7 Steps to Developing an Effective Paragraph
Developing an effective paragraph -- a combination of sentences joined cohesively together to further a focused topic -- requires seven steps: plan, gather, order, compose, elaborate, conclude and review. The 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
Plan all paragraphs to include four key elements: a subject, a purpose, an audience and a genre. Deciding the subject -- or topic -- of the paragraph provides focus, which helps determine the purpose of writing. Establishing an audience and genre -- descriptive, expository, narrative or persuasive -- reveals the most appropriate tone and voice to use. For example, if you are writing a news story for a local newspaper, an expository paragraph is most appropriate. However, a letter to a congressman disputing his policies should be persuasive.
Gather the Information
Gather information that supports the overall intent of the paragraph. Persuasive and expository writing relies more heavily on sourced details, while narrative and descriptive texts allow for more personal details. Sourced details include facts, figures and information from vetted sources, while personal details are memories, sensory experiences or imaginative creations. 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 Support
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 element of a paragraph, as it includes the subject and the intent of the paragraph. It will be succinct and yet informative, and all sentences that follow must relate back 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
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 prior to purchasing your first home." This reiterates the main point and summarizes the other information provided in the paragraph.
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.
- Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute: Effective Methods for Teaching Paragraph Development
- Writers Express: A Handbook for Young Writers, Thinkers, and Learners; Kemper, Dave et al.
- The University of Ottawa Writing Center: Hyper Grammar -- Writing Topic Sentences
- Indiana University Bloomington Writing Tutorial Services: Paragraphs and Topic Sentences
- Anne Arundel Community College Reading and Study Skills Lab: Formulating a Concluding Sentence for a Paragraph
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Body Paragraphs
Based in West Palm Beach, Fla., Emily Layfield has been writing and editing education-related work since 2009. She holds a Bachelor of Science in English and English/ language arts education and a Master of Arts in secondary English education from Auburn University.