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What is a paragraph?

A paragraph is a short piece of writing about a single topic.

A stand alone paragraph is made up of three sections:

  • Topic Sentence: states the topic and your view about the topic  

  • Supporting Sentences: provide support for your topic sentences

  • Concluding Sentence: brings the paragraph to a close

Keep in mind that a paragraph is about a single topic. Paragraphs can stand on their own, or a number of paragraphs can be connected to develop an essay. 

There is no fixed length for a paragraph, but in order to develop sufficient support for your topic sentence, you will generally have to write between five and ten sentences for a stand alone paragraph.

Here's a sample paragraph:  


The Keys to Physical Fitness 

Many people are unrealistic about what it takes to become physically fit.  They try fad diets, infomercial exercise programs and miracle fat burning supplements without success while ignoring the real steps to fitness.  The first step is strength training.  Strength training builds muscle which helps increase energy levels and improve posture.  In addition to building muscle strength through strength training, regular cardiovascular exercise such as running, walking or cycling is essential.  Cardiovascular training burns fat and strengthens the heart.  But regular exercise will only be effective if people pay attention to diet and nutrition.  A diet that avoids sugars, junk foods, and high fat meals and is high in fruits, grains and low fat meats will provide the body with the energy it needs without weight gain. As much as we might wish it, the "secret" of physical fitness can't be found in a bottle. It's a matter of regular exercise and good eating habits.  


Note that the writer expresses a view point on physical fitness--that many people have unrealistic ideas about how to become fit.  The rest of the paragraph goes on to explain the only realistic way to become physically fit. 

You topic sentence should be more than just a factual statement about your topic.  It also should contain your view or your particular slant on the topic.  For example: Many teenagers play video games is simply a statement of fact and brings nothing new, interesting or controversial to the subject.  A topic sentence such as Teenagers learn many important skills by playing video games, however, makes a point that prepares the reader for an argument. As you explore topics that you are interested in, look for ideas about your topic, not just statements of fact or information. 

Here are some examples:  


Topic: Professional athletes' salaries.

Topic sentence: In spite of their great skills and talents, professional athletes are overpaid.


Topic: Stress

Topic sentence: Learning how to deal with stress is an essential survival skill.


Topic: SUV's

Topic sentence: SUV's are unnecessary vehicles promoted by the car companies to increase their profits.


Topic: Pets and kids

Topic sentence:  Owning a pet can be an important part of a child's learning experience.


Topics: Broad and Narrow

When we are deciding on a topic to write about we have to think about whether the topic is appropriate for a paragraph.  Will we have enough points to back up our topic sentence or is the topic more suitable for an essay or even a book?  We refer to topics that are very limited as being too narrow and topics that seem to have almost no limit as being too broad. 

Some topics like "The Effects of Smoking" would be appropriate for paragraph, an essay or even a book depending on the level of detail the writer wishes to include. "Basic Car Repair" is clearly best covered in a book, while a paragraph could cover "How to Change Your Oil".

Your topic is likely too narrow if you can't come up with enough ideas to support it or it looks at just one detail.

Your topic is likely too broad if you seem to have so many points that you can't seem to organize them effectively.

Here are some examples of broad and narrow topics and some suggestions for adapting them into more manageable writing topics.  Keep in mind that a person's knowledge of a particular subject can determine whether the topic is too broad or narrow.  


Broad: Young people today face many challenges in their lives.

More focused : Dealing with peer pressure is the biggest challenge young people face today.


Broad: Growing car ownership has caused many problems.

More focused: Our cities are becoming noisy, congested and polluted because everybody wants to drive a car.    


Narrow: Dogs can be very entertaining.

More focused:  A dog can play an important role in a single person's life.


Narrow: Aerobic exercise is essential for fitness.

More focused:  A complete exercise routine includes aerobic training, muscle building and proper nutrition.


Paragraph Organization  


Parts of a Paragraph

Topic Sentence

  • States the topic of the paragraph

  • Makes a point about the topic

  • Usually, but not always, at the beginning of the paragraph

Supporting Points 1, 2, 3, or more

  • Each supporting point provides details to explain and support the topic sentences

  • Supporting points can include facts, details, examples, and personal views-whatever supports the topic sentence  

  • Each separate supporting point may be one or two sentences  

Concluding Sentence(s)

  • Bring(s) the paragraph to a close by referring to but not repeating word-for-word the point made in the topic sentence.

 

Sample Paragraph


Benefits of Exercise

Topic Sentence 

Contrary to what many out of shape people may think, exercise is not a waste of time.  

Supporting Point 1  

First of all, exercise conditions and strengthens the body's most important muscle, the heart. A stronger heart provides increased energy and stamina.

Supporting Point 2

Exercise also changes the way people look.  Muscle tone develops and posture improves as the body becomes stronger.

Supporting Point 3

When people look better and feel better, their self esteem increases and they feel more confident.

Supporting Point 4 

Finally, the fitness gained through exercise helps fight off illness and disease.

Concluding Sentence

Exercise is not just for kids and athletes.  Following a regular exercise routine pays off, both physically and mentally.

 

 

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This page was last updated November 19, 2004

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