Last week here at Writing Center Underground, we discussed how to write a thesis statement for your argument essay, and this week we’ll look at how to structure paragraphs. Organizing information into paragraph format is directly related to the thesis. How? Once you have formulated a working thesis, the next step is to begin formulating the paragraphs, which work to support the thesis by offering details, which may include facts, explanations, examples, and research, if required. A paragraph should convey one controlling idea in support of the main thesis, and no more than one; this controlling idea should relate back to the paper’s thesis.
Below is an example of a working thesis and supporting paragraphs:
WORKING THESIS: Recycling should be mandatory for all businesses.
PARAGRAPH ONE: . . . because businesses create more landfill waste than individual households.
PARAGRAPH TWO: . . . because landfill maintenance and administration is much costlier for municipal governments than recycling of domestic waste.
PARAGRAPHS THREE: . . . because business recycling sets a good example for the community.
In the examples above, each of the paragraphs will directly support the thesis statement with different reasons, also known as “because clauses.” Forming your thesis into a “because clause” paragraph is a useful way to organize the paragraphs, especially for a proposal argument essay.
Let’s break the paragraphs down further. For paragraph one, the topic sentence will be “Recycling should be mandatory for all businesses because businesses create more landfill waste than individual households.” Just as the thesis is the controlling idea for the entire paper, the topic sentence is the controlling idea of the paragraph. The topic sentence works to keep the paragraph focused on supporting that specific reason or because clause. So in paragraph one, you will incorporate details, such as statistics, facts, examples, and research showing support that businesses do indeed create more landfill waste than individuals.
For paragraph two, you will show supporting information including statistics, facts, examples, and research to show that landfill maintenance and administration is much costlier for municipal governments than recycling of domestic waste. For paragraph three, the supporting details will include information that supports that business recycling will set a good example for the community. For each of the example paragraphs, only supporting details that directly relate to each topic sentence should be included. This will help to focus the paragraphs and prevent you from straying off-topic.
As you develop your paragraphs, remember that each should be
- Unified: 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).
- Clearly related to the thesis: The sentences should all refer to the central idea, or thesis, of the paper.
- Coherent: The sentences should be arranged in a logical manner and should follow a definite plan for development.
- Well-developed: 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.
(courtesy of The Writing Center, UNC-CH • Chapel Hill, NC)
Steps to Developing Paragraphs
- Create a Topic Sentence. The topic sentence of a paragraph works as the controlling idea or thesis of just that paragraph.
- Explain the Controlling Idea. Explain how the reader should interpret the controlling idea. This smooths the transition to the supporting details.
- Offer Examples of Support. This could take the form of statistics, facts, examples, and research that directly supports or proves the statement or argument you make in the topic sentence.
- Explain the Examples. Especially for research or statistics, it’s imperative that the information be explained and contextualized for the reader. It’s not enough to include quotes or stats; they must be fully integrated into the paragraph with explanations and connections to the larger purpose.
How long should a paragraph be? In doing a little research of my own, I found several varying answers. Some sources say that a paragraph is a minimum of three sentences. Others say that a paragraph is between seven to twelve sentences. Still other sources say a paragraph should be one-half page in length. However, don’t rely on length alone to determine if a paragraph is complete. A paragraph should be long enough to fully support one main idea with adequate examples of support, and not so short that the main idea of the paragraph isn’t fully illustrated and explained.
Successful paragraphs are built one step at a time. Beginning writers find it easier to first create an outline of each paragraph, which often makes it easier to keep a strong focus and maintain a connection to the thesis. Following a few simple steps will help you build, paragraph by paragraph, a successful essay.