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Paragraphs and Topic Sentences

Paragraphs and Topic Sentences

Author: Mackenzie W

Recognize appropriate topic sentences and supporting sentences in paragraphs.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hi, everyone. I'm Mackenzie, and today we're learning about paragraphs and topic sentences. Have you ever wondered why some paragraphs are short while others are very long? In this tutorial, we'll learn about the definition of paragraphs. We'll discuss topic sentences. We'll also discuss supporting sentences, and we'll take a look at examples of effective paragraphs.

We'll begin by discussing the definition of a paragraph. When I say "paragraph," I'm talking about a group or a collection of sentences within a piece of writing. A paragraph is several sentences long, and all of the sentences relate back to one main idea. The paragraph will have just one main focus that always relates back to the thesis.

Here is an example of what paragraphs will look like. Here I have one full paragraph and the beginning part of another paragraph. The dots at the end of the last paragraph are ellipses. And they indicate that there's more to the paragraph that we're not seeing.

In each of these paragraphs, we see that there are several sentences. And they all relate to one main idea for each paragraph. That main idea then relates to the overall thesis or main statement or argument of the writing itself.

There is often confusion about paragraphs. Beginning writers question how many sentences need to be in a paragraph. How short or how long can a paragraph be? It all depends on the specific piece of writing, but here are some guidelines.

When we have a paragraph, we have to keep in mind that we are supporting one and only one main topic, idea, or focus. That indicates how many sentences we need. We need to decide if we have thoroughly explained that point or topic.

If a paragraph is too long, it probably has more than one idea or topic being discussed. But if a paragraph is too short, it may not have discussed the main point or topic well enough. We have to go back to our thesis and decide if we are supporting our thesis with the main point we're making in the paragraph.

We also have to keep in mind that in order to support the main point we're making in that paragraph, we have to have evidence, claims, information. We have to have something to say, something substantial. That's how we know if we have an effective paragraph.

The same thing can be true about essays themselves. Writers often wonder if an essay is too short or too long. And to answer that, we go back to the thesis.

We ask ourselves if the thesis is being supported by what we have written. There is no set number of paragraphs for an essay. Instead, what we're trying to do is support the thesis with however many paragraphs we need.

Oftentimes, writers think about a five-paragraph essay. And that's the wrong approach because sometimes a thesis will require more than five paragraphs to get your point across. It all comes back to whether or not you think you have fully supported your thesis with each main idea and each paragraph and if the overall essay is supporting the thesis in its entirety.

Effective paragraphs will all include strong topic sentences. The topic sentence is one sentence that clearly states what the main point or focus is of that particular paragraph. And the ideas in the topic sentence will relate back to the overall thesis of the piece of writing. The topic sentence is usually the first sentence in the paragraph, but it certainly doesn't have to be. It really depends on the nature of the writing itself.

Think of the topic sentence as a miniature thesis for that particular paragraph. The paragraph is like a miniature essay. The topic sentence tells us what the paragraph is going to be about. And then in the paragraph, we use supporting sentences to explain the topic of the topic sentence.

When we have a topic sentence, it's useful for the reader and the writer. It helps the reader to better understand the information by clearly presenting what the main idea is that the reader should take away from the writing, and it helps the writer when the writer is revising and editing. The writer can ask him or herself, have I reflected what is being discussed in my paragraph from the topic sentence? We can go back to the topic sentence and decide whether or not we have clearly supported our ideas and whether or not they support our thesis.

Because the topic sentence of a paragraph is like the thesis of the paragraph, it's the main idea or point we're trying to prove in that paragraph, that means that we also have to have supporting sentences, which are all of the other sentences in the paragraph. The job of supporting sentences is to relate to the topic sentence, to explain what the topic sentence means. We incorporate different pieces of evidence, information facts, data, logic, reasoning to help the reader to understand the main point we're making by the topic sentence-- the miniature thesis of the essay.

Supporting sentences are important because they help us to better understand and clarify the information. When we have unrelated pieces of information in a paragraph, it makes the paragraph confusing. So even if you have really interesting things to say but they don't relate to the topic sentence, they don't support the topic, we shouldn't include them in that paragraph because we don't want to confuse the reader.

We are now going to look at some examples to help us to learn how to write effective paragraphs. Our first example is a poorly written paragraph. While we are reading this paragraph, we need to keep the thesis of the overall piece of writing in mind because that helps us determine the quality of the paragraph. The thesis of this essay is, "because they have proven to be more dangerous than other demographics of drivers, senior citizens should be required to take driving tests to keep their driver's licenses."

Here is a poorly written example of a paragraph from this essay. "That's why senior drivers should have to take driving tests. A lot of people think they are bad drivers. There's actually proof that they are bad drivers. And some states already have laws that say that senior drivers should have to take special driving tests, which proves that it's a good idea."

Even though the information in this paragraph does relate to the thesis, the paragraph itself is problematic. Let's begin with the topic sentence. It seems as though the topic sentence is the first sentence of the paragraph.

The reason why this is a problem is because the sentence begins with the word "that's." It's not being specific enough. We don't know what that actually is, and therefore, it's not actually introducing a topic to us like a topic sentence should.

Next, our supporting sentences are not actually supporting the same thing. The first supporting sentence says that "people think they are bad drivers." There is one idea.

The next supporting sentence says, "there's proof that they are bad drivers." That's a different idea. And the third supporting sentence says, "some states already have laws." That's yet a separate idea.

We have too many ideas going on, and we're not explaining those ideas in enough depth. Instead of being a paragraph, this is more like a list of ideas. Now that we know what a poorly written paragraph is, let's take a look at two effective paragraphs using the same thesis as our previous example.

In this example, we not only see a solid topic sentence and supporting sentences that relate to the topic sentence, but we also see that the thesis of the overall piece of writing is being supported by the ideas within this paragraph. The topic sentence reads, "across the United States, jokes and stereotypes are made about senior drivers, alluding to the idea that Americans perceive senior citizens to be poor drivers." The main focus of this paragraph is that Americans perceive seniors to be poor drivers.

Now I know that the rest of the supporting sentences in the paragraph are going to support and relate to that idea. For example, here is a statistic being stated-- "73% of respondents agree that the driving skills and behaviors of senior drivers can be concerning." That relates to the topic sentence.

The last sentence of the paragraph also supports the idea is stated in the topic sentence. "Many Americans view the driving of older drivers as a potential safety risk, demonstrating the need for legal policy." This sentence is also relating back to the main thesis of the piece of writing.

Here is another paragraph example from the same essay using the same overall thesis. Again, we see that the topic sentence is at the beginning of the paragraph. The topic sentence is making a point, and it's telling the reader what the main focus of this paragraph is. We see that the supporting sentences include information that support this idea. Looking at examples of effective paragraphs helps us to not only recognize effective paragraphs, but to write our own effective paragraphs.

In this tutorial, we learned about the definition of paragraphs. We discussed topic sentences and supporting sentences, and we looked at examples of effective paragraphs. Every paragraph has a point. I'm Mackenzie. Thanks for listening.

Terms to Know

A collection of sentences within a piece of writing, connected by a single focusing idea.

Topic Sentence

A sentence expressing the thesis of a paragraph.