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General Paragraph Structure


A paragraph is about 6 to 12 sentences all of which serve to support a single, main idea. A paragraph necessarily contains a topic sentence and a body. The topic sentence communicates the main idea and may be, for example, a fact or opinion. The paragraph body makes up the rest of the paragraph and consists of supporting sentences. These sentences back-up the main idea presented in the topic sentence by listing examples, giving explanations or providing specific details. To use an example, a persuasive paragraph may include a topic sentence which states an opinion, and a body of supporting sentences containing facts and examples which defend that opinion.


There are three main parts of a standard English paragraph and they generally occur in the following order.


Introduction- topic sentence




*parenthesis around the conclusion indicate that it is an optional element.


The topic sentence is the single most important part of the paragraph. As mentioned before, the it gives the reader the main idea and must clearly state what the paragraph is about. As it is usually the first sentence it must also catch the reader`s attention.



There are 4 attributes of a good topic sentence.

- It must be a complete sentence.

- It should be a statement of belief.

- It must be iconic.

- It must be a general statement and also specific.

The body provides the support for the topic sentence. As such it must be directly related to the topic sentence. There should be no facts that do not support the topic sentence. The points in the body should be carefully chosen based on their value in making the reader understand what you mean in the topic sentence and should also be ordered for maximum effect. Look at the two examples below to get a feel for this. Read them carefully and try to decide why and how the writer ordered the sentences in the way she/he did.

Example 1

John Saeed`s formal semantics class was the hardest course I have ever taken. First of all, the subject itself was very difficult. There was a lot of math involved as well as equations which revolved around logical probability charts. It was even more difficult because the approach seemed to be very far from reality. In addition, the textbook we used was quite badly written. The examples were bad and the wording, explanations were often awkward and hard to follow. Finally, there were many assignments. We always had log readings to do as well as a weekly set of problems based on that reading which had to be solved correctly. In the end of the course, we had to submit a 15 page research paper. Is sure hope that I never have to take another class as difficult as John Saeed`s formal semantics class.

Example 2

At my university, student identification cards are absolutely necessary. All students need then just to enter the campus. Guards stand at all gates checking to make sure only students get into campus. In order to eat in the cafeteria you also need your card because they don`t accept cash. The cost of the food you buy is deducted from a bank account that is accessed with your student identification card. Students also need to show their cards when they register for classes. It would be impossible to function as a student without identification cards.

The conclusion is an optional element in the paragraph. It usually serves one of two purposes, but may sometimes manage to do both. Primarily, the conclusion serves to remind the reader of the point that is being pursued in the writing, as originally expressed in the topic sentence. For that reason, often the conclusion is a simple paraphrase of the topic sentence. The conclusion also serves as a link to the next main idea.



* Written by Stephen van Vlack for his class, Advanced Speaking and Composition, in Sookmyung Womens University.