Paragraphs & Topic Sentences
A paragraph is a series of sentences that are organized and coherent, and are all related to a single topic. Almost every piece of writing you do that is longer than a few sentences should be organized into paragraphs. This is because paragraphs show a reader where the subdivisions of an essay begin and end, and thus help the reader see the organization of the essay and grasp its main points.
Paragraphs can contain many different kinds of information. A paragraph could contain a series of brief examples or a single long illustration of a general point. It might describe a place, character, or process; narrate a series of events; compare or contrast two or more things; classify items into categories; or describe causes and effects. Regardless of the kind of information they contain, all paragraphs share certain characteristics. One of the most important of these is a topic sentence.
A well-organized paragraph supports or develops a single controlling idea, which is expressed in a sentence called the topic sentence. A topic sentence has several important functions: it substantiates or supports an essays thesis statement; it unifies the content of a paragraph and directs the order of the sentences; and it advises the reader of the subject to be discussed and how the paragraph will discuss it. Readers generally look to the first few sentences in a paragraph to determine the subject and perspective of the paragraph. Thats why its often best to put the topic sentence at the very beginning of the paragraph. In some cases, however, its more effective to place another sentence before the topic sentencefor example, a sentence linking the current paragraph to the previous one, or one providing background information.
Although most paragraphs should have a topic sentence, there are a few situations when a paragraph might not need a topic sentence. For example, you might be able to omit a topic sentence in a paragraph that narrates a series of events, if a paragraph continues developing an idea that you introduced (with a topic sentence) in the previous paragraph, or if all the sentences and details in a paragraph clearly referperhaps indirectlyto a main point. The vast majority of your paragraphs, however, should have a topic sentence.
Most paragraphs in an essay have a three-part structureintroduction, body, and conclusion. You can see this structure in paragraphs whether they are narrating, describing, comparing, contrasting, or analyzing information. Each part of the paragraph plays an important role in communicating your meaning to your reader.
Introduction: the first section of a paragraph; should include the topic sentence and any other sentences at the beginning of the paragraph that give background information or provide a transition.
Body: follows the introduction; discusses the controlling idea, using facts, arguments, analysis, examples, and other information.
Conclusion: the final section; summarizes the connections between the information discussed in the body of the paragraph and the paragraphs controlling idea.
The following paragraph illustrates this pattern of organization. In this paragraph the topic sentence and concluding sentence (CAPITALIZED) both help the reader keep the paragraphs main point in mind.
SCIENTISTS HAVE LEARNED TO SUPPLEMENT THE SENSE OF SIGHT IN NUMEROUS WAYS. In front of the tiny pupil of the eye they put, on Mount Palomar, a great monocle inches in diameter, and with it see times farther into the depths of space. Or they look through a small pair of lenses arranged as a microscope into a drop of water or blood, and magnify by as much as diameters the living creatures there, many of which are among mans most dangerous enemies. Or, if we want to see distant happenings on earth, they use some of the previously wasted electromagnetic waves to carry television images which they re-create as light by whipping tiny crystals on a screen with electrons in a vacuum. Or they can bring happenings of long ago and far away as colored motion pictures, by arranging silver atoms and color-absorbing molecules to force light waves into the patterns of original reality. Or if we want to see into the center of a steel casting or the chest of an injured child, they send the information on a beam of penetrating short-wave X rays, and then convert it back into images we can see on a screen or photograph. THUS ALMOST EVERY TYPE OF ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION YET DISCOVERED HAS BEEN USED TO EXTEND OUR SENSE OF SIGHT IN SOME WAY.
George Harrison, Faith and the Scientist
In a coherent paragraph, each sentence relates clearly to the topic sentence or controlling idea, but there is more to coherence than this. If a paragraph is coherent, each sentence flows smoothly into the next without obvious shifts or jumps. A coherent paragraph also highlights the ties between old information and new information to make the structure of ideas or arguments clear to the reader.
Along with the smooth flow of sentences, a paragraphs coherence may also be related to its length. If you have written a very long paragraph, one that fills a double-spaced typed page, for example, you should check it carefully to see if it should start a new paragraph where the original paragraph wanders from its controlling idea. On the other hand, if a paragraph is very short (only one or two sentences, perhaps), you may need to develop its controlling idea more thoroughly, or combine it with another paragraph.
A number of other techniques that you can use to establish coherence in paragraphs are described below.
Repeat key words or phrases. Particularly in paragraphs in which you define or identify an important idea or theory, be consistent in how you refer to it. This consistency and repetition will bind the paragraph together and help your reader understand your definition or description.
Create parallel structures. Parallel structures are created by constructing two or more phrases or sentences that have the same grammatical structure and use the same parts of speech. By creating parallel structures you make your sentences clearer and easier to read. In addition, repeating a pattern in a series of consecutive sentences helps your reader see the connections between ideas. In the paragraph above about scientists and the sense of sight, several sentences in the body of the paragraph have been constructed in a parallel way. The parallel structures (which have been emphasized) help the reader see that the paragraph is organized as a set of examples of a general statement.
Be consistent in point of view, verb tense, and number. Consistency in point of view, verb tense, and number is a subtle but important aspect of coherence. If you shift from the more personal "you" to the impersonal one, from past to present tense, or from a man to they, for example, you make your paragraph less coherent. Such inconsistencies can also confuse your reader and make your argument more difficult to follow.
Use transition words or phrases between sentences and between paragraphs. Transitional expressions emphasize the relationships between ideas, so they help readers follow your train of thought or see connections that they might otherwise miss or misunderstand. The following paragraph shows how carefully chosen transitions (CAPITALIZED) lead the reader smoothly from the introduction to the conclusion of the paragraph.
I dont wish to deny that the flattened, minuscule head of the large-bodied "stegosaurus" houses little brain from our subjective, top-heavy perspective, BUT I do wish to assert that we should not expect more of the beast. FIRST OF ALL, large animals have relatively smaller brains than related, small animals. The correlation of brain size with body size among kindred animals (all reptiles, all mammals, FOR EXAMPLE) is remarkably regular. AS we move from small to large animals, from mice to elephants or small lizards to Komodo dragons, brain size increases, BUT not so fast as body size. IN OTHER WORDS, bodies grow faster than brains, AND large animals have low ratios of brain weight to body weight. IN FACT, brains grow only about two-thirds as fast as bodies. SINCE we have no reason to believe that large animals are consistently stupider than their smaller relatives, we must conclude that large animals require relatively less brain to do as well as smaller animals. IF we do not recognize this relationship, we are likely to underestimate the mental power of very large animals, dinosaurs in particular.
Stephen Jay Gould, Were Dinosaurs Dumb?
SOME USEFUL TRANSITIONS
(modified from Diana Hacker, A Writers Reference)
- To show addition:
- again, and, also, besides, equally important, first (second, etc.), further, furthermore, in addition, in the first place, moreover, next, too
- To give examples:
- for example, for instance, in fact, specifically, that is, to illustrate
- To compare:
- also, in the same manner, likewise, similarly
- To contrast:
- although, and yet, at the same time, but, despite, even though, however, in contrast, in spite of, nevertheless, on the contrary, on the other hand, still, though, yet
- To summarize or conclude:
- all in all, in conclusion, in other words, in short, in summary, on the whole, that is, therefore, to sum up
- To show time:
- after, afterward, as, as long as, as soon as, at last, before, during, earlier, finally, formerly, immediately, later, meanwhile, next, since, shortly, subsequently, then, thereafter, until, when, while
- To show place or direction:
- above, below, beyond, close, elsewhere, farther on, here, nearby, opposite, to the left (north, etc.)
- To indicate logical relationship:
- accordingly, as a result, because, consequently, for this reason, hence, if, otherwise, since, so, then, therefore, thus
Produced by Writing Tutorial Services, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
Two sentences become a sentence, using transitions words or phrases that link sentences and paragraphs together smoothly so that there are no abrupt jumps or breaks between ideas. Here is a list of some common transition word that can be helpful for writer to use the word to link two sentences.
Click on the links below to take you to sample transition words and sample sentences
NOTE: the words that show transition are bold.
Words that ADD information:
Words that ADD informationalsoandanotherbesidefirst, second, third,furthermorein additionmoreover
- The little girl put on her yellow shirt and brown overalls.
- Chris is on the basketball team this semester at Indiana School for the Deaf. In addition, he is on the soccer team.
- We will be here for one more week so we can finish up our work. Another reason we are staying longer is because we do not want to miss the Deaf Way conference.
- First of all, pour a half-cup of milk in the bowl; second, add two eggs; and third, stir the mixture.
- I admire I. King Jordan because he is the first deaf president of Gallaudet. Besides that, I admire him because he is a great long distance runner. Furthermore, he is a dedicated family man. All in all, there is not much to dislike about the man, except he is too perfect!
- Crystal likes camping in the mountains. Also, Crystal is an experienced hiker.
- Texas School for the Deaf is perfectly located. Moreover, it has a strong academic program. For example, the school has a preschool program where both deaf and hearing children learn together.
Words that show CONCLUSION:
Words that show CONCLUSIONfinallyin conclusionto concludeto sum up
- There were a lot of problems discussed at the meeting. Finally, after a few hours, we were able to prioritize the problems in the order we wanted to solve the problems.
- Many parents and students have been complaining about the program. For example, scores on the end-of-grade tests have gone down from last year; teachers are not very motivated; and everyone is frustrated. To sum up, some improvements in the middle school program need to be made.
- To conclude, I want to wish you all a very happy holiday season.
- There was a malfunction in the smoke machines and lights, the curtains would not open and close properly, and one of the actors was sick with no stand-in. In conclusion, the play was a disaster.
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Words that REPEAT information
Words that REPEAT informationin factin other wordsonce againto put it another wayto repeat
- That area is very dangerous for you to bike in. To repeat, I warn you not to go there.
- Lisa decided not to go to King Islands. In fact she told me, "No, way."
- I feel that our last Student Council meeting did not go well. In other words, it was a fine mess.
- Sally has lost an oar on her boat and she is in big trouble. To put it another way, Sally has to find a different method of rowing or she will sink!
Words that show COMPARISON:
Words that show COMPARISONas asin like manneras iflikeby comparisonlikewisein comparisonsimilarly
- At St. Rita School for the Deaf, a private school, there is a dress code that mandates how the students are to dress. The boys must wear a pair of pants and dress shirts. Similarly, the strict dress code requires plaid skirts and blouses for the girls.
- Like her grandmother, Sally loves the Gallaudet Homecoming football game.
- The news reported that Montana would be very cold this week. I said, "Likewise, Rochester will be, too."
- Ronda bought a new Saturn car; so in like manner the rest of her friends did the same thing.
- By comparison, Greensboro, N.C. is much smaller than Washington, D.C. is.
- The cat acts as if he is the boss of the house.
- The cat is as proud as a king.
- Bob loves to go to parties. In comparison, Sue loves to stay at home with her family.
- Compared to seven years ago when the printer worked well, it has been "ill" a great deal of the time in recent weeks.
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Words that show CONTRASTS or DIFFERENCES:
Words that show CONTRASTS or DIFFERENCESalthoughbuthoweverin contrastin spite ofneverthelessnonethelessrather thanthoughunlikeyet
- I am not able to go to the beach with you. Nevertheless, thanks for asking me.
- Karen's cat, Salem is so unlike Midnight. Midnight likes to nap a lot and Salem likes to play a lot.
- The idea of attending the play at Gallaudet is nice. However, the Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research conference is scheduled at the same time.
- He prefers to attend the play rather than attending the conference.
- Though I eat green beans because they are healthy, I hate them.
- Although Steven was extremely tired, he washed the dishes.
- The play was great, nonetheless, I was sick of seeing it after the fourth time.
- Amber, Sharon, and Megan went to Busch Gardens for the day. In spite of the cold weather, they enjoyed themselves.
- Sharon and Megan enjoyed the Loch Ness Monster ride, but Amber thought that Alpengist was faster and had more twists.
- Sharon has not visited the Land of the Dragons, yet if she had had a kid, she would have gone by now.
- Alexander Graham Bell believed in oral education for deaf children. This is in contrast to Edward Miner Gallaudet who believed in using American Sign Language to educate deaf children.
Words that show a TIME relationship:
Words that show a TIME relationshipafter so much timeafter thatat firstbeforebeginning, endingeventuallyearliereven whenever sincefollowingfrom then onfrom, toin timelastlatermeanwhilenear, farnextnowoversoonstillthe next day, nightthenwhile
- Stephen went to pick up Irene before he stopped by McDonald's for lunch.
- Karen was out with her friend last night.
- We need to wash our clothes, after that we can go to the Taste of D.C. festival.
- I can't wait to watch "NYPD," it is coming on soon. You can watch the rerun later this week.
- Finally, I will get to see Rick Schroder. He has not been acting much since he was a teenager.
- The beginning of the movie was sadder than the ending.
- After so much time waiting in the long line, the boys finally got their hamburgers.
- The Van Gogh art exhibit was shown earlier this month in Washington, D.C.
- Wait until tonight, then you will be able to see the full moon over Gallaudet's Chapel Hall.
- The show is not over until the actors take their final bows at the end.
- While Missy was driving to work, she saw a deer by the roadside. She slowed down to watch the deer for a short time, then continued on her way to work.
- Even when Sally was able to, she did not bother to finish her ASL project.
- Clerc met with Gallaudet to prepare for the Congressional meeting scheduled for the next day.
- The next night was very dark and stormy. Of course, it was Halloween night!
- "Next, please," the lady called when it was my turn to go up to the booth to have my paycheck cashed.
- Bobby's broken ankle will heal in time for the Maryland Deaf Festival.
- That house felt very creepy inside; meanwhile, it was sunny outside.
- Eventually, Sally got tired of John calling her on the TTY all the time since she was not interested in him.
- She was still asleep when I got back home from work.
- Now, please get this truck fixed because I need it to get to school on time!
- Schools for the deaf used Sign Language until the dreadful conference in Milan; from then on, most schools for the deaf employed the oral method.
- Super Kmart is near Landmark Mall, but Ames is far away from the mall. So it would be easier to shop at Super Kmart.
- It will take two hours to go from Point A to Point B. Can you figure out how many hours it is from Point A to Point C?
- At first, I thought it was a dead animal. As I walked closer, I saw it was only a worn-out coat on the ground.
- Looking beyond this month, I predict that funding will be much better for this program.
- Everyone hid out in the hall during the hurricane, hoping they would be safe.
- Rebecca has not eaten at Lone Star ever since she became sick from eating the food.
- Following "Friends" and "Mad about You," "ER" will be shown. "ER" is supposed to have two Deaf actresses on the show tonight.
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Words that LIMIT or PREPARE for an example:
Words that LIMIT or PREPARE for an examplefor examplefor instanceto illustratesuch as
- Not all birds eat berries. For example, vultures eat dead animals.
- Jeff is an interesting person to know. To illustrate, he knows a lot about the history of the Deaf community in Ireland.
- There are things that need to be done to improve the company. For instance, we can begin by organizing the files.
- I have a few things to take care of such as paying bills, cleaning the house, and going to the post office.
Words that show CAUSE (explain why):
Words that show CAUSE (explain why)becausebecause ofcaused by
- Midnight was not able to move around well because his hind legs were in casts. He broke them when he fell off the bookshelf.
- Did you see the tragic accident on I south? It was caused by a drunk driver.
- Because it is raining today, the homecoming game and the food booths will be cancelled.
- I was late to work because of the heavy traffic.
Words that show EFFECT/RESULT:
Words that show EFFECT/RESULTSas a resultconsequentlyfor this/that reasonthat is whythereforethus
- It is raining today thus we are not going to the beach.
- The weather is supposed to be drizzly and chilly today; as a result, the Deaf Festival will be cancelled.
- I was too tired; therefore I decided not to go to the state fair last night.
- In , William E. Hoy, a deaf baseball player, caught a fly ball in the ninth inning in spite of heavy fog. Consequently, Los Angles won the pennant for that year.
- Ricky worked all day, from 8am until 11pm. That is why he stayed home instead of going camping with us.
- The school bus broke down last week and has not been repaired yet. So for that reason, our dance group is unable to go to Washington, D.C. to perform at Kennedy Center.
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Words that ASSERT OBVIOUS TRUTH or GRANT OPPOSITION:
Words that ASSERT OBVIOUS TRUTH or GRANT OPPOSITIONcertainlyconceding thatgranted thatin factnaturallyno doubtof courseundoubtedlywithout a doubt
- There is no doubt that the dog buried the bone in the garden.
- Jeff told us an undoubtedly true story that was very scary.
- The judge, without a doubt, thinks capital punishment is wrong.
- Of course, Sarah is going to the beach this weekend with her parents. She needs a break from Gallaudet.
- Naturally Steven is not going to agree with that plan. In fact, he thinks that the idea of setting up a business selling scarves on K Street would surely fail.
- Certainly, you may borrow my book on the history of the American Deaf Community. But, be sure to return it to me next week.
- Granted that Bob promised to send some money to help with the bills, yet this doesn't mean that he will.
- Conceding that Sally is a strong skater, Rachel still believes she will be able to beat her in the Olympics. Rachel wants to become the first deaf ice skater to receive a gold medal.
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