss multiple
examples. Let’s take a look at a version of our piranha paragraph that uses
transitions to orient the reader:
Although most people consider piranhas to be quite dangerous, they are,
except in two main situations, entirely harmless. Piranhas rarely feed on
large animals; they eat smaller fish and aquatic plants. When confronted with
humans, piranhas’ instinct is to flee, not attack. But there are two situations
in which a piranha bite is likely. The first is when a frightened piranha is lifted
out of the water—for example, if it has been caught in a fishing net. The
second is when the water level in pools where piranhas are living falls too
low. A large number of fish may be trapped in a single pool, and if they are
hungry, they may attack anything that enters the water.
In this example, you can see how the phrases “the first” and “the second”
help the reader follow the organization of the ideas in the paragraph.

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Paragraph Writing Skills.pptx

  • 2. WHAT IS A PARAGRAPH? Paragraphs are the building blocks of papers. Many students define paragraphs in terms of length: a paragraph is a group of at least five sentences, a paragraph is half a page long, etc. In reality, though, the unity and coherence of ideas among sentences is what constitutes a paragraph. A paragraph is defined as “a group of sentences or a single sentence that forms a unit” (Lunsford and Connors 116).
  • 3. Length and appearance do not determine whether a section in a paper is a paragraph. For instance, in some styles of writing, particularly journalistic styles, a paragraph can be just one sentence long. Ultimately, a paragraph is a sentence or group of sentences that support one main idea. We will refer to this as the “controlling idea,” because it controls what happens in the rest of the paragraph.  Good paragraphing greatly assists your readers in following a piece of writing. You can have fantastic ideas, but if those ideas aren't presented in an organized fashion, you will lose your readers (and fail to achieve your goals in writing).
  • 4. HOW DO I DECIDE WHAT TO PUT IN A PARAGRAPH? Before you can begin to determine what the composition of a particular paragraph will be, you must first decide on an argument and a working thesis statement for your paper. What is the most important idea that you are trying to convey to your reader? The information in each paragraph must be related to that idea. In other words, your paragraphs should remind your reader that there is a recurrent relationship between your thesis and the information in each paragraph. A working thesis functions like a seed from which your paper, and your ideas, will grow. The whole process is an organic one—a natural progression from a seed to a full-blown paper where there are direct, familial relationships between all of the ideas in the paper.
  • 5. The decision about what to put into your paragraphs begins with the germination of a seed of ideas; this “germination process” is better known as brainstorming. There are many techniques for brainstorming; whichever one you choose, this stage of paragraph development cannot be skipped. Building paragraphs can be like building a skyscraper: there must be a well- planned foundation that supports what you are building. Any cracks, inconsistencies, or other corruptions of the foundation can cause your whole paper to crumble. The sentences should all refer to the central idea, or thesis, of the paper (Rosen and Behrens 119).
  • 6. ELEMENTS OF PARAGRAPH To be as effective as possible, a paragraph should contain each of the following: Unity, Coherence, A Topic Sentence, and Adequate Development. As you will see, all of these traits overlap. Using and adapting them to your individual purposes will help you construct effective paragraphs. UNITY The entire paragraph should concern itself with a single focus. If it begins with one focus or major point of discussion, it should not end with another or wander within different ideas. All of the sentences in a single paragraph should be related to a single controlling idea (often expressed in the topic sentence of the paragraph).
  • 7. COHERENCE Coherence is the trait that makes the paragraph easily understandable to a reader. You can help create coherence in your paragraphs by creating logical bridges and verbal bridges. The sentences should be arranged in a logical manner and should follow a definite plan for development (Rosen and Behrens 119). Logical bridges The same idea of a topic is carried over from sentence to sentence Successive sentences can be constructed in parallel form
  • 8. Example 1: Sandra and her father played out in the rain despite the strong protest coming from her mother. They danced to the tune of the rain and watched as each droplet fell from the dark skies. She smiled, thinking of the days when she and her father listened helplessly to the endless rants of her mother as their soaking bodies form small puddles of water inside the house.  Example 2: The documentary concluded its feature with North Korean soldiers dumping corpses onto a military truck. Why would any news program carry such gruesome footage? Surely they knew what the consequences were for doing so…Instead, representatives from the news network considered it newsworthy because the clips featured exclusive content and startling visual images that viewers were interested in.
  • 9. Verbal bridges Key words can be repeated in several sentences Synonymous words can be repeated in several sentences Pronouns can refer to nouns in previous sentences Transition words can be used to link ideas from different sentences Example: Joe is a good employee. Nonetheless, I have to fire him.
  • 10. A TOPIC SENTENCE A topic sentence is a sentence that indicates in a general way what idea or thesis the paragraph is going to deal with. Although not all paragraphs have clear-cut topic sentences, and despite the fact that topic sentences can occur anywhere in the paragraph (as the first sentence, the last sentence, or somewhere in the middle), an easy way to make sure your reader understands the topic of the paragraph is to put your topic sentence near the beginning of the paragraph. (This is a good general rule for less experienced writers, although it is not the only way to do it). Regardless of whether you include an explicit topic sentence or not, you should be able to easily summarize what the paragraph is about.
  • 11. ADEQUATE DEVELOPMENT The topic (which is introduced by the topic sentence) should be discussed fully and adequately. Again, this varies from paragraph to paragraph, depending on the author's purpose, but writers should be wary of paragraphs that only have two or three sentences. It's a pretty good bet that the paragraph is not fully developed if it is that short. Every idea discussed in the paragraph should be adequately explained and supported through evidence and details that work together to explain the paragraph’s controlling idea (Rosen and Behrens 119).
  • 12. SOME METHODS TO MAKE SURE YOUR PARAGRAPH IS WELL- DEVELOPED Use examples and illustrations Cite data (facts, statistics, evidence, details, and others) Examine testimony (what other people say such as quotes and paraphrases) Use an anecdote or story Define terms in the paragraph Compare and contrast Evaluate causes and reasons Examine effects and consequences Analyze the topic Describe the topic Offer a chronology of an event (time segments)
  • 13. PARAGRAPH STRUCTURE Most paragraphs in an essay have a three-part structure—introduction, body, and conclusion. You can see this structure in paragraphs whether they are narrating, describing, comparing, contrasting, or analyzing information. Each part of the paragraph plays an important role in communicating your meaning to your reader.
  • 14. Introduction: The first section of a paragraph; should include the topic sentence and any other sentences at the beginning of the paragraph that give background information or provide a transition. Body: Follows the introduction; discusses the controlling idea, using facts, arguments, analysis, examples, and other information. Conclusion: The final section; summarizes the connections between the information discussed in the body of the paragraph and the paragraph’s controlling idea.
  • 15. The following paragraph illustrates this pattern of organization. In this paragraph the topic sentence and concluding sentence (CAPITALIZED) both help the reader keep the paragraph’s main point in mind. SCIENTISTS HAVE LEARNED TO SUPPLEMENT THE SENSE OF SIGHT IN NUMEROUS WAYS. In front of the tiny pupil of the eye they put, on Mount Palomar, a great monocle 200 inches in diameter, and with it see 2000 times farther into the depths of space. Or they look through a small pair of lenses arranged as a microscope into a drop of water or blood, and magnify by as much as 2000 diameters the living creatures there, many of which are among man’s most dangerous enemies. Or, if we want to see distant happenings on earth, they use some of the previously wasted electromagnetic waves to carry television images which they re-create as light by whipping tiny crystals on a screen with electrons in a vacuum. Or they can bring happenings of long ago and far away as colored motion pictures, by arranging silver atoms and color-absorbing molecules to force light waves into the patterns of original reality. Or if we want to see into the center of a steel casting or the chest of an injured child, they send the information on a beam of penetrating short-wave X rays, and then convert it back into images we can see on a screen or photograph. THUS ALMOST EVERY TYPE OF ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION YET DISCOVERED HAS BEEN USED TO EXTEND OUR SENSE OF SIGHT IN SOME WAY. George Harrison, “Faith and the Scientist”
  • 16. HOW DO I KNOW WHEN TO START A NEW PARAGRAPH? You should start a new paragraph when: When you begin a new idea or point. New ideas should always start in new paragraphs. If you have an extended idea that spans multiple paragraphs, each new point within that idea should have its own paragraph. To contrast information or ideas. Separate paragraphs can serve to contrast sides in a debate, different points in an argument, or any other difference. When your readers need a pause. Breaks between paragraphs function as a short "break" for your readers—adding these in will help your writing be more readable. You would create a break if the paragraph becomes too long or the material is complex. When you are ending your introduction or starting your conclusion. Your introductory and concluding material should always be in a new paragraph. Many introductions and conclusions have multiple paragraphs depending on their content, length, and the writer's purpose.
  • 17. 5-STEP PROCESS TO DEVELOP A PARAGRAPH THAT ILLUSTRATES A POINT Let’s walk through a 5-step process for building a paragraph that illustrates a point in an argument. For each step there is an explanation and example. Our example paragraph will be about human misconceptions of piranhas.
  • 18. STEP 1: DECIDE ON A CONTROLLING IDEA AND CREATE A TOPIC SENTENCE Paragraph development begins with the formulation of the controlling idea. This idea directs the paragraph’s development. Often, the controlling idea of a paragraph will appear in the form of a topic sentence.  In some cases, you may need more than one sentence to express a paragraph’s controlling idea. Controlling idea and topic sentence — Despite the fact that piranhas are relatively harmless, many people continue to believe the pervasive myth that piranhas are dangerous to humans.
  • 19. STEP 2: ELABORATE ON THE CONTROLLING IDEA Paragraph development continues with an elaboration on the controlling idea, perhaps with an explanation, implication, or statement about significance. Our example offers a possible explanation for the pervasiveness of the myth. Elaboration — This impression of piranhas is exacerbated by their mischaracterization in popular media.
  • 20. STEP 3: GIVE AN EXAMPLE (OR MULTIPLE EXAMPLES) Paragraph development progresses with an example (or more) that illustrates the claims made in the previous sentences. Example — For example, the promotional poster for the 1978 horror film Piranha features an oversized piranha poised to bite the leg of an unsuspecting woman.
  • 21. STEP 4: EXPLAIN THE EXAMPLE(S) The next movement in paragraph development is an explanation of each example and its relevance to the topic sentence. The explanation should demonstrate the value of the example as evidence to support the major claim, or focus, in your paragraph. Continue the pattern of giving examples and explaining them until all points/examples that the writer deems necessary have been made and explained. NONE of your examples should be left unexplained. You might be able to explain the relationship between the example and the topic sentence in the same sentence which introduced the example. More often, however, you will need to explain that relationship in a separate sentence.
  • 22. Explanation for example — Such a terrifying representation easily captures the imagination and promotes unnecessary fear. Notice that the example and explanation steps of this 5-step process (steps 3 and 4) can be repeated as needed. The idea is that you continue to use this pattern until you have completely developed the main idea of the paragraph.
  • 23. STEP 5: COMPLETE THE PARAGRAPH’S IDEA OR TRANSITION INTO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH The final movement in paragraph development involves tying up the loose ends of the paragraph. At this point, you can remind your reader about the relevance of the information to the larger paper, or you can make a concluding point for this example. You might, however, simply transition to the next paragraph. (Note: Longer paragraphs must always have a concluding sentence.) Sentences for completing a paragraph — While the trope of the man- eating piranhas lends excitement to the adventure stories, it bears little resemblance to the real-life piranha. By paying more attention to fact than fiction, humans may finally be able to let go of this inaccurate belief.
  • 24. FINISHED PARAGRAPH Despite the fact that piranhas are relatively harmless, many people continue to believe the pervasive myth that piranhas are dangerous to humans. This impression of piranhas is exacerbated by their mischaracterization in popular media. For example, the promotional poster for the 1978 horror film Piranha features an oversized piranha poised to bite the leg of an unsuspecting woman. Such a terrifying representation easily captures the imagination and promotes unnecessary fear. While the trope of the man-eating piranhas lends excitement to the adventure stories, it bears little resemblance to the real-life piranha. By paying more attention to fact than fiction, humans may finally be able to let go of this inaccurate belief.
  • 25. TROUBLESHOOTING PARAGRAPHS Problem: the paragraph has no topic sentence Imagine each paragraph as a sandwich. The real content of the sandwich—the meat or other filling—is in the middle. It includes all the evidence you need to make the point. But it gets kind of messy to eat a sandwich without any bread. Your readers don’t know what to do with all the evidence you’ve given them. So, the top slice of bread (the first sentence of the paragraph) explains the topic (or controlling idea) of the paragraph. And, the bottom slice (the last sentence of the paragraph) tells the reader how the paragraph relates to the broader argument. In the original and revised paragraphs below, notice how a topic sentence expressing the controlling idea tells the reader the point of all the evidence.
  • 26. Original paragraph Piranhas rarely feed on large animals; they eat smaller fish and aquatic plants. When confronted with humans, piranhas’ first instinct is to flee, not attack. Their fear of humans makes sense. Far more piranhas are eaten by people than people are eaten by piranhas. If the fish are well-fed, they won’t bite humans. Revised paragraph Although most people consider piranhas to be quite dangerous, they are, for the most part, entirely harmless. Piranhas rarely feed on large animals; they eat smaller fish and aquatic plants. When confronted with humans, piranhas’ first instinct is to flee, not attack. Their fear of humans makes sense. Far more piranhas are eaten by people than people are eaten by piranhas. If the fish are well-fed, they won’t bite humans.
  • 27. Once you have mastered the use of topic sentences, you may decide that the topic sentence for a particular paragraph really shouldn’t be the first sentence of the paragraph. This is fine—the topic sentence can actually go at the beginning, middle, or end of a paragraph; what’s important is that it is in there somewhere so that readers know what the main idea of the paragraph is and how it relates back to the thesis of your paper. Suppose that we wanted to start the piranha paragraph with a transition sentence—something that reminds the reader of what happened in the previous paragraph—rather than with the topic sentence. Let’s suppose that the previous paragraph was about all kinds of animals that people are afraid of, like sharks, snakes, and spiders. Our paragraph might look like this (the topic sentence is bold):
  • 28. Like sharks, snakes, and spiders, piranhas are widely feared. Although most people consider piranhas to be quite dangerous, they are, for the most part, entirely harmless. Piranhas rarely feed on large animals; they eat smaller fish and aquatic plants. When confronted with humans, piranhas’ first instinct is to flee, not attack. Their fear of humans makes sense. Far more piranhas are eaten by people than people are eaten by piranhas. If the fish are well-fed, they won’t bite humans.
  • 29. PROBLEM: THE PARAGRAPH HAS MORE THAN ONE CONTROLLING IDEA If a paragraph has more than one main idea, consider eliminating sentences that relate to the second idea, or split the paragraph into two or more paragraphs, each with only one main idea. Watch this short video on reverse outlining (https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/reverse-outline/) to learn a quick way to test whether your paragraphs are unified. In the following paragraph, the final two sentences branch off into a different topic; so, the revised paragraph eliminates them and concludes with a sentence that reminds the reader of the paragraph’s main idea.
  • 30. Original paragraph Although most people consider piranhas to be quite dangerous, they are, for the most part, entirely harmless. Piranhas rarely feed on large animals; they eat smaller fish and aquatic plants. When confronted with humans, piranhas’ first instinct is to flee, not attack. Their fear of humans makes sense. Far more piranhas are eaten by people than people are eaten by piranhas. A number of South American groups eat piranhas. They fry or grill the fish and then serve them with coconut milk or tucupi, a sauce made from fermented manioc juices. Revised paragraph Although most people consider piranhas to be quite dangerous, they are, for the most part, entirely harmless. Piranhas rarely feed on large animals; they eat smaller fish and aquatic plants. When confronted with humans, piranhas’ first instinct is to flee, not attack. Their fear of humans makes sense. Far more piranhas are eaten by people than people are eaten by piranhas. If the fish are well-fed, they won’t bite humans.
  • 31. PROBLEM: TRANSITIONS ARE NEEDED WITHIN THE PARAGRAPH You are probably familiar with the idea that transitions may be needed between paragraphs or sections in a paper. Sometimes they are also helpful within the body of a single paragraph. Within a paragraph, transitions are often single words or short phrases that help to establish relationships between ideas and to create a logical progression of those ideas in a paragraph. This is especially likely to be true within paragraphs that discuss multiple examples. Let’s take a look at a version of our piranha paragraph that uses transitions to orient the reader:
  • 32. Although most people consider piranhas to be quite dangerous, they are, except in two main situations, entirely harmless. Piranhas rarely feed on large animals; they eat smaller fish and aquatic plants. When confronted with humans, piranhas’ instinct is to flee, not attack. But there are two situations in which a piranha bite is likely. The first is when a frightened piranha is lifted out of the water—for example, if it has been caught in a fishing net. The second is when the water level in pools where piranhas are living falls too low. A large number of fish may be trapped in a single pool, and if they are hungry, they may attack anything that enters the water. In this example, you can see how the phrases “the first” and “the second” help the reader follow the organization of the ideas in the paragraph.