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Academic Skills

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Academic Skills

Successful Paragraphs

The Function and Structure of a Body Paragraph


Creating Successful Paragraphs Through Controlling Ideas

The paragraph is the basic unit of essay composition. Each paragraph is unified around one main idea. This main idea is developed through details, examples, and explanations. Connections are made, within and between paragraphs, so that the reader can move easily through one paragraph and on to the next.

A paragraph begins with a controlling idea that dictates the content. You should be able to sum up in one sentence (the topic sentence) what a paragraph is about, and all sentences in the paragraph should have a direct connection to it.

A controlling idea on its own does not constitute a paragraph; it must be fleshed out with relevant details, examples and implications.

How long should a paragraph be?

About one or two hundred words is a more appropriate length. Some will be longer, some shorter. Don’t worry about length as you draft, but check paragraph size when revising.

  • If your paragraph is longer than one printed page, it is too long, and you should look for sub-divisions within it that will allow the paragraph to be divided into two or more shorter paragraphs.
  • If your paragraph is only one or two sentences, it is likely that it isn't fully developed or it can be integrated with a different paragraph.

Introductory and concluding paragraphs have a different purpose, and therefore a different structure, than body paragraphs, which develop aspects of your argument through the use and analysis of evidence.

The Structure of a Body Paragraph

Topic Sentence: Each body paragraph must begin with a clear topic sentence that explains the idea the paragraph will develop and how this idea links to the previous paragraph and/or thesis.

Evidence and Analysis: Present specific and relevant evidence; offer appropriate attribution and citation. Demonstrate your analysis of the evidence and your thinking about the idea in the paragraph. Explain how the evidence supports your point.

Concluding Sentence or Link: Conclude a paragraph by showing how it relates to the thesis or by relating the paragraph to what will come in the next paragraph.

Sample Body Paragraph

In addition to heightened physiological arousal, Barlett et al. (2009) found that participants experienced more aggressive feelings after playing violent video games than they did after playing nonviolent videogames (topic sentence with transition from previous paragraph). Comparable results by Anderson and Carnagey (2009) revealed that violent videogame participants displayed higher levels of aggressive cognition than participants who had played nonviolent games. In the same study, participants who had recently played a violent sports video game verbally identified aggressive words faster than those who played a standard simulation-based sports video game. Research conducted by Anderson et al. (2010) found that short term violent videogame playing primes existing knowledge structures to respond aggressively (summarized evidence to support controlling idea of paragraph). With repeated exposure, children may develop a schema primed to aggression, which can negatively impact academic performance and contribute to behavioural conduct problems and social problems (analysis and explanation of evidence). The studies present findings which suggest that children may suffer numerous psychological consequences from playing violent video games in a short term timeframe. However, the evidence about the long term effects of playing violent video games paints a much more worrisome outcome for children who play them (conclusion and transition to next paragraph).