When writing tight, focused content, envisioning the type of paragraph you are creating can help you avoid going off-track. Several types of paragraphs exist that you can choose from to best suit your topic. The key is knowing whether you are trying to explain, define, compare and contrast or persuade.
Narration and Exposition
Authors use narrative paragraphs to tell stories. These may contain plot components such as characters, settings, conflicts, and resolutions. Events are often told sequentially using transition words. Character dialogue may also be included. Although you'll most likely use narrative paragraphs in works of fiction, they are also useful in journalism, biographies and other genres where a storyline of events can be found. Exposition and narrative paragraphs are similar in that they focus on an event, but they differ in their use and style. Authors use exposition paragraphs to explain an event. To boost an explanation's credibility, authors often include quotations or citations from various experts. Clarity is an important fact of these paragraphs. An exposition paragraph in an article may come after an introduction and explain why the topic of the article is important.
Definition and Description
In a definition paragraph, a word or concept is defined. According to Florida A&M University journalism professor Gerald Grow, do not refer to a dictionary in a definition paragraph. Use examples and descriptions to define words and concepts. You may explain what the word or concept is not, but don't define words only by negation or opposites. While a definition paragraph encompasses the meaning of a word or concept, a description paragraph gives readers such a variety of details about a person, place, or thing that they can visualize the topic. Include descriptive adjectives, but don't neglect other senses. Describing what you hear, smell or feel -- both physically and emotionally -- can immerse the reader deeply in the description.
Compare and Contrast
When authors want to discuss the similarities or differences between two people, places or things, they use compare-and-contrast paragraphs. For every aspect of one of the pair that is discussed, the same aspect must be discussed for the second part of the pair. For example, do not discuss one actor's hairstyle but leave out the second actor's. Write in block organization style, completely describing one member of the pair and then the other, or in point-by-point style, listing aspects one by one and describing both pair members together.
Persuasion and Process Analysis
Persuasion paragraphs, also called opinion paragraphs, are meant to get readers to act on the advice or exhortations given and often come at the end of articles. They include the author's opinion as well as facts and analyses to support the opinion and spur readers to action. Rather than phrases such as, "I think" or "I believe," use sentences with modal auxiliaries to strengthen your argument. For example, say, "The senate must not pass this bill," or "School-aged children ought to be accompanied by an adult at movies."
A process analysis paragraph can be either a how-to guide or a description of how a certain process happens. In either case, break the process into a sequential series of steps and list them in order. Organizational bullet points or numbers can help clarify process analysis paragraphs. Ask someone to review this type of paragraph to identify holes in the process description or instructions.