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Paragraph Writing: sub-module 2 of 2 of writing your essay

Paragraphs are usually the building blocks of larger formats like reports, articles, emails or essays.
Depending on their function in a piece of writing, paragraphs can have different purposes, and we can often identify their role by the way they are constructed. In general, paragraphs tend to have introductory sentences, supporting sentences, and concluding sentences. It is important to have a structure so your reader can follow your ideas.

 

Tips

  • Be careful not to change focus in a paragraph.Paragraphs must be ‘on topic’ or unified.
  • Use transitional words or phrases – signal words.This will help your reader see the relationships between the sentences, between the paragraphs, and in the development and support of your ideas.
  • Vary the length of your paragraphs to suit what you’re writing. There is a place in your writing for both long, complex paragraphs and short, impactful paragraphs.

Study Tools

Attribution

Types of Paragraphs was created using information from Building Blocks of Academic Writing by Carellin Brooks and used under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license. It was modified by The Learning Portal and is published under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license.

Writing Effective Paragraphs

Types of Paragraphs

There are four types of paragraphs in writing:

  • descriptive
  • narrative
  • expository
  • persuasive

Understanding each type of paragraph can help you structure your own writing. Review the tabs for information about each tab. To help sentences and paragraphs flow together, you will need to use transition words. We cover transitions in the last tab.

Descriptive Paragraphs

A descriptive paragraph provides a vibrant experience for the reader through vivid language and descriptions of something. You write a descriptive paragraph when you want to describe a person, place, object or event.

Watch this video or read the text below to learn more.

How do you write a descriptive paragraph?

As the writer, you must use language that appeals to the reader’s five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. To appeal to the senses, you must use descriptive language, usually in the form of adjectives. For instance, examine the differences between the descriptions below:

  • Sentence 1 (does not appeal to senses): The tree was tall and green.
  • Sentence 2 (appeals to senses): The soft and damp pink flowers of the dogwood tree smelled sweet in the cool spring air as the wind whistled through its yellow-green leaves.

The second sentence provides more details that help the reader picture the tree in their mind.

Descriptive paragraphs should show how and why something is significant rather than simply telling the reader. A good writer helps the reader picture what they are describing; however, a better writer shows the reader the purpose or reason for describing something. Consider the differences between the sentences below:

Example 1 (not a lot of detail): Ever since grade school, I have always been nervous during tests.

Example 2 (detail showing purpose): I stared at the blank white paper of my exam and desperately tried to focus. As the teacher announced that time was almost up, I remembered the taunt of my evil grade-school teacher: “You’ll never pass this test. Just give up already.” The memory of her words paralyzed my mind. Even more panic-stricken than before, I stared wildly at my blank test, trying to remember what the teacher had said in class last week or what I had read in the textbook.

Words associated with each of the five senses
  • colours (green, blue, red)
  • contrast (light vs. dark)
  • depth (near vs. far)
  • texture (rough, pebbly, smooth)
  • shape (round, square, triangular)
  • dimensions (height, width, length)
  • loud
  • grating
  • metallic
  • atonal
  • melodic
  • euphonious
  • discordant
  • screeching
  • gravelly
  • harmonious
  • sweet
  • pungent
  • acrid
  • delicious
  • disgusting
  • appetizing
  • fresh
  • stale
  • fruity
  • tantalizing
  • delicious
  • sour
  • sweet
  • savoury
  • salty
  • spoiled
  • bitter
  • earthy
  • spicy
  • bland
  • softf
  • creamy
  • rubbery
  • firm
  • cool/hot
  • unctuous
  • porous/smooth
  • knobby
  • sticky
  • dry/moist

Narrative Paragraphs

A narrative paragraph demonstrates the development of a person through the chronological retelling of an important event. You write a narrative paragraph when you want to tell a story or explain the progression of a series of events.

Watch this video or read the text below to learn more.

How do you write narrative paragraphs?

A narrative paragraph should indicate how a person has changed or learned from this experience. The experience should unfold much like the plot of a novel or short story, beginning with the individual facing a problem and ending in the resolution of the problem and subsequent growth of the individual.

In a narrative paragraph, the writer must do the following:

  • Describe the event. This is crucial to the reader’s understanding and interest,
  • Describe the subject’s feelings, thoughts, desires, or insights. In order for the reader to see that the individual has transformed, you must present the inner thoughts, etc. before and after the alleged transformation so that the reader can compare and evaluate the personal growth of the individual on their own.
Methods of including the description and motivations

Integrate the description of the event with the person’s motivations in the same paragraph. This is more seamless but might be confusing with complicated events.

Example

Today, I stepped into a new stage of my life by moving into my own apartment. I am so excited, because I have always lived with roommates, and this will be my first time living alone. I was able to find a great used couch on Facebook Marketplace that I have set up in the living room. My friends think living by myself will be lonely, but I am really enjoying setting up my place exactly how I want it. After we got everything moved in, I spent the afternoon rearranging furniture, putting dishes away, and hanging pictures.

Separate the description and the person’s motivation. This method can be more effective for complicated events, and can help build suspense.

Example

Today, I moved into my new apartment. We got up at 6 a.m. to load up the truck up with all of my stuff and drop it off at my new place. That took most of the morning. I was also able to find a used couch on Facebook Marketplace, which we picked up and brought over. I spent the afternoon rearranging furniture, putting dishes away, and hanging pictures.

It was a very exciting day. I have always lived with roommates, so this will be my first time living alone. My friends think living by myself will be lonely, but now I can set up my place exactly how I want it. It feels like I am entering a new stage.

Expository paragraph

An expository paragraph explains a topic to the reader. You use an expository paragraph when you want to clarify a topic, without necessarily persuading the reader of a new belief.

Watch this video or read the text below to learn more.

How do you write an expository paragraph?

The sentences in an expository paragraph need to provide the categories or reasons that support the topic. These categories and reasons also provide the framework for the organization of the paragraph.

Parts of a Paragraph

The accordion below identifies the essential parts of a paragraph using an example paragraph and explaining the necessary information for each type of sentence.

Purpose:

The topic sentence of a supporting paragraph should begin with your point. It should clearly state the topic of the paragraph and make a connection to the thesis. The topic sentence is usually at the beginning of the paragraph.

Example

There are several reasons why graduating from college is harder than graduating from high school; however, the most important reason is the lack of support.

Purpose:

The point you made in the topic sentence should be further discussed in this section. The writer must make the significance of the issue clear to the reader.

The point made in the topic sentence and elaboration sections should be followed up with a specific supportive example. Readers tend to remember examples more because they illustrate the point clearly. Evidence is also another form of support for your paragraph.

This can include quotations or paraphrased passages with the proper documentation. When you use quotations or paraphrases, make sure to include an introduction to a quotation or paraphrase (often called a 'lead-in' phrase), the quotation/paraphrase, the citation for the sourced material, and an explanation of how the sourced material relates to your point.

A paragraph can contain as many points as needed to explain and support the topic sentence.

Example

While in high school, the school and the teachers monitor and enforce a student’s attendance, yet in college, a student’s attendance is not monitored and they can decide whether or not to attend class. As a result, many students may choose to go to the beach or to the mall rather than school. Though a college student’s grades may suffer from missing a scheduled class meeting, high school students are given detention or other forms of punishment. To many college students, this lack of consequences seems freeing, yet it actually reflects a lack of support. Without the college or professors supporting a student’s attendance, the student must make these decisions on their own. This situation can also be exacerbated by a lack of nearby family and friends. A large number of college students move away from home to attend college, whereas most high school students still live with their parents. Due to this, college students may not have the same support system as high school students. What is more, some college students may be the only individual from their high school to attend a university. Thus, in addition to leaving their family, a student may find themselves friendless.

Purpose:

This sentence should restate the main point as a way to conclude the paragraph. Remember: The reader is not as aware of the ideas as the writer is, so it is the responsibility of the writer to keep the reader on track by restating the main idea from the beginning of the paragraph at the end.

Provide a strong and effective close for the paragraph.

Example

Despite the hazardous effects that this lack of support may produce, there are also several other factors that affect a college student’s ability to

Persuasive Paragraph

Persuasive paragraphs are written as if the writer is attempting to convince their audience to adopt a new belief or behaviour. You would write a persuasive paragraph to make an effective argument and convince your reader of something.

Watch this video or read the text below to learn more.

How do you write a persuasive paragraph?

While expository paragraphs strive to explain or clarify a topic, persuasive paragraphs take a stand on an issue. Simply having an argument or viewpoint about a topic is not enough; in persuasive paragraphs, writers must also support their claims. Writers support their arguments through the use of appropriate evidence, in forms such as the following:

  • quotations
  • examples
  • expert opinions
  • other facts

Parts of a Paragraph

The accordion below identifies the essential parts of a paragraph using an example paragraph and explaining the necessary information for each type of sentence.

Purpose:

The topic sentence of a supporting paragraph should begin with your point. It should clearly state the topic of the paragraph and make a connection to the thesis. The topic sentence is usually at the beginning of the paragraph.

Example

The strength of a body paragraph lies in its organization.

Purpose:

The purpose of the body sentences is to support the argument with quotations and other facts, to explain each quotation, and then to explain the significance of the quotation. You can include multiple quotations in the paragraph. See the charts below for examples.

Quote/Support #1: Support the argument with useful and informative quotes from sources such as books, journal articles, expert opinions, etc.

According to The Bedford Handbook, “the body of the essay develops support for [the] thesis, so it’s important to have at least a tentative thesis before [one starts] writing” (Hacker 38).

Explanation (1 to 2 sentences): Explain each quote.

According to The Bedford Handbook, “the body of the essay develops support for [the] thesis, so it’s important to have at least a tentative thesis before [one starts] writing” (Hacker 38).

Significance (1 to 3 sentences): Indicate the significance of each quote.

Writing an essay in this order will ensure that the body paragraph argues the point which the writer is trying to make.

Quote/Support #2

What’s more, it is always important to “sketch a preliminary outline” and “draft the body of [the] essay by writing a paragraph about each supporting point listed in the planning stage” (Hacker 38).

Explanation (1 to 2 sentences)

In creating both an outline and a draft, the writer will begin creating his or her body paragraphs before the final draft is even begun.

Significance (1 to 3 sentences)

Moreover, this process will ensure that the writer never forgets any of his or her key points since they have already been written down. Hence, the writer can leave and revisit his or her work without fear of forgetting or losing any of the key arguments of the paper.

Purpose:

This sentence should restate the main point as a way to conclude the paragraph. Remember: The reader is not as aware of the ideas as the writer is, so it is the responsibility of the writer to keep the reader on track by restating the main idea from the beginning of the paragraph at the end.

Provide a strong and effective close for the paragraph.

Example

Although organization is essential to the effectiveness of a body paragraph, there are other factors which contribute to its overall strength.

Learn About Transitions and How to Use Them

Transitional words and phrases help show relationships between ideas, create a logical flow, and create a sense of connectedness called Coherence. Transitional words and phrases can be used both within and between paragraphs to create a sense of flow.

Watch this video or read the text below to learn about transitional words and phrases, and how to use them in your writing.


Below, you will find examples of transitional words and phrases that you can use in your own writing. For a longer list of transition words and phrases, download the PDF 'Transitional Words and Phrases.opens in new window

  • and
  • in addition
  • furthermore
  • moreover
  • above all
  • especially
  • indeed
  • in fact
  • of course
  • most important

For Comparison

  • similarly
  • in the same way
  • likewise

For Contrast

  • although
  • but
  • despite
  • even though
  • however
  • in contrast
  • on the other hand
  • whereas
  • yet

For Cause

  • because
  • for this reason

For Effect

  • as a result
  • consequently
  • so
  • therefore
  • after
  • before
  • finally
  • first (etc.)
  • in future
  • meanwhile
  • then
  • when
  • while
  • consequently
  • finally
  • in conclusion
  • in short
  • in summary
  • on the whole
  • so
  • to conclude
  • to summarize