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9.1: Paragraph Types and Purposes

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    Paragraphs Types and Purposes

    Paragraph types and paragraph purpose are two different things. Paragraph types can generally be categorized as introduction, body, or conclusion. They can also be described by their form, generally inductive and deductive. Finally, paragraphs can also be categorized by their purposes, which can be to introduce, to conclude, to compare or contrast, to narrate, to describe, to classify, to define, to show cause and effect, to show a process, to inform, to summarize, to evaluate, to synthesize, and to persuade. Many times, a paragraph may do more than one of these things at the same time, so sentences serve these purposes instead. Conversely, sometimes a whole essay will generally serve one of these purposes. In this chapter, examples will focus on paragraphs (rather than an entire essay) because the paragraph is the form in which your purpose most likely will take shape in a college essay.

    Inductive Paragraphs

    Inductive paragraphs begin generally and end more specifically with a point, topic sentence, major idea or thesis. There are a few reasons someone might write an inductive sentence. In an introduction when a reader needs to be drawn into your topic before learning what your point about that topic is going to be. The second reason someone might write an inductive paragraph is if they believe the reader might disagree with their point. Therefore, they may begin with a number of facts to persuade the reader to logically lead the reader to the writer's conclusion. The other major situation in which a writer might want to use an inductive paragraph form would be to introduce an argument or idea that they are arguing against. That idea must be introduced first before arguing against it and eventually leading to the writer's point.

    Using an inductive paragraph is a rhetorical choice based upon the needs and relationship of the reader to the writer. Questions writers might ask themselves when deciding whether to use an inductive paragraph are: How much does my reader know about my topic? Does my reader know what I am going to write about? Is the reader likely to agree with what I have to say?

    Cohesion (see section 6.5) in inductive paragraphs can be especially tricky. Because your reader doesn't know where you are leading, writers must be careful to lead the reader slowly to the point. Transition words, semantic ties (words that relate to each other in terms of topic), and pronouns are all important to help create a cohesive inductive paragraph. The following is an example of an inductive introduction paragraph using a compare-contrast mode.

    Floods, fires, hurricanes, erosion, and sea-level rise -- we see the news stories about natural disasters at an increasing rate. And while the debate about humans' role in "global warming," or climate change, has been happening for a while now, not much has happened in terms of figuring out how to prevent or lessen the damage that is occurring. Some people (including some scientists) believe that we can't prove that climate change is occurring because of anything other than various natural variations in meteorological and other environmental trends that do indeed change over the eons. They claim that since humans haven't "caused" climate change, then humans don't need to change their behavior because doing so will have no effect on the outcome. Others (most scientists and increasingly more business leaders and the general public) believe that data show such a remarkable and accelerating change in the makeup of the atmosphere, the oceans, and weather patterns since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, that claiming humans have no influence on climate change is ludicrous. They believe that humans should change their behavior to try to reverse some of the changes in the climate and prevent an existential crisis for humans and other species. The problem is that spending time fighting about who is responsible makes it less likely that those who are experiencing the effects of climate change now -- especially those who live at coastlines -- will have any planning done to manage the issues that are already arising. While ultimately, we do need to change some of our behaviors that will affect longer-term outcomes, such as no longer using natural gas in housing, action needs to occur now at all levels of government to implement policies that will assist those who are currently affected or will be very soon.

    Deductive Paragraphs

    Deductive paragraphs begin with their point (topic sentence), and then go on to support and develop that point. This is the most common type of paragraph in academic essays and the type with which you are probably most familiar. Many times body paragraphs are deductive, and conclusions almost always are deductive paragraphs, beginning with a more nuanced restatement of the thesis. There are a number of strategies to develop deductive paragraphs found in Chapter 6, including developing PIE paragraphs.

    Summary Paragraphs

    A summary shrinks a large amount of information into only the essentials. You probably summarize events, books, and movies daily. Think about the last blockbuster movie you saw or the last novel you read. Chances are, at some point in a casual conversation with a friend, coworker, or classmate, you compressed all the action in a two-hour film or in a two-hundred-page book into a brief description of the major plot movements. While in conversation, you probably described the major highlights, or the main points in just a few sentences, using your own vocabulary and manner of speaking.

    Similarly, a summary paragraph condenses a long piece of writing into a smaller paragraph by extracting only the vital information. A summary uses only the writer’s own words. Like the summary’s purpose in daily conversation, the purpose of an academic summary paragraph is to maintain all the essential information from a longer document. Although shorter than the original piece of writing, a summary should still communicate all the key points and key support. In other words, summary paragraphs should be succinct and to the point.

    Example of a Summary Paragraph

    Below is a "mock" paper that a student summarized.

    According to the "Monitoring the Future" Study, almost two-thirds of tenth-grade students reported having tried alcohol at least once in their lifetime, and two-fifths reported having been drunk at least once (Johnson et al.). Among twelfth-grade students, those rates had risen to over three-quarters who reported having tried alcohol at least once, and nearly three-fifths who reported having been drunk at least once. In terms of current alcohol use, 33.2 percent of U.S. tenth graders 47.0 percent of twelfth graders reported having used alcohol at least once in the past thirty days. Twenty percent and 30.2 percent, respectively, reported having been drunk in the past 30 days; 20.0 percent and 28.1 percent, respectively, reported having had five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks (sometimes called binge drinking); and 1.3 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively, reported daily alcohol use (Johnson et al.).

    Alcohol consumption continues to escalate after high school. In fact, eighteen to twenty-four-year-olds have the highest levels of alcohol consumption and alcohol dependence of any age group. In the first two years after high school, lifetime prevalence of alcohol use (based on 2005 follow-up surveys from the "Monitoring the Future" study) was 81.8 percent, 30-day use prevalence, and binge-drinking prevalence was 36.3 percent (Johnson et al.). Of note, college students on average drink more than their non-college peers, even though they drank less during high school than those who did not go to college (Johnson et al., Schulenberg and Magge). For example, in 2005, the rate of binge drinking for college students (one to four years beyond high school) was 40.1 percent whereas the rates for their non-college age mates was 35.1 percent.

    Alcohol use and problem drinking in late adolescence vary by socio-demographic characteristics. For example, the prevalence of alcohol use is higher for boys than for girls, higher for White and Hispanic adolescents than for African American adolescents, and higher for those living in the north and north central United States than for those living in the South and West. Some of these relationships change with early adulthood, however. For example, although alcohol use in high school tends to be higher in areas with lower population density (i.e., rural areas) than in more densely populated areas, this relationship reverses in early adulthood (Johnson et al.). Lower economic status (i.e., lower educational level of parents) is associated with more alcohol use during the early high school years; by the end of high school, and during the transition to adulthood, this relationship changes, and youth from higher socioeconomic backgrounds consume greater amounts of alcohol.

    A summary of the report should present all the main points and supporting details in brief. Read the following summary of the report written by a student:

    Brown et al. inform us that by tenth grade nearly two-thirds of students have tried alcohol at least once, and by twelfth grade, this figure increases to over three-quarters of students. After high school, alcohol consumption increases further, and college-aged students have the highest levels of alcohol consumption and dependence of any age group. Alcohol use varies according to factors such as gender, race, geographic location, and socioeconomic status. Some of these trends may reverse in early adulthood. For example, adolescents of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to consume alcohol during the high school years whereas youth from higher socioeconomic status are more likely to consume alcohol in the years after high school.

    Notice how the summary retains the key points made by the writers of the original report but omits most of the statistical data. Summaries need not contain all the specific facts and figures in the original document; they provide only an overview of the essential information.

    Evaluation Paragraphs

    An evaluation judges the value of something and determines its worth. Evaluations in everyday experiences are often not only dictated by set standards but also influenced by opinion and prior knowledge. For example, at work, a supervisor may complete an employee evaluation by judging the subordinate’s performance based on the company’s goals. If the company focuses on improving communication, the supervisor will rate the employee’s customer service according to a standard scale. However, the evaluation still depends on the supervisor’s opinion and prior experience with the employee. The purpose of the evaluation is to determine how well the employee performs at their job.

    An academic evaluation communicates your opinion, and its justifications, about a document or a topic of discussion. Evaluations are influenced by your reading of the document, your prior knowledge, and your prior experience with the topic or issue. Because an evaluation incorporates your point of view and reasons for your point of view, it typically requires more critical thinking and a combination of summary, analysis, and synthesis skills.

    Throughout their report, Brown et al. provide valuable statistics that highlight the frequency of alcohol use among high school and college students. They use several reputable sources to support their points. However, the report focuses solely on the frequency of alcohol use and how it varies according to certain socio-demographic factors. Other sources, such as Spoth, Greenberg, and Turissi's study and the survey I conducted among college students, examine the reasons for alcohol use among young people and offer suggestions as to how to reduce the rates. Nonetheless, Brown et al. offer a useful set of statistics from which to base further research about alcohol use among high school and college students.

    Notice how the paragraph incorporates the student’s personal judgment within the evaluation. Evaluating a document requires prior knowledge that is often based on additional research.

    Analysis Paragraphs

    An analysis separates complex materials in their different parts and studies how the parts relate to one another. The analysis of simple table salt, for example, would require a deconstruction of its parts—the elements sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl). Then, scientists would study how the two elements interact to create the compound NaCl, or sodium chloride, which is also called simple table salt.

    Analysis is not limited to the sciences, of course. An analysis paragraph in the humanities fulfills the same purpose. Instead of deconstructing compounds, analysis paragraphs in the humanities typically deconstruct documents. An analysis takes apart a primary source (an essay, a book, an article, etc.) point by point. It communicates the main points of the document by examining individual points and identifying how the points relate to one another.

    Take a look at a student’s analysis of the journal report.

    At the beginning of their report, Brown et al. use specific data regarding the use of alcohol by high school students and college-aged students, which is supported by several studies. Later in the report, they consider how various socioeconomic factors influence problem drinking in adolescence. The latter part of the report is far less specific and does not provide statistics or examples.

    The lack of specific information in the second part of the report raises several important questions. Why are teenagers in rural high schools more likely to drink than teenagers in urban areas? Where do they obtain alcohol? How do parental attitudes influence this trend? A follow-up study could compare several high schools in rural and urban areas to consider these issues and potentially find ways to reduce teenage alcohol consumption.

    Notice how the analysis does not simply repeat information from the original report; rather, it considers how the points within the report relate to one another. By doing this, the student uncovers a discrepancy between the points that are backed up by statistics and those that require additional information. Analyzing a document involves a close examination of each of the individual parts and how they work together.

    Synthesis Paragraphs

    A synthesis combines two or more items to create an entirely new item. Consider the electronic musical instrument aptly named the synthesizer. It looks like a simple keyboard but displays a dashboard of switches, buttons, and levers. With the flip of a few switches, a musician may combine the distinct sounds of a piano, a flute, or a guitar—or any other combination of instruments—to create a new sound. The purpose of the synthesizer is to blend together the notes from individual instruments to form new, unique notes.

    The purpose of an academic synthesis is to blend individual documents into a new document. An academic synthesis paragraph considers the main points from one or more pieces of writing and links the main points together to create a new point, one not replicated in either document. Just like the musician creates new music with the synthesizer, so does the writer create a new idea by bringing together various texts.

    Take a look at a student’s synthesis of several sources about underage drinking.

    In their 2004 report, Brown, et al. consider the rates of alcohol consumption among high school and college-aged students and various socio-demographic factors that affect these rates. However, this report is limited to assessing the rates of underage drinking, rather than considering methods of decreasing these rates. Several other studies, as well as original research among college students, provide insight into how these rates may be reduced.

    One study, by Spoth, Greenberg, and Turissi considers the impact of various types of interventions as a method for reducing alcohol consumption among minors. They conclude that although family-focused interventions for adolescents aged ten to fifteen have shown promise, there is a serious lack of interventions available for college-aged students who do not attend college. These students are among the highest risk level for alcohol abuse, a fact supported by Brown, et al.

    I did my own research and interviewed eight college students, four men and four women. I asked them when they first tried alcohol and what factors encouraged them to drink. All four men had tried alcohol by the age of thirteen. Three of the four women had also tried alcohol by the age of thirteen, and the fourth had tried alcohol by the age of fifteen. All eight students said peer pressure, boredom, and the thrill of trying something illegal were motivating factors. These results support the research of Brown et al. However, they also raise an interesting point. If boredom is a factor for underage drinking, maybe additional after school programs or other community measures could be introduced to dissuade teenagers from underage drinking. Based on my sources, further research is needed to show true preventative measures for teenage alcohol consumption.

    Notice how the synthesis paragraphs consider each source and use information from each to create a new thesis. A good synthesis does not repeat information; the writer uses a variety of sources to create a new idea.


    When reviewing directions for assignments, look for the verbs summarize, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate. Instructors often use these words to clearly indicate the assignment’s purpose. These words will cue you on how to complete the assignment because you will know its exact purpose.

    Exercise 1:

    Read the following paragraphs about four films and then identify the purpose of each paragraph.

    1. This film could easily have been cut down to less than two hours. By the final scene, I noticed that most of my fellow moviegoers were snoozing in their seats and were barely paying attention to what was happening on screen. Although the director sticks diligently to the book, he tries too hard to cram in all the action, which is just too ambitious for such a detail-oriented story. If you want my advice, read the book and give the movie a miss.

    2. During the opening scene, we learn that the character Laura is adopted and that she has spent the past three years desperately trying to track down her real parents. Having exhausted all the usual options—adoption agencies, online searches, family trees, and so on—she is on the verge of giving up when she meets a stranger on a bus. The chance encounter leads to a complicated chain of events that ultimately result in Laura getting her lifelong wish. But is it really what she wants? Throughout the rest of the film, Laura discovers that sometimes the past is best left where it belongs.

    3. To create the feeling of being gripped in a vice, the director, May Lee, uses a variety of elements to gradually increase the tension. The creepy, haunting melody that subtly enhances the earlier scenes becomes ever more insistent, rising to a disturbing crescendo toward the end of the movie. The desperation of the actors, combined with the claustrophobic atmosphere and tight camera angles create a realistic firestorm, from which there is little hope of escape. Walking out of the theater at the end feels like staggering out of a Roman dungeon.
    4. The scene in which Campbell and his fellow prisoners assist the guards in shutting down the riot immediately strikes the viewer as unrealistic. Based on the recent reports on prison riots in both Detroit and California, it seems highly unlikely that a posse of hardened criminals will intentionally help their captors at the risk of inciting future revenge from other inmates. Instead, both news reports and psychological studies indicate that prisoners who do not actively participate in a riot will go back to their cells and avoid conflict altogether. Examples of this lack of attention to detail occur throughout the film, making it almost unbearable to watch.

    Writing at Work

    Thinking about the purpose of writing a report in the workplace can help focus and structure the document. A summary should provide colleagues with a factual overview of your findings without going into too much specific detail. In contrast, an evaluation should include your personal opinion, along with supporting evidence, research, or examples to back it up. Listen for words such as summarize, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate when your boss asks you to complete a report to help determine a purpose for writing.

    Introductions and Conclusions


    Introductions are generally inductive, meaning that they start out very general and become very specific, ending at your thesis statement (the most specific sentence of the paragraph). The trick about how general to begin is to think about your audience. For general academic essays, the audience is other students or educated people who are NOT in your class. Choose a topic for the first sentence that everyone will know about in order to hook them in.

    Once you’ve written your first, very general sentence, become more specific in your next sentence. Begin by mentioning the already given information, then discuss the new information. Then do the same thing in your next sentence, and so forth, until you arrive at your thesis statement (main idea for your essay). If discussing a text is part of the main purpose of your essay, be sure that the titles and authors (at least) of those texts are incorporated into the middle of your introduction with given information first then the new information (the name of the text and the author).

    There are a number of different ways you can focus an introduction, depending on the purpose and topic of your essay overall.

    Types of Introductions

    • Historical
    • Current events
    • State of a controversy
    • Common knowledge versus reality

    Other Ways to Begin an Introduction

    • Start off with a thought-provoking quotation that relates to your topic.
    • Begin with a brief (2-3 sentence) story or anecdote that illustrates what you are writing about.
    • Begin with an interesting fact or statistic.
    • Begin with an analogy.
    Example Introduction

    As American as apple pie, unfortunately, racial violence is not something new to our society. It is a sad fact embedded throughout American history. It all started with the demolition of the Native Indian nations and Black slavery, added onto by Chinese railroad worker harassment, to xenophobia against Latin Americans or Hispanic descendants, and lastly the Islamophobia or Arabophobia trend, which all began since the damaging event of September 11th, 2001. All of these different discriminatory periods of time and atrocities witnessed throughout history have one thing in common: the oppression and underestimation of minorities. Violence can come in many forms, and it can be in places where it is least expected, such as at work. Violence in the workplace ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical harassment and, in the worst cases, homicidal attacks. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers, and anyone who is present in the scene or the surrounding. Typically, everyone’s expectation of work is to get paid in return for a service. However, we are not programmed to be robots, and there are many emotions that can be involved at work. Dealing with work means dealing with people. Even if an individual works from home, there is still going to be a connection with the outside world either with a boss, coworker, client, or a visitor. Somehow, humans are going to be present even if this presence is behind a computer, a phone, or any other telecommuting machine. This connectedness, this interaction, requires us to develop interpersonal skills, and these skills must be rooted in the ability to relate in some way with others from a wide range of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. However, there are still many people who lack the ability to deal with people from cultures other than their own, and they may be prone to violence in the workplace, especially racially motivated violence. Hence, the most common form of workplace violence stems from racism and discrimination. Nowadays, many institutions are paying closer attention to prejudice, antagonism, or any other genre of behavioral harassment and deliberate demeaning actions directed specifically toward a person or groups of people of different ethnicity. Regardless of the form of violence exhibited by the predator, whether physical or emotional, the impact will nevertheless affect the victim. Therefore, while the exact causes of workplace violence are not clear-cut, the engrained feelings of insecurity in racist individuals are one of the main triggers of workplace violence in America.

    For more information about introductions and conclusions, see Chapter 5.4, "Writing Introductory and Concluding Paragraphs."


    Conclusions are almost opposite in structure from introductions. Conclusions are generally deductive, meaning they start off with your main point (a reworded thesis) and then become more general. Many times, in addition to making a final statement about your main ideas, a conclusion will “look to the future” by discussing how the author hopes this topic will be treated in the future, the next step in a solution if the essay discusses a problem, or what additional study needs to be done on the topic (especially in research papers).

    Example Conclusion

    Child abuse is a big problem around the world, and we can’t stop this violence in just one snap of a finger. We need to create solutions and one of the most effective solutions to lessen or reduce child abuse is family planning and counseling, monthly check-ups of the child, educating the child, and spreading knowledge about the services people have available. Family coaching and counseling can help reduce child abuse if the speaker talks to them clearly on how the effect of this interpersonal violence can change their lives, and if the incident already happened, the abuser should go to counseling or therapy. People need to have at least a small knowledge of child abuse, so they can help the child and talk to the abuser why abusing their children is not a solution for discipline.

    Exercise 2: Article Paragraph Structure and Purpose

    For each of two articles assigned for your class, in the left hand column write down what the author is “doing” in the paragraph or section (i.e., describing something, telling the history of something, explaining theories, etc.). In the right hand column, explain the purpose (why) the author is doing that in that paragraph or section. How is helpful to the audience? Break this down by paragraph for each of the articles.

    Article Name: _________________________


    What is the author doing?

    What is the author’s purpose?







    Article Name: _________________________


    What is the author doing?

    What is the author’s purpose?









    Contributors and Attributions

    This page most recently updated on June 5, 2020.

    This page titled 9.1: Paragraph Types and Purposes 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) .