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6.1: Strategies for Developing Paragraphs

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    Figure: Image by Pixabay

    Developing Paragraphs

    If your thesis gives the reader a roadmap to your essay, then body paragraphs should closely follow that map. The reader should be able to predict what follows your introductory paragraph by simply reading the thesis statement. You need to add elaboration and explanation to flesh out the points listed in your outline. Your support (quotes, paraphrases, etc.) will need to answer questions such as "How does my quote support my topic sentence?" Elaboration makes up a large amount of your paragraph, at least two-thirds and is very important to have in order to have a good essay. The body paragraphs present the evidence you have gathered to confirm your thesis. Before you begin to support your thesis in the body, you must find information from a variety of sources that support and give credit to what you are trying to prove.

    Select Primary Support for Your Thesis

    Without primary support, your argument is not likely to be convincing. Primary support can be described as the major points you choose to expand on your thesis. It is the most important information you select to argue for your point of view. Each point you choose will be incorporated into the topic sentence for each body paragraph you write. Your primary supporting points are further supported by supporting details within the paragraphs.


    Remember that a worthy argument is backed by examples. In order to construct a valid argument, good writers conduct lots of background research and take careful notes. They also talk to people knowledgeable about a topic in order to understand its implications before writing about it.

    Identify the Characteristics of Good Support

    In order to fulfill the requirements of good primary support, the information you choose must meet the following standards:

    • Be specific. The main supporting points for your thesis and the examples you use to expand on those points need to be specific. Use specific examples to provide the evidence and to build upon your general ideas. These types of examples give your reader something narrow to focus on, and if used properly, they leave little doubt about your claim. General examples, while they convey the necessary information, are not nearly as compelling or useful in writing because they are too obvious and typical.
    • Be relevant to the thesis. Support should show, explain, or prove your main argument without delving into irrelevant details. When faced with lots of information that could be used to prove your thesis, you need to choose the best support in your body paragraphs. This can be a judgment call, but if you develop your thesis and outline by working with your sources first, this should be easier. Choose your examples wisely by making sure they directly connect to your thesis.
    • Be detailed. Remember that the body paragraphs are where you develop the discussion that a thorough essay requires. Using detailed support shows readers that you have considered all the facts and chosen only the most precise details to enhance your point of view.

    Select the Most Effective Primary Support for a Thesis Statement

    Remember, in college, you are not limited to just three main subtopics that support your thesis statement. Depending on your assignment, you may examine a topic from many angles and have quite a few topic sentences that related to your thesis. In some cases, you may need to select which subtopics most support your thesis and remove some others. Remind yourself of your main argument, and delete any ideas that do not directly relate to it. Omitting unrelated ideas ensures that you will use only the most convincing information in your body paragraphs. Choose at least three of only the most compelling points. These will serve as the topic sentences for your body paragraphs.

    Exercise 1

    Refer to the previous exercise and select three of your most compelling reasons to support the thesis statement. Remember that the points you choose must be specific and relevant to the thesis. The statements you choose will be your primary support points, and you will later incorporate them into the topic sentences for the body paragraphs. Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.

    When you support your thesis, you are revealing evidence. Evidence includes anything that can help support your stance. The following are the kinds of evidence you will encounter as you conduct your research:

    1. Facts. Facts, such as statistics, are the best kind of evidence to use because they often cannot be disputed. They can support your stance by providing background information on or a solid foundation for your point of view. However, facts still need explanation. For example, the sentence “The most populated state in the United States is California” is a pure fact, but it will require some explanation to make it relevant to your specific argument. Always be sure you gather your facts from credible sources.
    2. Judgments. Judgments are conclusions drawn from the given facts. Judgments are more credible than opinions because they are founded upon careful reasoning and examination of a topic. Use judgments from experts in the field as they are the more credible sources for the topic.
    3. Testimony. Testimony consists of direct quotations from either an eyewitness or an expert witness. An eyewitness is someone who directly observed an instance of what you are writing about; testimony adds authenticity to an argument based on facts. An expert witness is a person who has extensive experience with a topic. This person studies the facts and provides commentary based on either facts or judgments, or both. An expert witness adds authority and credibility to an argument.
    4. Personal observation. Personal observation is similar to testimony, but personal observation consists of your testimony. It reflects what you know to be true because you have experiences and have formed either opinions or judgments about them. For instance, if you are one of five children and your thesis states that being part of a large family is beneficial to a child’s social development, you could use your own experience to support your thesis.


    In any job where you devise a plan, you will need to support the steps that you lay out. This is an area in which you would incorporate primary support into your writing. Choosing only the most specific and relevant information to expand upon the steps will ensure that your plan appears well-thought-out and precise.


    You can consult a vast pool of resources to gather support for your stance. Citing relevant information from reliable sources ensures that your reader will take you seriously and consider your assertions. Use any of the following credible sources for your essay: newspapers or news organization websites, magazines, encyclopedias, and scholarly journals, which are periodicals that address topics in a specialized field. Please see section 10.5 " Evaluating and Working with Sources."

    Draft Supporting Detail Sentences for Each Topic Sentence

    After deciding which primary support points you will use as your topic sentences, you must add details to clarify and demonstrate each of those points. These supporting details provide examples, facts, or evidence that support the topic sentence.

    The following paragraph contains supporting detail sentences for the the topic sentence, which is underlined.

    J.D. 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 a 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 Esmé – 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.

    Exercise 2 \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Using the three topic sentences you composed for the outline you created in Chapter 5, draft at least three supporting details for each point.

    Thesis statement: ____________________________________________

    Primary supporting point 1: ____________________________________________

    Supporting details: ____________________________________________

    Primary supporting point 2: ____________________________________________

    Supporting details: ____________________________________________

    Primary supporting point 3: ____________________________________________

    Supporting details: ____________________________________________


    • You have the option of writing your topic sentences in one of three ways. You can state it at the beginning of the body paragraph, or at the end of the paragraph, or you do not have to write it at all. This is called an implied topic sentence. An implied topic sentence lets readers form the main idea for themselves. For beginning writers, it is best to not use implied topic sentences because it makes it harder to focus your writing. Your instructor may also want to be able to clearly identify the sentences that support your thesis.
    • Print out the first draft of your essay and use a highlighter to mark your topic sentences in the body paragraphs. Make sure they are clearly stated and accurately present your paragraphs, as well as accurately reflect your thesis. If your topic sentence contains information that does not exist in the rest of the paragraph, rewrite it to more accurately match the rest of the paragraph.
    Video \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Authored by: GoReadWriteNow. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

    Adding Explanation and Elaboration in your Body Paragraphs

    In addition to supporting details, college level paragraphs add quite a bit of explanation and elaboration in body paragraphs. Development of explanation and elaboration is one of the big differences between high school and college-level writing. Rather than just appearing in one paragraph all by itself -- possibly in a conclusion -- explanation and elaboration should appear through your essay. Some sentence stems you can use to help you develop your explanation and elaboration appear in the following list.

    Sentence Stems for Elaboration

    • X matters because ___________.
    • X is important because ___________.
    • X is crucial in terms of today’s concern over ___________ because ___________.
    • Ultimately, what is at stake here is ___________.
    • These points have important consequences for the broader discussion about ___________.
    • The discussion of X is in fact addressing the larger matter of ___________.
    • These conclusions have significant implications for ___________.
    • X should in fact concern anyone who cares about ___________.

    PIE Paragraph Development for Body Paragraphs

    One strategy for developing paragraphs fully can be memorized by the acronym PIE. The acronym makes it easy to remember the elements needed to fully develop a paragraph in an academic essay. PIE stands for:

    Point – (also known as the topic sentence). It is the main idea of your paragraph. It:

    • Must be a complete sentence
    • Should answer the question "why" or "how"
    • Must relate to the thesis
    • Must relate to the text you are reading and writing about
    • You may need to revise it once you have fully developed your paragraph.

    Information -- (quotes, paraphrases, data, and occasionally personal experience). It is the evidence with which you are working. Information includes:

    • Support for your point
    • Ideas from your reading that you want to discuss and explain further
    • Information from a text that you are arguing against
    • Two to three pieces of "information" per paragraph (generally)


    Never end a paragraph with information!

    Explanation/elaboration -- The information that connects you inforamtion to your point, explains and discusses your informaiton and ideas, and connects the paragraph to your thesis.

    In a standard deductive paragraph, one sentence of "E" connects your first piece of information to your topic sentence.

    Aim for four sentences of explanation after each chunk of "I" in your paragraph.

    Questions to ask yourself to help develop your E:

    o Why is this important?

    o What is the effect of this?

    o How does this happen?

    o How is the author’s opinion different from your opinion or another author’s opinion?

    o Are there any logical fallacies or emotional appeals in the writer’s claim? (If you are arguing against what the writer is saying)

    o What is the problem or benefit of thinking about something this way?

    In reality, you don't just want just a point, a chunk of information, and explanation. Rather you want to intersperse the information and explanation between the the various reasons that support the topic sentence. Thus, the real structure of a PIE paragraph looks something like this:

    P (topic sentence)

    E (explanation connects I to the P)

    I (information)

    E (explanation of I – minimum 2 – 3 sentences; connection of last piece of I to next piece of I – 1 sentence)

    I (information)

    E (explanation of E – minimum 2 – 3 sentences; connection of last piece of I to point of whole paragraph)

    **Note: You are not limited to this amount of information or elaboration, but if you develop it well, it should probably be enough for one paragraph.

    Exercise 3\(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Identify whether each sentence in the following paragraph is P, I, or E by writing a P, I, or E next to each sentence.

    Schools should not prevent students from obtaining lunches even though the administrative records or money is not in place. The effects of doing so are clear in an article that recently appeared on Vox. According to the article, during a recent government shutdown “6,300 low-income kids in six states couldn’t attend their federally funded Head Start preschools,” so the children couldn’t receive the meals they would have normally eaten there (Fernandez Campbell). These children may not get anything to eat, their parents may not eat to ensure their kids do, or it comes out of some other essential area of the parents’ very limited budget. This out-of-touch arguing only makes low-income families’ lives more difficult. Local governments or charitable organizations should ensure these centers stay open even if the federal government doesn’t because the effect on children is detrimental mentally and physically. Even if parents can stay home during the outage, children are in no mood to learn from them if they are hungry, and parents are probably not in the mood to teach when they don’t know where their children’s next meal is coming from. It’s even worse when local school districts themselves don’t serve children’s lunch meals. According to an article in the Democrat & Chronicle, school cashiers routinely refuse to serve food to students if their paperwork isn’t in proper order (Murphy). Lunch shaming – when school districts would not serve subsidized lunch to students because either the paperwork wasn’t processed or the parents hadn’t uploaded their part of the payment online – causes many problems for students. Children aren’t in control of what the adults in a district or their parents do, and they should not have to pay a price with their learning. Students can’t focus in school if they haven’t eaten enough. Because they are uncomfortable and hungry, they are more likely to act out and have discipline problems and they are less likely to learn the lessons of the day. This does not seem to be in line with the mission of schools or in the best interest of students. School districts need to find a better way to manage this and other social situations in order to improve the learning environment.

    The following video expands on the idea of elaborating your ideas.

    Video \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Insightful Analysis. Authored by: GoReadWriteNow. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube


    This page most recently updated on June 4, 2020.

    This page titled 6.1: Strategies for Developing Paragraphs is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Athena Kashyap & Erika Dyquisto (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .