The Paragraph

This page was first published on the 13th of April, 2017 and last updated on the 13th of April, 2017 by Patrick Carpen.

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The paragraph is a unit within a composition. This composition may be a friendly letter, a short story, a novel, an essay, a newspaper article, and the list goes on. The paragraph consists of a group of sentences which all work together to communicate one idea.

Good writers do no jumble up their ideas. They unify them with the use of the paragraph. The topic sentence introduces the idea. All other sentences in the paragraph supports, strengthens, expands, explains or adds to this central idea. Consider the following paragraph:

A trip to Georgetown can be tiring. The drive lasts about twelve hours up and down a sandy trail. The trail itself is strewn with holes and bumps. The sand flies all around and gets caught in your hair. There are several stops along the way to eat, use the washroom and rest in hammocks. If you are an adventurous person, you may enjoy this trip, but if you want to reach your destination in comfort and relaxation, take the plane instead.

The main idea of the above paragraph is: A Trip to Georgetown can be Tiring. As you can see from the above paragraph, all other sentences support the idea that “A Trip to Georgetown can be Tiring.” The sentence “A Trip to Georgetown Can Be Tiring” is called the “topic sentence”.

The Topic Sentence

The topic sentence expresses the central idea of the paragraph. All other sentences give strength and deeper meaning to the topic sentence. Most of the time, the topic sentence is stated at the start of the paragraph, as in the example paragraph given above. However, there are instances where the topic sentence appears in the middle or the end of the paragraph. Rarely too, the topic sentence may not be stated at all, but may be implied or understood.

The Concluding Sentence of the Paragraph

In the sample paragraph “A Trip to Georgetown”, the first sentence is the topic sentence and the last sentence is a concluding sentence. Many, but not all, paragraphs, especially in nonfiction writing, contain a concluding or summarizing sentence. In the example paragraph “A Trip to Georgetown”, the concluding sentence is: If you are an adventurous person, you may enjoy this trip, but if you want to reach your destination in comfort and relaxation, take the plane instead.

A paragraph is not just formatting. Anyone can format a group of words to make them look like a paragraph; but a good writer does more. A good writer pays attention to the contents of the paragraph. A good writer does not just throw random ideas around: he or she focuses on one idea and expresses it neatly in a paragraph, then moves to another idea and paragraph.

Here is another example of a good paragraph:

Cats are wonderful animals. Aren’t they fun to hold and play with? Research has shown that a purring cat has therapeutic effects. A cat brings joy to its master. If you’re looking for a good pet, get a pet cat.

Do you see how all other sentences in the above paragraph support or add meaning to the topic sentence: Cats are wonderful animals?

Here is another example done for you:

Snakes are repulsive creatures. Some people actually like snakes but I’m not one of those persons. The way a snake crawls alone gives me goosebumps. My skin starts to grow at the very thought of its slither. Their eyes are symbolic of pure evil. One time I saw a snake in my room and I nearly passed out. Somehow, I managed to summon to courage and art to kill it. And let’s not start talking about its forked tongue.

Key Words in the Topic Sentences

Most paragraphs contain a good topic sentence and most topic sentences contain a good keyword. A keyword sets the pace and focus of the paragraph. All the topic sentences of the paragraph examples above contain keywords. The keyword of the topic sentence points the way forward and gives us a hint as to what the other sentences will be focusing on. All supporting sentences in the topic sentence support the keyword idea of the topic sentence.

In the three paragraphs repeated below, the topic sentence has been set in italics and the keyword of the topic sentence has been underlined.

A trip to Georgetown can be tiring. The drive lasts about twelve hours up and down a sandy trail. The trail itself is strewn with holes and bumps. The sand flies all around and gets caught in your hair. There are several stops along the way to eat, use the washroom and rest in hammocks. If you are an adventurous person, you may enjoy this trip, but if you want to reach your destination in comfort and relaxation, take the plane instead.

Cats are wonderful animals. Aren’t they fun to hold and play with? Research has shown that a purring cat has therapeutic effects. A cat brings joy to its master. If you’re looking for a good pet, get a pet cat.

Snakes are repulsive creatures. Some people actually like snakes but I’m not one of those persons. The way a snake crawls alone gives me goosebumps. My skin starts to grow at the very thought of its slither. Their eyes are symbolic of pure evil. One time I saw a snake in my room and I nearly passed out. Someone, I managed to summon to courage and art to kill it. And let’s not start talking about its forked tongue.

Not all paragraphs contain a topic sentence with a keyword: some paragraphs, like this one, may be just one line long.

Paragraphing Quoted Speech

Paragraphing has a special rule in narratives with “quoted speech”. Every time a new speaker is quoted, a new paragraph must begin.

Look at the extract below:

Tim was walking home one cool afternoon when a stranger met him. “Howdy little boy,” said the tall, muscular man.

“Howdy sir,” said Tim.

“Can you tell me the name of this street?” the man asked.

“Winslow Street,” Tim replied.

“Thank you little boy,” the man replied, and went on his way.

The above passage contains five paragraphs, and some of these paragraphs are just one line long. That is because a new paragraph must start each time a new speaker is being quoted.

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