The following is a guest post from Grammarly blogger Nicolas Baron:
How to Write Solid Paragraphs
Whether your kids are homeschooled or in school, they will eventually have to write an essay. And, in doing so, they’ll likely learn the fundamentals of the essay. They’ll learn about creating an outline, building a thesis, and writing introduction and conclusion paragraphs. And, most likely, they’ll learn to compose all of these in the following way:
• Introduction Paragraph
Thesis (last line in the intro)
• Supporting Paragraph #1
• Supporting Paragraph #2
• Supporting Paragraph #3
• Conclusion Paragraph
This is what we call the five-paragraph theme, and it tends to be the preferred structure for teaching the essay form. It provides a nice place for the thesis, and it builds in supporting paragraphs that work to prove the thesis. All academic essays are built around this structure. While the number of paragraphs in later papers may increase (you’d never want to write a 20-page paper with only five paragraphs), the fundamental ideas are the same.
The unfortunate part is that while plenty of attention is paid to the thesis, very little time is devoted to teaching solid paragraphs. What we end up with, then, is an excellent thesis, within a well-organized essay, but one that fails to argue anything. Or, even worse, it argues far too much, with each paragraph a mish-mash of multiple topics and ideas.
Good paragraph construction is key to writing a good paper.
How, then, do we construct good paragraphs? We must first understand the parts of the paragraph and how they work together. Most academic paragraphs can be broken into three distinct parts:
Topic Sentence – Explains what the paragraph is about. This should, in some way, relate back to your thesis.
Supporting Evidence – Gives examples of your topic sentence.
Analysis of Evidence – Describes how your evidence proves your topic sentence, thus proving your thesis.
Let’s put this into practice. Say I write the following thesis: “Because students tend to rely too much on structure, teaching the five-paragraph theme in high school does more harm than good.”
Controversial, I know. To help prove my thesis, I need to write a paragraph about why relying on a structure may be a bad thing. To help understand the different parts of the paragraph, I’ve color-coded them. Green is my topic sentence. Yellow is my supporting evidence. Red is my analysis.
While the five-paragraph theme does provide some fundamental ideas, it hurts students in the long run, as they end up considering it a be-all, end-all rule. Students start to believe that they should adapt the structure of the five-paragraph theme to any essay they write. In doing so, they develop an over-reliance on the structure, and it usually starts to overshadow the writing itself. The primary problem with this is that when they’re called to write longer papers, they find themselves ill-equipped to handle such a task.
The color-coding system I’ve used here is intentional. In my work with Grammarly, I research how people write and what tools they use to become better writers. I’ve often seen the paragraph process taught through the form of a traffic light. Your topic sentence starts the paragraph, your supporting illustrations keep the paragraph moving, and the final sentence stops the paragraph. When it’s time to start a new paragraph, the whole process starts again. I fully encourage students to use this color-coding system, as they construct paragraphs, to ensure that each paragraph is distinct, using the three fundamental parts.
Constructing your paragraph in this way also helps prevent a common issue with student paragraphs: multiple topics. Sometimes, student paragraphs try to do too much and quickly become hard to read. Using this form will help keep paragraphs focused on a single topic, making them stronger.
Here are a few other tips for writing good paragraphs:
• If you need help remembering the three parts of the paragraph, consider a good acronym.
TEA (topic-evidence-analysis) is a common one, as is PIE (point-illustration-explanation).
• Remember that every topic sentence should lead back around to the thesis in some way.
Doing this will ensure that your essay remains focused on your argument.
• After you’ve constructed your paragraph, be sure to take advantage of Grammarly’s grammar check, which will check it against 250 grammar rules to ensure that your writing is perfect.
Writing good paragraphs is an important step toward writing a good paper. Master this, and you’ll find that the quality of your papers will improve immeasurably.
By Nikolas Baron
Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.