Paragraphs

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¶ Overview Introductory ¶s Body ¶s  Concluding ¶s

 

 ¶ Overview:    Because so much emphasis is placed on the paragraph, it is important that you understand exactly what a paragraph is and what makes it good.  Years ago, when scribes wrote on expensive animal skins, they tried to minimize empty space in a document.  Consequently, they copied multiple manuscripts onto one scroll or book.  To indicate a change from one copied manuscript to another, they would insert a symbol to let the reader know the manuscript being copied had changed. 

That symbol has evolved over time and is known today as the paragraph symbol (also known as the pilcrow).  It looks like this: ¶

Today, rather than use the paragraph symbol to indicate a change in subject, we start a new paragraph by beginning a new line and indenting five spaces.

Think of a paragraph as a group of sentences that revolve around a central idea.   

In essays there are three main types of paragraphs: introduction, body, and conclusion.



Introductory
¶s:     An introductory paragraph is the springboard for your entire essay.  After reading your introductory paragraph, a reader should have a clear grasp of exactly where your essay is heading.  There are a few key components to an introductory paragraph, which includes a thesis statement, a hook, and some background information on your subject.


Thesis statement:  a sentence that introduces the reader to your topic as well as your view regarding your topic.  Your thesis may also contain the major subdivisions of your essay. 

Example:
Jennifer Price redefines nature in Land of Sunshine.
Explanation:  Although this early attempt at a thesis does indicate the subject and the author's view about the subject, it is still not a satisfactory thesis.  Within the book Land of Sunshine, Price does indeed attempt to redefine nature.  Price indicates this in her writing, so this thesis isn't really doing anything except stating the obvious.

Example:  Jennifer Price redefines nature in Land of Sunshine to contrast traditional ideas and representations of nature with urban environments.
Explanation: 
This second attempt is considerably better because the thesis is now providing a reason why Price may be redifing nature.

Example: Jennifer Price redefines nature in Land of Sunshine to contrast traditional ideas and representations of nature with urban environments, and in so doing suggests modern man must reevaluate nature and his interaction with it.
Explanation:  
This last thesis does a better job than the previous ones because it adds yet another layer of analysis to the text Price wrote.  The author of this thesis now has something to prove in his/her essay.

While it is true that your thesis statement can be anywhere in your opening paragraph, some instructors prefer it in a certain place.  Most importantly, which sentence serves as your thesis must be clear.
Be sure to ask your instructor if he or she has a preference regarding where your thesis statement should be.


Hook:  a sentence or two that grabs the reader's attention.  Be careful with your hook, as it is easy to get carried away.  Instructors often have preferences for the kinds of hooks students use.  For example, some instructors insist students do not ask questions in their opening paragraphs, while others are fine with such questions. 
Be sure to ask your instructor his or her preferences regarding ways to create a hook before you write.

Example:
 
Beware the Real Hook, Matey
     If a moviegoer were to go up against a fictional movie pirate, she need not fear.  Aside from a few threats of swabbin’ the deck, walkin’ the plank, and being run through with a sword, movie pirates are not particularly threatening.  In fact, behind all the threats and “arrrggghhhs” they seem fairly pathetic.  After all, Captain Hook never gets that blasted Pan, Captain Ahab is too preoccupied with the elusive Moby Dick, and Long John Silver gets tricked by a mere boy.  Ironically, the pirates depicted in films rarely live up to their real counterparts found throughout history.  The real pirates, about whom the movies pirates are inevitably based, are charismatic, greedy, deadly, and deceitful.  In short, neither a moviegoer nor Pan would stand a pixie-dust chance against a fictional  movie pirate’s real life counterpart.

Explanation
: The introductory paragraph above contains several hooks.  While the paragraph ultimately settles on the topic of the dangerous nature of real pirates, it gets the reader's attention by introducing familiar characters.  In addition, there is a smattering of pirate talk throughout, which works to draw readers into the subject.  Even the title contains a hook--in this case a real hook.
 
   Avoid making announcements such as, "I am going to write about. . ." or "In this essay I will. . ." Instead, it is best to simply dive into your topic and get to the point.

Background Information:  When you think about it, your hook and thesis only consist of a few sentences.  However, most instructors expect an introductory paragraph to be more than two or three sentences.  Students are often left wondering what else to include.  Often times, you may include some pertinent background information on the subject.  The background information may explain how your subject has changed over time or how perceptions of your subject have changed.  Alternatively, you may wish to indicate why the subject is relevant to your audience.
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   Body Paragraphs:  Body paragraphs are in many ways like mini essays.  Like essays, body paragraphs have a controlling idea.  While in an essay that controlling idea is known as a thesis, in a body paragraph the controlling idea is known as a topic sentence.  In addition, the body paragraph provides ample support that proves the topic sentence.

The basic definition of a body paragraph is a group of sentences that  revolve around a central idea.  Everything in the paragraph should relate directly to the topic sentence.  In addition, the topic sentence should directly relate to your essay's thesis.   Like a thesis, the topic sentence should introduce a subject and what you are trying to prove about that subject.

A good topic sentence:

Example: 

Although the topic sentence may be placed in several different places in your paragraph, instructors tend to be picky about where the topic sentence may be placed within a body paragraph.  It will save you tremendous headache if you find out your instructor's preferences before you write.  I ask that you reserve the first sentence of your paragraph for your topic sentence.  When you prove proficient in creating well-developed paragraphs with your topic sentence at the beginning of your paragraph, I will encourage you to experiment with placing the topic sentence where you wish.

 

Example:  (The following body paragraph example comes from Lynn Troyka's Simon and Schuster Handbook for Writers page 73)

     The cockroach lore that has been daunting us for years is mostly true.  Roaches can live for twenty days without food, fourteen days without water; they can flatten their bodies and crawl through a crack thinner than a dime; they can eat huge doses of carcinogens and still die of old age.  They can even survive "as much radiation as an oak tree can," says William Bell, the University of Kansas entomologist whose cockroaches appeared in the movie The Day After.  They'll eat almost anything--regular food, leather, glue, hair, paper, even the starch in book bindings.  (The New York Public Library has quite a cockroach problem.)  They sense the slightest breeze, and they can react and start running in .05 seconds; they can also remain motionless for days.  And if all this isn't creepy enough, they can fly too.   --Jane Goldman, "What's Bugging You"

Explanation:  This paragraph is good because it has a clear topic sentence and because there is ample support that proves the topic sentence.  The topic sentence is the first sentence, which introduces the subject (cockroaches) and what the writer intends to prove about the subject (that the lore surrounding cockroaches is mostly true).  The support that follows directly relates to the topic sentence and supports the author's claim.  There is one sentence that changes the focus from cockroaches to the New York Public Library, but the writer acknowledges this slight change in subject by enclosing the sentence in parentheses.  

        

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Concluding Paragraphs:

A concluding paragraph is important in an essay because it gives the reader a sense of closure.  Ideally, the concluding paragraph strengthens the ideas you put forth in your essay.  This paragraph should not be casually tagged onto your essay.  Rather, it should flow logically from the preceding paragraphs.  In the concluding paragraph, you should summarize the main ideas you presented in your essay.

When it comes to concluding paragraphs, you should avoid:

 

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