Paragraph Development

Importance of Constructing Good Paragraphs

Paragraphs are the building blocks of papers. Without well-written paragraphs that flow logically from one idea to the next and that inform and help support in some meaningful way the central research problem being investigated, your paper will not be viewed as credible and, well, you’ll receive a bad grade.

Here are some suggestions for troubleshooting common problems associated with developing paragraphs:

1.  The paragraph has no controlling idea. Imagine each paragraph as having three general layers of text. The core content is in the middle. It includes all the evidence you need to make the point. However, this evidence needs to be introduced by a topic sentence in some way or your readers don’t know what to do with all the evidence you have given them. Therefore, the beginning of the paragraph explains the controlling idea of the paragraph. The last part of the paragraph tells the reader how the paragraph relates to the broader argument and often provides a transition to the next idea. Once you have mastered the use of topic sentences, you may decide that the topic sentence for a particular paragraph really shouldn’t be the first sentence of the paragraph. This is fine—the topic sentence can actually go at the beginning, middle, or end of a paragraph; what’s important is that it is in there to inform readers what the main idea of the paragraph is and how it relates back to the broader thesis of your paper.

2.  The paragraph has more than one controlling idea. This is the most common reason why a paragraph is too long. If a paragraph is more than a page long, it likely contains more than one controlling idea. In this case, consider eliminating sentences that relate to the second idea with the thought that maybe they don’t really inform and help support the central research problem, or split the paragraph into two or more paragraphs, each with only one controlling idea.

3.  Transitions are needed within the paragraph. You are probably familiar with the idea that transitions may be needed between paragraphs or sections in a paper. Sometimes they are also helpful within the body of a single paragraph. Within a paragraph, transitions are often single words or short phrases that help to establish relationships between ideas and to create a logical progression of those ideas in a paragraph. This is especially true within paragraphs that discuss multiple examples or discuss complex ideas or concepts.

Structure and Writing Style

Most paragraphs in an essay parallel the general three-part structure of each section of a research paper  and, by extension, the overall research paper, with an introduction, a  body that includes facts and analysis, and a 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 paragraph’s controlling idea. For long paragraphs, you may also want to include a bridge sentence that introduces the next paragraph or section of the paper.

Before you can begin to determine what the composition of a particular paragraph will be, you must consider what is the most important idea that you are trying to convey to your reader. This is the “controlling idea,” or the thesis statement from which you compose the remainder of the paragraph.  In other words, your paragraphs should remind your reader that there is a recurrent relationship between your controlling idea and the information in each paragraph. The research problem functions like a seed from which your paper, and your ideas, will grow. The whole process of paragraph development is an organic one—a natural progression from a seed to a full-blown paper where there are direct, familial relationships in the paper between all of  your controlling ideas and the paragraphs which derive from them.

The decision about what to put into your paragraphs begins with brainstorming about how you want to pursue the research problem. There are many techniques for brainstorming; whichever one you choose, this stage of paragraph development cannot be skipped because it lays a foundation for developing a set of paragraphs [representing a section of the paper] that describes a specific element of your overall analysis.

Given these factors, every paragraph in a paper should be:

  • Unified—All of the sentences in a single paragraph should be related to a single controlling idea (often expressed in the topic sentence of the paragraph).
  • Clearly related to the research problem—The sentences should all refer to the central idea, or the thesis, of the paper.
  • Coherent—The sentences should be arranged in a logical manner and should follow a definite plan for development.
  • Well-developed—Every idea discussed in the paragraph should be adequately explained and supported through evidence and details that work together to explain the paragraph’s controlling idea.

There are many different ways you can organize a paragraph. However,  the organization you choose will depend on the controlling idea of the paragraph. Ways to organize a paragraph include:

  • Narrative: Tell a story. Go chronologically, from start to finish.
  • Descriptive: Provide specific details about what something looks or feels like. Organize spatially, in order of appearance, or by topic.
  • Process: Explain step by step how something works. Perhaps follow a sequence—first, second, third.
  • Classification: Separate into groups or explain the various parts of a topic.
  • Illustrative: Give examples and explain how those examples prove your point.


The Concept of Paragraph Development:

I. The Concept of Paragraph Development


Development clarifies, illustrates, or proves the main

idea stated in the topic sentence through use of detail, example,

and explanation.

Good development depends on the writer’s ability to

distinguish between general statements and specific details.

General statements make assertions which can be supported or

illustrated by specific details.


Three paragraph patterns for arranging general and specific


1. Simple deductive arrangement–topic sentence plus

specific details (going from general to specific)

2. Simple inductive arrangement–specific details plus

topic sentence (going from specific to general)

3. Complex deductive arrangement–topic sentence plus

major and minor support


II. Techniques of Paragraph Development


Descriptive details: specific actions, appearances, tastes,



Factual details: specific measurements, statistics,

historical records, objective accounts



1. Multiple example–typical cases, specific instances

2. Extended example–one long example instead of several

brief ones

3. Anecdote–an example in the form of a story; a brief

narrative to illustrate a point

4. Hypothetical illustration–examples or anecdotes

invented for the occasion

5. Analogy–point-by-point comparison explaining the

unfamiliar in terms of the familiar


Definition: explaining words, terms, and related concepts

through: example; etymology; synonym; class; and



Appeals to authority: quotation and paraphrase of details,

facts, illustration, definitions from recognized, credible



Any effective combination of these techniques of development

Seven Types of Paragraph Development

Narration, exposition, definition, classification, description, process analysis, and persuasion.




Around 2 a.m. something woke Charles Hanson up. He lay in the dark listening. Something felt wrong. It was too quiet. At home in New Jersey, the nights are filled with the busy, comforting sounds of traffic. At home he can read in bed by the glow of the streetlight. It was too quiet. And much too dark. Even starlight failed to penetrate the 80-foot canopy of trees the camper was parked beneath. It was the darkest dark he had ever seen.


1) Normally chronological (though sometimes uses flashbacks)

2) A sequential presentation of the events that add up to a story.

A narrative differs from a mere listing of events. Narration usually contains characters, a setting, a conflict, and a resolution. Time and place and person are normally established. 3) Specific details always help a story, but so does interpretive language. You don’t just lay the words on the page; you point them in the direction of a story.


Exposition:  A statement or type of composition intended to give information about (or an explanation of) an issue, subject, method, or idea


This family was a victim of a problem they could have avoided-a problem that, according to Florida park rangers, hundreds of visitors suffer each year. “Several times a month,” ranger Rod Torres of O’Leno State Park said, “people get scared and leave the park in the middle of the night.” Those people picked the wrong kind of park to visit. Not that there was anything wrong with the park: The hikers camped next to them loved the wild isolation of it. But it just wasn’t the kind of place the couple from New Jersey had in mind when they decided to camp out on this trip through Florida. If they had known about the different kinds of parks in Florida, they might have stayed in a place they loved.


1) Exposition is explanatory writing

2) Exposition can be an incidental part of a description or a narration, or it can be the heart of an article

3)Aside from clarity, the key problem with exposition is credibility. What makes your explanation believable? Normally, writers solve this problem by citing authorities who have good credentials and good reason to be experts in the subject.




“Park” is difficult to define in Florida, because there are so many kinds of parks. Basically, a park is a place to go for outdoor recreation-to swim, picnic, hike, camp, walk the dog, play tennis, paddle your canoe, and, in some places take rides in miniature trains or swish down a waterslide.

1) Never define anything by the “according to Webster’s” method. Meaning is found in the world, not in the dictionary. Bring the world into your story and use it to define your terms.

2) Saying what something is NOT can help readers; but make a strong effort to say what it IS




O’Leno is a good example of a state park in Florida. Surrounded by the tall, shaded woods of a beautiful hardwood forest, the Santa Fe River disappears in a large, slowly swirling, tree-lined pool. After appearing intermittently in scattered sinkholes, the river rises three miles downstream in a big boil, then continues on to meet the Suwannee and the sea.


1) Description is not what you saw, but what readers need to see in order to imagine the scene, person, object, etc.

2) Use sensory language. Go light on adjectives and adverbs. Look for ways to describe action. Pay special attention to the sound and rhythm of words; use these when you can.

Portray. Also evoke.

3) The key problem in description is to avoid being static or flat. Adopt a strategy: move from far to near, left to right, old to new, or, as in this example, down a river, to give your description a natural flow.




Forest and river dominate O’Leno State Park. By contrast, Lloyd Beach State Recreation Area, near Fort Lauderdale, is dominated by the oily bodies of sun-worshippers who crowd into it every summer weekend. Where O’Leno gives you so much quiet you can hear the leaves whispering, Lloyd Beach is a place of boisterous activity. You can walk a few yards in O’Leno and pass beyond every sign of human civilization. When you walk at Lloyd Beach, you have to be careful to step over the picnic baskets, umbrellas, jam boxes, and browning bodies.


1) There is a helpful technique for writing a comparison. If you follow it, your comparisons will benefit:

Before writing a comparison, draw up a chart and fill it in. As in the model below, list the two items being compared, and the criteria by which they will be compared.

 Criteria  O’Leno Lloyd Beach
noise quiet noisy
people solitude available busy crowds
natural features river beach


Process Analysis:

Example: When you find the park you are looking for, you will need to make camp. One person can set up the FamilyProof Tent, though it is easier with two, yet almost impossible with three or more. Here’s how:

  • First, clear a 9 by 9 foot area of snags, limbs, and anything that might pierce the bottom of the tent.
  • Place a pole near each of the pegs. Thread each pole through the two loops leading toward the top of the tent.
  • After you have all four poles in place, lift one of the poles.
  • Lift the pole on the opposite side of the tent in the same way.
  • Assemble the two remaining tent poles in a similar manner.
  • Finally, unroll the front flap, To form an awning. Prop up the awning with the two remaining poles and secure them with guyropes.

Now you are ready to move in.

1) In describing how a process happens or how to perform a series of actions, always think of your readers: can they follow this?

2) Analyze the process into a series of steps. Put the steps into sequence.

Then isolate the steps: number then, use bullets, put them in separate paragraphs

3) Use illustrations keyed to the steps when appropriate: people can often read diagrams better than they can read lists of steps



Example: Before you go camping in Florida, plan ahead. Don’t wind up in the wilds when you want to be near Disney World, and don’t wind up on a concrete RV pad when you really want the forest primeval. Find out what parks are available, and what they are like. Get good information on what to expect, and what your options are. This can make all the difference in the quality of your vacation.

1) This paragraph is but a small example of the kind of writing used widely in editorials and columns, and it uses a direct, exhortatory approach: Believe Me and Do It!

2) To persuade people to change their minds or take an action, more is needed than your opinion or sense of conviction. You need to supply them with the information, analysis, and context they need to form their own opinions, make their own judgments, and take action.


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