Direction, movement, and bridges

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Constructing Effective Body Paragraphs
A paragraph is a collection of related sentences dealing with a single topic. This handout breaks the paragraph down into its conceptual and structural components. The conceptual components—direction, movement, and bridges—form the logical makeup of an effective paragraph. The structural elements—topic sentence, transitions, evidence, analysis, and conclusion—are identifiable parts of strong body paragraphs.

Conceptual Components

Direction – The entire paragraph should push toward proving a single idea. In other words, its analysis should move in one direction toward proving the claim laid out in the topic sentence. If it begins with one focus or major point for discussion, it should not end with another or wander within different ideas.

Movement – It is useful to envision body paragraphs as links in the chain of reasoning that forms the overall argument of your essay. In order to get to the next link, each paragraph must establish a claim that moves your overall argument one step closer to its ultimate goal (i.e. proving its thesis). Though the topic sentence will announce your paragraph’s direction, the movement of your analysis within the paragraph will consist of pushing this claim from being unproven at the outset of the paragraph to logically compelling at the end.

Bridges – Bridges establish the coherence that makes the movement between your ideas easily understandable to the reader. Logical bridges ensure that the same idea is carried over from sentence to sentence. Verbal bridges use language—repetition of keywords and synonyms, use of transitions, &c.—that makes the logical connections between your ideas clear to your reader.

Structural Components

Topic sentence – The first sentence in a paragraph should clearly announce the thesis of the paragraph (i.e. its direction), the claim that will be supported by the content of the paragraph. Effective topic sentences will often link this local claim back to the overall thesis of the essay.

Transitions – Transitions are verbal bridges that use language to make the logical movement and structure of an essay clear to the reader. The topic sentence will often contain a transition that links the argument of the paragraph to the one made in the previous paragraph. This is most often accomplished by opening the paragraph with a prepositional phrase or by retaining some important language from the previous paragraph. The final sentence of a paragraph may also suggest a logical link to the argument to come. Transitions do not always link adjacent paragraphs. Good writers will refer back to relevant points made several paragraphs earlier. Especially long or complex papers will often contain several sentences (even entire paragraphs) of transitional material summarizing what the essay has sought to establish up to that point.

Evidence – Quotations, examples, data, testimony, &c. should be cited as evidence in support of your paragraph’s central claim. In order to avoid generalization, you should strive to use evidence that is as specific as possible. Evidence should be preceded by an introduction to its source and relevance and followed by analysis of its significance to your overall argument.

Analysis – Evidence alone does not make your argument for you. Evidence requires analysis to make it relevant to an argument. Analyzing effectively requires showing or explaining how the evidence you have cited actually supports the larger claims your essay is making, both on the paragraph level and the thesis level. Because analytical sections are the places where your essay does real argumentative work, they should constitute the bulk of your paragraph (and essay).

Conclusion – Like the conclusion to the essay as a whole, the final sentence of a paragraph is a chance to sum up and solidify for your reader that your paragraph has established the claim it set out to. A concluding sentence will revisit the material from the topic sentence, but with an enhanced perspective.

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