Developing an effective paragraph -a combination of sentences joined cohesively together to further a focused topic -requires seven steps. Emily Layfield outlines these easy steps which will help one write an impeccable piece of writing: plan, gather, order, compose, elaborate, conclude and review. These seven steps apply to each of the four types -descriptive, expository, narrative and persuasive -of paragraphs. A well-developed paragraph will advance a particular topic in a clear, united and cohesive manner.

Plan the Paragraph

Planning a paragraph includes four key elements: a subject, a purpose, an audience and an approach. Deciding the subject/topic of the paragraph provides focus, which helps determine the purpose of writing. Establishing an audience and the category- descriptive, expository, narrative or persuasive- helps to find the appropriate tone and voice. For example, if you are writing a news story for a local newspaper, an expository paragraph is most appropriate. However, a letter to an MLA disputing his policies should be persuasive.

Gather the Information

Gather information that supports the overall content of the paragraph. Expository and persuasive writing needs strong content, comprising facts, figures and data collected from authorised sources, while narrative and descriptive texts allow for a personalised approach enriched by memories, sensory experiences or imaginative thought. Not all of the information you gather has to be used in a single paragraph. An excess of information allows you to be selective and write informative and relevant paragraphs.

Organize the Ideas

Organize the collected information chronologically, spatially or by importance. Paragraphs written chronologically follow a sequential or timeline pattern, often used to write expository and narrative paragraphs. Spatial paragraphs, common for descriptive works, include such words as above, below, near, next to, beside and underneath. Order-of-importance means you either lead or conclude with the most pertinent piece of information and is most effective with expository or persuasive paragraphs.

Compose Topic Sentences

Composing the topic sentence is the most important step in paragraph writing, as it holds the key to the subject and content of the paragraph. It will be succinct and yet informative, and all sentences that follow must relate to the topic sentence. In the same way that the thesis statement highlights the direction of an entire work, the topic sentence guides the direction of the paragraph. For example, if you are writing about first-time home-buying, a topic sentence might read, “Before purchasing your first home, it is important to gather all pertinent documents.” This shows your reader both the topic, purchasing a home for the first time, and provides focus, what should be gathered beforehand.

Elaborate with Details

Now that the topic or theme of a paragraph is stated, it’s time to describe define or explain it using details. These details, in turn, answer questions such as who, what, when, why or how. Elaborate on the topic sentence with the information previously collected. Most paragraphs consist of four to eight sentences; therefore, two or three supporting details are needed to build on the topic sentence. Each new sentence in the paragraph should relate to the overall topic and move the paragraph forward. Transition words -such as first, next, in addition to, along with, however, therefore, finally and for example -are useful in developing coherency in the body of the paragraph.

Conclude the Paragraph

Conclude the paragraph with a single sentence, sometimes called the clincher. It will often restate the topic sentence in some way and provide closure to the reader. Most paragraphs will not end by introducing a new topic, which should be saved for the next paragraph. To continue the first-time home-buying example, a sample concluding sentence might read, “Tax information, payment verification, proof of funds and job histories are all documents that you will need to collect before purchasing your first home.” This reiterates the main point and summarizes the other information provided in the paragraph.

Conclusions may:

    • Emphasise or reiterate the topic sentence.
    • Ask a provocative question.
    • Use a quotation.
    • Evoke a vivid image to substantiate the main point.
    • Call for some sort of action.
    • End with a warning.
    • Universalise the content.
    • Suggest results or consequences.

Avoiding these pitfalls will make your write up better:

    • Do not conclude with a sentimental flourish.
    • Do not bring up new ideas in conclusion.
    • Do not apologize for your argument or point of view.

Review the Content

Review the paragraph before it is a final product. This is often an overlooked but critical step in the writing process. This step allows you to assess the paragraph and make edits for errors in grammar and spelling, lack of cohesion and unity as well as ensuring that the paragraph achieves your desired purpose. This is also the time to check for varied sentence structure and proper word choice.

A Final Checklist

    • Is the topic sentence powerful and clear?
    • Have you brainstormed?
    • Is the paragraph plan sound?
    • The first draft should have included all the ideas in your plan.
    • Revise and edit.
    • Check for errors in grammar spelling and punctuation.
    • Proofread your paragraph.
    • Make a neat, final copy, free of smudges and corrections.
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Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature for 14 years now. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges coming under this directorate and is now posted at the Department of English, H.H. The Maharaja’s Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of the lecture notes that she prepared by referring various sources, for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

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