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Elements of Style and The Paragraph

The paragraph is one of the fundamental building blocks of academic writing.  Each paragraph in your essay or research should contain a series of sentences which develops one (and only one) main idea. A well-written paragraph usually begins with a sentence that informs the reader of the central idea or purpose of that paragraph. This is called the topic sentence.  A topic sentence consists of the topic and the controlling idea (e.g., an aspect or dimension of the idea).
Following your topic sentence is the body of your paragraph. The body of your paragraph should support or develop the main idea in your topic sentence. You can develop your paragraph by providing details, examples, facts, reasons, or incidents – all of which should lead back to the central idea in your topic sentence. If you are crafting a research paper, it is here that you could use quotes from another source, as long as it supports your topic sentence. Quotes, when used sparingly, add credibility to your writing. If all of the sentences within the body of your paragraph support your topic sentence, your paragraph will demonstrate cohesiveness and unity. Unity is one characteristic of good writing. Another quality you want your writing to emit is coherence. Depending on your chosen topic, you can foster coherence by arranging your sentences in a logical order (e.g., chronological or spatial order).
The concluding sentence is located at the conclusion of your paragraph. It should be the logical consequence of your thoughts and ideas, which have been developed throughout the paragraph. The conclusion sentence either summarizes your ideas or acts as a transition to the next paragraph, preparing your reader for the central idea which will be introduced in your next paragraph.

What follows is writing sample wherein the three main parts of a proper paragraph have been described in red parenthesis:

Mapplethorpe’s compositions reveal his strong, consistent aesthetic goal – one which is not only direct, but which also strives for perfection in both balance in subject and form. (This first sentence is the topic sentence. From this sentence, it becomes clear that the topic of this essay is Mapplethorpe’s compositions, and that the controlling idea throughout this paragraph will be Mapplethorpe’s aesthetic goal). In his works, Mapplethorpe insists on the entire composition, not just the photograph, as being the object – as opposed to merely the subject of the photograph being the sole object. For example, the texture and material of the frame reiterates the subject of the photograph. The goal is to make viewing his works both participatory and confrontational, something he has effectively accomplished with relentless arrogance as seen in his work The Slave. (These two sentences represent the body of the paragraph. Within them, the author explains why she wrote what she wrote in her topic sentence, describing Mapplethorpe’s art and using an example to reiterate her point). Although some of his works have been controversial, Mapplethorpe always managed to produce what he deemed aesthetically important – a powerful and memorable statement presenting two seemingly incompatible qualities: directness and ambiguity. (This is the concluding sentence. The reader should recognize that this is the final sentence of this paragraph because the content summarizes what was written throughout the entire paragraph).

When you have finished writing, you should always edit your work. When editing, remember to check that these basic elements are present:

  1. A topic sentence with a controlling idea
  2. Body sentences displaying coherence and unity
  3. A concluding sentence

Good Luck!
By: Dawn S., On Demand Editor for editorr

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