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Just what exactly are we talking about here?
A paragraph is a group of sentences that are related to each other because they all refer to a controlling idea; this idea is often expressed in a topic sentence, a sentence that functions in a paragraph much like a thesis statement functions in a paper. Paragraphs work together to develop the controlling idea established by the thesis. Consider the following example:
Thesis statement People in the past spent a great deal of effort protecting themselves from evil potatoes.
Topic sentence for a typical paragraph Anti-evil-potato devices were understandably numerous since every bad thing that happened could be blamed on the power of an evil potato.
Subject of paragraph Anti-evil-potato devices
Relation to controlling idea People's fear of evil potatoes forced them to devise equipment to keep evil potatoes away.
O.K. So, why do I want one?
The paragraph is a unit of organization and development. This structure is used to fully explore set of sub-topics that a thesis statement suggests. Each paragraph develops a specific idea that supports the thesis statement; it also connects that idea to the other ideas presented in the paper. Paragraphs can develop and unify a set of ideas in many different ways: writers must simply make sure that their reader understands how all the paragraphs in a paper work together to achieve the writer's purpose.
Where am I supposed to put this thing when I get one?
Hopefully, you will collect several of these items into a paper of some kind. How you store your paragraphs is very important. Each paragraph must be separated from the others by means of indentation. Remember that each paragraph must also relate its distinct idea about the thesis to the ideas developed in other paragraphs. (No paragraphs about Han Solo and Princess Leia in a paper about the soil conditions of Ireland during the famine.)
Where can I get some?
Unfortunately, you still have to produce these things yourself. What follows is largely based on information from The Allyn & Bacon Handbook; often, writers go through this "process" after they have completed a draft.
Decide what the paragraph will deal with:
Since each paragraph begins with a specific purpose (to explore a distinct sub-topic of the thesis), each topic sentence should be specific and clear. The organizational pattern of your paper (based mainly upon the type of paper you are writing) will help you decide what issues you should deal with and in what order to deal with them.
Think about all the issues that this paragraph should deal with:
Each sentence within a specific paragraph must support the idea posited by the topic sentence. As you reflect on a particular paragraph, ask yourself, "What are the issues involved in this topic? How does this relate to my overall controlling idea? Do my sentences adequately explore this topic sentence?"
Think about the purpose and tone of your paragraph:
Each paragraph must provide a thorough analysis of its topic. If a paragraph provides information that is not directly related to the thesis, revise or eliminate the extraneous information. Ask yourself whether each paragraph contributes to the focus and tone of the entire paper and follows the map laid out in your thesis.
Be efficient with your sentence development in your paragraph:
A paragraph is not a paper. Each paragraph represents a separate step towards a general conclusion about your topic. To that end, each paragraph should develop its idea with as many (or as few) sentences as necessary to make its point clear. Many of you have heard that a paragraph can be considered a "miniature essay" in which there is an introduction (topic sentence), some supportive materials (the sentences of the paragraph), and a conclusion (a concluding sentence). This structure works, but keep in mind that regardless of sentence length or number your main goal is efficiently and completely examining individual ideas.
Revise your paragraph organization as you develop your paper:
It may be that your thesis will change as you develop your paper; consequently, topic sentences for your paragraphs must change with it. Don't hesitate to discard vague or tangential ideas in favor of more direct ones. Also, make sure each paragraph moves your paper toward its goal, whether it be informative or persuasive. Finally, make sure each paragraph is part of a logical sequence of ideas that are linked by transitions.
Believe it or not there are more than one type of paragraph. You may want to investigate some of the intricacies of the introduction and conclusion varieties.
Questions, comments, and other sundry things may be sent to CSUwriting@csuohio.edu