Author:
Judith Westley, Daniel Kelley, Nina Adel, Graham Harkness
Subject:
Literature, Communication, Higher Education, Composition and Rhetoric
Material Type:
Student Guide
Level:
High School, Community College / Lower Division
Tags:
  • Composition
  • Composition 2
  • English
  • Essay
  • Paragraph Development
  • Tennessee Open Education
  • composition
  • essay writing
  • essay-writing
  • lesson
  • paragraph
  • License:
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
    Language:
    English
    Media Formats:
    Text/HTML

    Tips on Structuring Paragraphs

    Tips on Structuring Paragraphs

    Overview

    This resource is useful in a first-year composition course. The examples are intended for a literature-based composition class. There are also examples of opening strategies intended for an expository composition class. The Word version will give both types of examples.

    Structuring Your Essay Paragraphs

    This handout is typically used as the start of an introductory composition course for first-year college students.

    This handout provides guidance for how to structure the paragraphs in your essays. Most likely, you already know that essays have three different types of paragraphs: the introduction, the body paragraphs, and the conclusion. These different types of paragraphs serve different functions, and therefore follow different patterns to communicate ideas.

    Many methods for organizing paragraphs exist. No method is perfect. You may already have an approach that works for you; if you do, stick with it.

    If you need pointers or want to try to something new, read through the method outlined here. It provides a tried-and-true formula that helps many students. The method uses acronyms to help you remember the different parts of the paragraphs. An acronym is an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of successive words connected to the same concept.

    The acronym for the introductory paragraph is E.D.I.T., which stands for Engagement, Development, Inquiry or Insight, and Thesis Statement. All introductory paragraphs include these four parts. Each part builds upon the one that precedes it, and sets up the part that follows it. Note that the method specifies four parts and not four sentences. Most introductions need more than four sentences to adequately express the controlling idea of the essay. Each of the first three parts might have two or three sentences, although the fourth part (Thesis Statement) should be one sentence.

    The acronym for body paragraphs is T.E.X.T., which stands for Topic Sentence, Example, Explanation, and Tie-up. Every essay has several body paragraphs forming the bulk of your argument that comes between the introduction and the conclusion. Body paragraphs also have four parts; the first part should be a single sentence, but the next three may each have several sentences.

    The acronym for concluding paragraphs is S.S., which stands for Strategy for Closing and Summary.

    The pages that follow provide more detailed explanations for the organizational method for each type of paragraph.

    The Introductory Paragraph

    Engagement

    The first sentence or two engages your reader’s attention. This part is also called the hook or opening strategy. Opening strategies include:

    • asking a question: What motivates Sammy to quit his job in John Updike’s “A&P?”
    • giving a definition:  A rebel is someone who challenges authority. In John Updike’s “A&P,” Sammy is in the throes of adolescent rebellion against the authority of his boss, his parents, and social norms.
    • making a general statement about the topic: John Updike’s “A&P” examines the struggles of growing up in the early sixties.
    • stating a paradox: In John Updike’s “A&P,” Sammy explicitly states that he quit his job to impress the three girls in the story. However, his internal monologue indicates that he was bored at work and looking for any excuse to leave.
    • providing relevant historical context: When John Updike published “A&P” in 1961, young men like Sammy expected to marry early and get a boring, stable job.

    Development

    The next sentence(s) deepen your reader’s interest with background information the reader needs to understand the essay. State important names and dates; give brief descriptions or definitions, and so on. The length of this part varies depending on your topic. One to three sentences are generally sufficient. Don’t go on too long or your audience may become too impatient to continue reading your essay.

    Inquiry or Insight 

    The next one or two sentences present an inquiry you wish explore, or an insight you wish to offer. The inquiry or insight help set up the assertion you make in your thesis.

    Thesis Statement

    Assert the controlling idea of your essay in a clear, focused, complete sentence that previews the points you will cover in the essay.

     

    Body Paragraphs

    Topic Sentence

    Begin with an assertive statement about the focus for your body paragraph. This assertion is sometimes known as a topic sentence. The main point should be a specific idea that invites discussion and demands support; it should also relate to your thesis statement. Don’t make a simple statement of fact. In a literary analysis, the main point of a body paragraph reveals one aspect of how you interpret the text under discussion. Be concise; ideally, the main point should be stated in one sentence.

    Example

    Because your main point makes an assertion that requires support, you need to provide support in the form of an example. The example can be a quote from the text under discussion, or a quote from a secondary source. You can also use a paraphrase instead of a direct quotation. Whether quoting or paraphrasing, make sure you properly cite the material.

    eXplanation

    Discuss how your example supports your main point. This portion of the paragraph should be longer than one sentence; two, three or even four sentences are common. Use literary terminology to investigate important features of the example, such as the language, the imagery, the tone, the point of view, the tone, the setting, and so on.

    Tie-up

    Reassert the significance of your main point with one to three sentences that tie together everything you’ve stated in the body paragraph so far. These sentences should also set up the main point in the next paragraph, thus tying each paragraph to the one that follows.

     

    The Concluding Paragraph

    Strategy for Closing

    Just as you need an opening strategy for your introduction, you also need a strategy to signal that you are finishing your essay. Closing strategies include:

    • Asking a question:  A well-selected and provocative question can be a good way to imprint an important point in your reader’s mind, and to keep your reader thinking about what you have said. These can work well for all types of essays; the key is to ask a strong and important question.
    • Universalizing your analysis: Make a statement that connects your interpretation of the literary work to real life. Select a specific, relatable circumstance that most readers can understand; avoid overly dramatic language.
    • Making a prediction: Speculate on further areas of consideration or exploration. Point your readers toward grand new vistas of analysis for the text or topic under discussion.
    • Echoing your thesis: This classic closing strategy that works well for almost any type of essay. The key is to re-state your thesis in a fresh way, without using too much of the original wording.

    Summary

    Re-state your key points in fresh and concise language. Now that you have presented your evidence and made your argument, your audience should be able to see your points in context.