Developing Supporting Paragraphs
Each supporting paragraph in a short essay should support points made in the thesis statement. The thesis statement acts as a road map for the rest of your essay; it defines the ideas and the order in which they will be presented. Your reader expects to see information pertaining to the subject and in the order signaled in the introduction. Moving away from the mental map you established may cause the reader to become lost in the text and miss important points
Begin each supporting paragraph with a topic sentence. This statement reinforces your point for the reader. Everything in the paragraph should support the point you establish in the initial sentence. Use specific facts from your research and specific examples to enhance and clarify the point you are making. Once drafted, read back through the information. Does each sentence support the topic sentence? Do you explain and give examples that support the topic?
Does the paper flow smoothly between paragraphs? Transitions at the end of one paragraph or the beginning of the next help the reader understand connections, follow logical development, and navigate through the text.
Sample Strategy for Supportive Paragraphs:
1. The first sentence usually presents the topic that you will address in the paragraph.
a. The topic sentence should present the claim, or main idea, that you will develop and support within the rest of the paragraph.
2. In the several sentences that follow, provide facts regarding your topic and explain how this information supports your topic or claim.
a. After the topic sentence, present specific facts that support that topic Explain how each fact logically supports the claim or topic. Remain focused and specific, relating only information relevant to your topic sentence.
3. After proving the point you presented in your topic sentence, conclude the paragraph with a transitional sentence that leads readers to the next paragraph
a. End with a transitional sentence that shows how the main idea of this paragraph relates to the main idea of the next paragraph.
The above essay is actually a meta-essay, in that it is written in the precise form that it describes. The key to writing such an essay is planning. How does one plan such a well-structured essay?
First: one gather information. As you read about a topic, you should be trying to structure the information in roughly three broad points that will become the support for your argument. You should be able to express each of these broad points in a short sentence. Each point or line of evidence should be distinct from one another.
Second: form the thesis statement out of the broad points identified during your reading. Each of the points should be represented briefly in the thesis statement, and will then serve to structure the essay in paragraphs.
Third, write the opening paragraph. Keep in mind that the goal of the first paragraph is to gently lead the reader to the thesis statement. By the time they reach the last sentence of the introductory paragraph, they should have all the contextual information they need to understand the thesis.
Fourth, write each supporting paragraph separately. Make each of the points you highlighted in the thesis statement into a topic sentence, followed by information that relates back to that topic. Do not include more than one topic in a paragraph. At this point, do not worry about transitioning between paragraphs.
Fifth, write the concluding paragraph. Paraphrase your thesis sentence — more or less — for the opening sentence, then broaden the scope. Link everything to the main topic and try to leave the reader with something important: perhaps about the impact the topic might have, implications of your argument, or the like. You have some freedom here. Be creative and critical, but always relevant.
Finally, read everything together. You might wait a day or so before between the previous step and this final step. This is your chance to tweak the writing and smooth over any awkward phrases. Add some transitions between the body paragraphs if needed. Look for basic errors like incomplete sentences, copy-paste issues, and the like.
If you followed the steps above you should now have a well-structured essay that makes your ideas transparent to whoever may read it. If you are a student hoping for a good mark, here’s a secret from cognitive science: fluency effects mean that your easy-to-read essay looks better to your marker than an hard-to-read essay with ideas of the same quality. With a bit of planning, you can take advantage of your marker’s cognitive biases, and have them thank you for it.