Step 7: Paragraphs
Choose a singular focus
Each paragraph should have a clear, singular focus to it. If
there is an overriding error students make in writing essays,
it is shifting topics within the same paragraph, rather than continuing
to develop the same idea they began with. A paragraph is a discrete
unit of thought that expands one specific idea, not three or four.
If you find yourself shifting gears to start a new topic, begin
a new paragraph instead.
Someone once compared the beginning of a new paragraph to the
changing angle of a wall. When the angle of the wall changes,
a new wall begins. Let your paragraphs be like that wall: running
straight along a certain angle, and beginning anew when the angle
Begin with a topic sentence
Nothing will help you keep a tighter focus on your paragraphs
than topic sentences. A topic sentence is generally the first
sentence of the paragraph, and it describes the claim or point
of the paragraph, thus orienting the reader to the purpose of
the paragraph. When you use topic sentences, your reader will
invariably find it easier to follow your thoughts and argument.
As an example, look at the first sentences of each paragraph on
this page. The entire paragraph is focused around the stated topic
sentence. Additionally, headings are used to make it even clearer
and easier to follow. If you're writing a long research essay
(10 + pages), you might consider using headings.
Develop the idea
students shift topics and lose focus within their paragraphs because
they do not know how to adequately develop their ideas. They usually
know the paragraph needs to be longer, but they don't know how
to expand their idea to fill that length. Indeed a paragraph should
be at least half a page long, but usually no more than one page.
How, then, if you don't have enough to say, do you fill that paragraph
length? Instead of broadening the focus, which will only be another
form of topic shifting, try implementing these techniques for