Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

12.5: Developing Paragraphs

  • Page ID
    120101
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    Audio Version (October 2021):

    Supporting sentences

     

    An ornate column with the middle portion missing.
    A paragraph, like a column, needs support in the middle. Image by Monika Grafik from Pixabay under the Pixabay License.

     

    By itself, a topic sentence will not usually fully clarify an idea or convince readers. Supporting sentences can explain, prove, or enhance the idea in the topic sentence. For example, in a persuasive essay about raising the wage for certified nursing assistants, a paragraph might focus on the expectations and duties of the job, comparing them to that of a registered nurse. Needless to say, a single topic sentence that lists the certified nursing assistant’s duties will not give readers a complete enough idea of what these healthcare professionals do. If readers do not have plenty of information about the duties and the writer’s experience in performing them for what she considers inadequate pay, the paragraph fails to do its part in convincing readers that the pay is inadequate and should be increased.

    In informative or persuasive writing, a supporting sentence usually offers one of the following:

    • Fact: Many families now rely on older relatives to support them financially.
    • Statistic: Nearly 10 percent of adults are currently unemployed in the United States.
    • Quotation: “We will not allow this situation to continue,” stated Senator Johns.
    • Anecdote or example: Last year, Bill was asked to retire at the age of fifty-five.

    The type of supporting sentence you choose will depend on what you are writing and why you are writing. For example, if you are attempting to persuade your audience to take a particular position, you should rely on facts, statistics, and concrete examples, rather than personal opinions. Personal testimony in the form of an extended example can be used in conjunction with the other types of support. Let's look at a sample paragraph as a list of all the elements we've just discussed, plus a concluding sentence, which we'll discuss below.

    Topic sentence: There are numerous advantages to owning a hybrid car.

    Sentence 1 (statistic): First, they get 20 percent to 35 percent more miles to the gallon than a fuel-efficient gas-powered vehicle.

    Sentence 2 (fact): Second, they produce very few emissions during low-speed city driving.

    Sentence 3 (reason): Because they do not require gas, hybrid cars reduce dependency on fossil fuels, which helps lower prices at the pump.

    Sentence 4 (example): Alex bought a hybrid car two years ago and has been extremely impressed with its performance.

    Sentence 5 (quotation): “It’s the cheapest car I’ve ever had,” she said. “The running costs are far lower than previous gas powered vehicles I’ve owned.”

    Concluding sentence: Given the low running costs and environmental benefits of owning a hybrid car, it is likely that many more people will follow Alex’s example in the near future.

    Concluding Sentences

    Paragraphs do not necessarily need concluding sentences.  However, a concluding sentence can help if you think your readers need a reminder of what the main point was or what we have learned from the paragraph. If the material in the paragraph taken together seems to logically imply an idea, we can name that idea in the concluding sentence.  This might take the form of a prediction, suggestion, or recommendation about the information in the paragraph. For example, a paragraph on childhood obesity might conclude, "These statistics indicate that unless we take action, childhood obesity rates will continue to rise."

     

    A one-way street sign with a pointing arrow.
    Sometimes it seems as if all sentences in a paragraph point toward the concluding sentence. Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay under the Pixabay License.

     

    If we repeat the main point, we should express it in different words to avoid sounding too repetitive. For example, let's compare the topic sentence and concluding sentence from the first example on hybrid cars:

    Topic Sentence: There are many advantages to owning a hybrid car.

    Concluding Sentence: Given the low running costs and environmental benefits of owning a hybrid car, it is likely that many more people will follow Alex’s example in the near future.

    Notice the use of the synonyms advantages and benefits. The concluding sentence reiterates the idea that owning a hybrid is advantageous without using the exact same words. It also summarizes two examples of the advantages covered in the supporting sentences: low running costs and environmental benefits.

    Note

    Writers should avoid introducing any new ideas into a concluding sentence because a conclusion is intended to provide the reader with a sense of completion. Introducing a subject that is not covered in the paragraph will confuse readers.

    Paragraph Length

     

    A lineup of pencils of varying lengths.
    Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash under the Unsplash License.

     

    Writers often want to know how many words a paragraph should contain.  There is no set number; a paragraph needs to develop an idea enough to satisfy the writer and readers. Paragraphs can vary in length from one or two sentences, to over a page; however, in most college assignments, successfully developed paragraphs usually contain one hundred to two hundred and fifty words and span one-fourth to two-thirds of a typed page.

    If a paragraph is over a page long, consider providing a paragraph break for readers. Look for a logical place to divide the paragraph; then revise the opening sentence of the second paragraph to maintain coherence.

    Occasionally a short paragraph may serve to emphasize an idea, but a series of short paragraphs can be confusing and choppy. Examine the content of the paragraphs and combine ones with related ideas or develop each one further.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Consider the paragraph below on the topic of trauma in novelist J. D. Salinger’s work.  Identify the topic sentence and supporting points.  Some of the supporting points may be more than one sentence each.  Explain how each illustrates the topic sentence. 

    Salinger, a World War II veteran, suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder, a disorder that influenced the themes in many of his works. He did not hide his mental anguish over the horrors of war and once told his daughter, “You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose, no matter how long you live.” His short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” details a day in the life of a WWII veteran who was recently released from an army hospital for psychiatric problems. The man acts questionably with a little girl he meets on the beach before he returns to his hotel room and commits suicide. Another short Story, “For Esme – with Love and Squalor,” is narrated by a traumatized soldier who sparks an unusual relationship with a young girl he meets before he departs to partake in D-Day. Finally, in Salinger’s only novel, The Catcher in the Rye, he continues with the theme of posttraumatic stress, though not directly related to war. From a rest home for the mentally ill, sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield narrates the story of his nervous breakdown following the death of his younger brother.

    Answer

    Topic sentence: Salinger, a World War II veteran, suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder, a disorder that influenced the themes in many of his works.

    Supporting points:

    1. A quote to illustrate posttraumatic stress disorder: "He did not hide his mental anguish over the horrors of war and once told his daughter, 'You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose, no matter how long you live.'"

    2. An example of a work with a theme of postraumatic stress disorder from war: "His short story 'A Perfect Day for Bananafish' details a day in the life of a WWII veteran who was recently released from an army hospital for psychiatric problems. The man acts questionably with a little girl he meets on the beach before he returns to his hotel room and commits suicide."

    3. Another example of a work with a theme of postraumatic stress disorder from war: "Another short Story, 'For Esme – with Love and Squalor,' is narrated by a traumatized soldier who sparks an unusual relationship with a young girl he meets before he departs to partake in D-Day."

    4. A third example of a work with a theme of posttraumatic stress disorder: "Finally, in Salinger’s only novel, The Catcher in the Rye, he continues with the theme of posttraumatic stress, though not directly related to war. From a rest home for the mentally ill, sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield narrates the story of his nervous breakdown following the death of his younger brother."

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    Identify the topic sentence(s), supporting sentences, and concluding sentence in the following paragraph.

    The desert provides a harsh environment in which few mammals are able to adapt. Of these hardy creatures, the kangaroo rat is possibly the most fascinating. Able to live in some of the most arid parts of the southwest, the kangaroo rat neither sweats nor pants to keep cool. Its specialized kidneys enable it to survive on a miniscule amount of water. Unlike other desert creatures, the kangaroo rat does not store water in its body but instead is able to convert the dry seeds it eats into moisture. Its ability to adapt to such a hostile environment makes the kangaroo rat a truly amazing creature.

    Answer
    • Topic sentences: The desert provides a harsh environment in which few mammals are able to adapt. Of these hardy creatures, the kangaroo rat is possibly the most fascinating.
    • Supporting sentences: Able to live in some of the most arid parts of the southwest, the kangaroo rat neither sweats nor pants to keep cool. Its specialized kidneys enable it to survive on a miniscule amount of water. Unlike other desert creatures, the kangaroo rat does not store water in its body but instead is able to convert the dry seeds it eats into moisture.
    • Concluding sentence: Its ability to adapt to such a hostile environment makes the kangaroo rat a truly amazing creature.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{3}\)

    Read the following incomplete paragraph and then read the supporting sentences below it.  Which sentence best fits in which location to illustrate the points made in the paragraph? Match the sentences lettered a, b, c, and d to the locations numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4.

    Lack of ownership of a television set is a way to preserve innocence, and keep the exposure towards anything inappropriate at bay. From simply watching a movie, I have seen things I shouldn’t have, no matter how fast I switch the channel. 1. 2. Television shows not only display physical indecency, but also verbal. Many times movies do voice-overs of profane words, but they also leave a few words uncensored. 3. 4. All ages can flip through and see or hear such things. They make t.v. toxic for the mind, and without it I wouldn’t have to worry about what I may accidentally see or hear.

    1. On Empire, one of the most viewed dramas today, the main characters Cookie and Lucious Lyon use profane words during their fights throughout entire episodes.
    2. The movie Fast and Furious has the same problem since the women are all half-naked in half tops and mini-skirts or short-shorts.
    3. The synopsis of Euro Trip, which describes high school friends traveling across Europe, leads viewers to think that the film is an innocent adventure; however; it is filled with indecency, especially when the students reach Amsterdam.
    4. Because The Big Bang Theory is a show about a group of science geeks and their cute neighbors, viewers might think that these science geniuses’ conversations would be about their current research or other science topics. Instead, their characters regularly engage in conversations about their personal lives that should be kept private.
     
    Answer
    1. c
    2. b
    3. a
    4. d

    Revised paragraph with supporting sentences:

    Not owning a television set would also be a way to preserve innocence and keep my exposure to anything inappropriate at bay. While searching for a program to view, I have seen things I shouldn’t have, no matter how fast I switched the channel. The synopsis of Euro Trip, which describes high school friends traveling across Europe, leads viewers to think that the film is an innocent adventure; however; it is filled with indecency, especially when the students reach Amsterdam. The movie Fast and Furious has the same problem since the women are all half-naked in half tops and mini-skirts or short-shorts. Television shows not only display physical indecency, but also verbal. Many television shows have no filters, and the characters say profane words freely. On Empire, one of the most viewed dramas today, the main characters Cookie and Lucious Lyon use profane words during their fights throughout entire episodes. Because The Big Bang Theory is a show about a group of science geeks and their cute neighbors, viewers might think that these science geniuses’ conversations would be about their current research or other science topics. Instead, their characters regularly engage in conversations about their personal lives that should be kept private. The ease of flipping through channels and seeing or hearing such things makes t.v. toxic for the mind, and without a television I wouldn’t have to worry about what I may accidentally see or hear.

    Explanation: The original paragraph identifies two categories of indecent material, and there is mention of profanity to provide a clue as to what the student thinks is indecent. However, the paragraph could use some examples to make the idea of inappropriate material clearer. The examples help to convey why the writer thinks they would be better off without a television.

    Attributions 

    Portions of the above are original content by Anna Mills, but most is adapted from Successful College Composition, Galileo Open Learning Materials, licensed CC BY-NC-SA 3.0, which was itself adapted from Writing for Successcreated by an author and publisher who prefer to remain anonymous, adapted and presented by the Saylor Foundation and licensed CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.


    12.5: Developing Paragraphs is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kathryn Crowther et al. (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) .