How to Write and Structure Paragraphs

Constructing a well-formed paragraph can be one of the most challenging skills for a writer to learn. The first step for understanding how to create effective paragraphs is to understand what a paragraph is.

How long is a paragraph?

The average paragraph is about 200 words or 3 - 5 sentences. However, a paragraph can be longer or shorter than this depending on how simple or complex the idea you're trying to get across is. A paragraph is a collection of related sentences that discuss a single topic so you just need to ensure you're keeping related sentences together.

Creating Unity

Good paragraphs have unity. Unity refers to maintaining a single focus. All of the sentences in a paragraph should treat the same topic and should not discuss unrelated ideas. The main topic of a paragraph is identified in the first sentence, called the topic sentence. A topic sentence acts as a thesis, or summary, for the paragraph. For the paragraph to be unified, all of the sentences in the paragraph should discuss the same subject as the topic sentence.

A topic sentence acts as a thesis, or summary, for the paragraph.

Developing a Paragraph

Effective paragraphs are also well developed. A well-developed paragraph has at least three sentences, but it can have many more. The length of the paragraph can vary by the style of writing. As a result, the length is less important than how fully the paragraph develops a main idea.

To determine how well the paragraph developed an idea, look at the topic sentence. If you turned the topic sentence into a question, the rest of the paragraph should answer that question fully.

For example:

If your topic sentence states, "The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms," you can turn it into a question by asking, "How does the Second Amendment guarantee the right to bear arms?" The rest of the sentences should answer that question.

Organizing a Paragraph

The organization of the paragraph is a determining factor in its development. A well-organized paragraph is easy to read and understand. The best way to choose a pattern of organization is by the content.

For example:

If your paragraph discusses the differences between a psychology and a sociology degree, you might use a compare and contrast organization.

Other patterns of organization include:

  • narration,
  • cause and effect,
  • description,
  • process,
  • classification or
  • illustration.

The key to making your paragraphs fully developed, but not too long, is to know when to start a new paragraph.

Know When to Start a New Paragraph

The key to making your paragraphs fully developed, but not too long, is to know when to start a new paragraph.

  • One indicator that you need a new paragraph is when you begin to discuss a new idea.
  • Another indication that you should begin a new paragraph is when you discuss an opposing viewpoint.

For example:

If your main paragraph discussed viewpoints that favor gun control, when you begin to write about the opinions of those who are against gun control, you should begin a new paragraph.

You should also begin a new paragraph when readers need to pause.

For example:

If the information is complex or new to the audience, shorter paragraphs will help them understand the information.