The introductory paragraph will be followed by developmental paragraphs which make up the body of the essay. Many essay questions which you will be asked to answer lend themselves to organization in three parts. In the sample introductory paragraph above, the writer clearly intends to divide the body of the essay into three parts. Sometimes on hour tests you may be given a subject which can best be divided into two developmental paragraphs; sometimes you may prefer to organize in four or, especially on a final examination, more than four paragraphs.
Each developmental paragraph must include a topic sentence, which is often the first sentence in the paragraph. The topic sentence is to the paragraph what the thesis sentence is to the essay as a whole–it is the controlling idea that determines what can be placed in a paragraph and what cannot be placed in the paragraph. The topic sentence must be a generalization, never a narrative detail. If you were writing on Odysseus as an ideal Greek hero, your plan might be to emphasize such admirable qualities as Odysseus’ courage, his physical strength, and his devotion to his country. Your topic sentence for the first developmental paragraph might read, “Examples of Odysseus’ courage are found in nearly every book in which Odysseus appears.” The rest of your paragraph would cite specific examples of his courage. You would not include in that paragraph examples of his strength or of his devotion to his country. To do so would be to violate the concept of unity.
Unity is achieved when a writer develops the topic sentence and does not deviate from it. If you digress, you merely confuse your reader. The topic sentence can help you maintain unity if you keep asking yourself if the example you are citing really is an example of your topic sentence.
A good developmental paragraph must have ample substance. Substance consists of the specific examples from the work which you cite in support of your thesis sentence and of the topic sentence of each paragraph. Never have fewer than two very good examples in a paragraph; usually you will need to have more than two examples in order to persuade your reader that the assertions made in your thesis statement and in your topic sentence are accurate and can be supported by persuasive evidence. If you cite but one example or two weak ones, the reader will not be persuaded.
Good substance depends on more than the number of examples you cite. Your examples must be fully developed so that your paragraph won’t read like a list or an outline. Remember your readers. You should assume that they have read the work on which you are writing, but you should not assume that they have read the work recently. It is important, therefore, to develop your examples with enough detail so that your readers can recall them. You should also include enough of the context so that readers can remember roughly where the incident or speech to which you are referring occurs. Quoting a key word, phrase, or larger element is an effective way to achieve good substance.
Organizing the Developmental Paragraphs
Organization means orderly arrangement. In a well-organized paragraph the details used to substantiate the topic sentence are presented in an orderly sequence of sentences. The arrangement of sentences will largely depend upon the type of composition you are writing.
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of order that may be used in the paragraph: Natural Order and Logical Order. If you arrange your sentences in natural order, you are following an order that seems to you to be inherent in the subject about which you are writing. Paragraphs of description and narration often follow natural order. Writers of descriptive paragraphs, for example, may present details seen from left to right or from top to bottom. Writers of narrative paragraphs frequently present details in the order of their occurrence; that is, they will use chronological order. Logical order is order which is determined by the writer’s analysis of the subject. Such order is determined by the writer’s reason. The writer must consciously will it, even force it upon the subject. It is not based on an order (either spatial or chronological) that seems inherent in the subject.
The body follows a general course:
Conclusive Statement (transitional statement)
Conclusions are often the most difficult part of an essay to write, and many writers feel that they have nothing left to say after having written the paper. A writer needs to keep in mind that the conclusion is often what a reader remembers best. Your conclusion should be the best part of your paper.
A conclusion should
- stress the importance of the thesis statement,
- give the essay a sense of completeness, and
- leave a final impression on the reader–your lesson-of-life statement
- Answer the question “So What?”
Show your readers why this paper was important. Show them that your paper was meaningful and useful.
- Synthesize, don’t summarize
- Don’t simply repeat things that were in your paper. They have read it. Show them how the points you made and the support and examples you used were not random, but fit together. A final summarizing example, passage, quote applied at this point of your summary is often effective
- Redirect your readers
- Give your reader something to think about, perhaps a way to use your paper in the “real” world. If your introduction went from general to specific, make your conclusion go from specific to general. Think globally.
- Create a new meaning
- You don’t have to give new information to create a new meaning. By demonstrating how your ideas work together, you can create a new picture. Often the sum of the paper is worth more than its parts.
- Echoing the introduction: Echoing your introduction can be a good strategy if it is meant to bring the reader full-circle. If you begin by describing a scenario, you can end with the same scenario as proof that your essay was helpful in creating a new understanding.