A paragraph is unified when every sentence develops the point made in the topic sentence. It must have a single focus and contain no irrelevant facts. Every sentence must contribute to the paragraph by explaining, exemplifying or expanding the topic sentence. In order to determine whether a paragraph is well developed or not, ask yourself What main point am I trying to convey here? (topic sentence) and then Does every sentence clearly relate to this idea?
There are several ways in which you can build good, clear paragraphs. This section will discuss three of the most common types of paragraph structure: development by detail, by comparison and contrast, and by process. Finally, it will explain that most paragraphs are built using a combination of these strategies.
This is the most common and easiest form of paragraph development: simply expand on a general topic sentence using specific examples or illustrations. Consider the following paragraph:
The topic sentence makes a general claim: that school work tends not to be associated only with school. The rest of the sentences provide various illustrations to support this argument. They are organized around the three categories environment, activities and schedules—enumerated in the topic sentence. The details provide the concrete examples that the reader will use to evaluate the credibility of the topic sentence.
Consider developing a paragraph by comparison and contrast when describing two or more things that have something, but not everything, in common. Choose to compare either point by point (X is big, Y is little; X and Y are both purple.) or subject by subject (X is big and purple; Y is small and purple). Let’s look at the following paragraph:
This paragraph compares traffic patterns in three areas of Canada. It contrasts the behaviour of drivers in the Maritimes, in Montréal and in Calgary in order to make a point about how attitudes in various places inform behaviour. People in these areas have in common the fact that they all drive; in contrast, they drive differently according to the area in which they live.
It is important to note that the paragraph above takes into account only one aspect of driving (behaviour at traffic lights). If you wanted to consider two or more aspects, you would probably need more than one paragraph.
Paragraph development by process involves a straightforward step-by-step description. It corresponds to the formula followed in the method section of a lab experiment. Process description often follows a chronological sequence:
The topic sentence establishes that the author will use this paragraph to describe the process of establishing the grip of the hand on the rod, and this is exactly what he does, point by point, with little abstraction.
Very often, a single paragraph will contain development by a combination of methods. It may begin with a brief comparison, for example, and move on to provide detailed descriptions of the subjects being compared. A process analysis might include a brief history of the process in question. Many paragraphs include lists of examples.
This is a good example of a paragraph that combines a comparison and contrast of contemporary notions of manliness and womanliness with an extended list of examples.
© Department of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Ottawa, 2013