What is Paragraph? - Definition, Features, Types & Parts of Paragraphs

Paragraph and Paragraph Development

Paragraph and Paragraph Development

A paragraph is defined as a group of related sentences hinged on one main idea. Although the type or purpose of writing may influence the manifestation of a paragraph, a paragraph ultimately projects a main idea, explains, expands, or gives evidence in support of the main idea.

Features of a Paragraph

A good paragraph must contain the following features: unity, coherence, and completeness.

1. Unity

It has been stated earlier that a good paragraph contains just one main idea around which the other sentences in the paragraph revolve. Unity in a paragraph is achieved if the paragraph deals with a central idea and all the ideas hang together in a way that is easy to read and understand.

The main idea and the supporting sentences must be knit together as a single whole, such that one can summarize the paragraph in a single sentence. The rule of unity will be flouted if one includes an unrelated idea. Apart from the fact that the inclusion of an unrelated idea will give little or no room for its adequate discussion and explanation, it will also get the reader confused.

2. Coherence

One might get the main idea and the supporting ideas correctly, but they are not arranged in a logical manner; the whole of the paragraph gets muddled up, thereby confusing the reader. Coherence deals with the extent to which ideas flow.

3. Completeness

Completeness refers to the adequate development of an idea. One question that can come to mind at this point is, "How complete is my discussion of the idea raised in the topic sentence?" One needs to exhaustively discuss the central theme. Writers often disobey the rule of completeness by writing one-sentence paragraphs. What happens in most cases is that their central ideas go without supporting details or without being fully developed.

Types of Paragraphs

Here, the types of paragraphs will be discussed from two perspectives: paragraphs that organize the essay and paragraphs that expand the writing.

1. Paragraphs That Organize The Essay

Paragraphs that organize the essay refer to those paragraphs that give the essay its structural quality. The paragraphs that organize the essay are of three types: the introductory paragraph, the transitional paragraph, and the concluding paragraph.

(i) The Introductory Paragraph

The introductory paragraph comes immediately after the title of the essay, and, like an appetizer for a meal, the introductory paragraph should stimulate the reader's desire to read on and give him or her a preview of what is to come.

The construction of an introductory paragraph may vary from essay to essay and genre to genre, but the purpose is the same: to open up the essay and give it direction. In the introductory paragraph, the topic is introduced and its boundaries are set; the thesis (the general claim about the topic or the writer's position) is given. It may also include the essay's main sections, a kind of mini-outline of the composition.

(ii) The Transitional Paragraph

The transitional paragraph, which is positioned between the introductory and concluding paragraphs, is used to develop the ideas that might have been signaled in the introductory paragraph. It is not enough to catch the reader's interest in the transitional paragraphs; the writer must also be able to sustain the reader's interest.

In view of the demands of the transitional paragraphs and because one paragraph contains one main idea, there are usually more than one transitional paragraph in an essay. The use of transitional words is important here. Transitional words are special words used in creating a logical and unified essay. Examples of such words are: first, to begin with, further, in addition, similarly, also, furthermore, likewise, however, on the other hand, etc.

(iii) The Concluding Paragraph

As it is important to have a stimulating introductory paragraph and gripping transitional paragraphs, a strong conclusion is also paramount. It is the last chance to make an impression on the reader. A concluding paragraph is the closing paragraph of an essay where the writer sums up what has been written. Precisely, your conclusion may be used to accomplish the following goals:

  • Restate the main idea or thesis statement of the essay:
  • Summarize the main points developed in the body; and
  • Draw an inference based on the argument developed in the body of the essay.

2. Paragraphs that Expand the Essay

Apart from the paragraphs that relate to the structure of the essay, there are other types of paragraphs categorized according to their contents. They include defining paragraphs, narrative paragraphs, expository/explanatory paragraphs, descriptive paragraphs, and persuasive paragraphs.

(I) The Defining Paragraph

A defining paragraph expands the sentence that initially defines an idea. In other words, a defining paragraph defines a word, a concept, or an entity and expands it with supporting sentences by characterizing or describing it. Thus, the starting point for a defining paragraph is a simple definition, which is then expanded. The definition sentence in a defining paragraph becomes the topic sentence. A topic like "What is malaria?" obviously requires a defining paragraph.

(II) The Narrative Paragraph

A narrative paragraph traditionally tells a story or relays a series of events in a chronological sequence with a definite beginning, middle, and end. There may be elements of description in a narrative essay, as the writer may want to describe a character or what he does.

Transitional words like later, next, and before, which are used to connect events and actions, are common in a narrative paragraph. Again, the use of past tense characterizes a narrative paragraph because it reports what has happened.

(III) The Expository/Explanatory Paragraph

When you give information, explain a concept, a process, or an idea, you are writing an expository paragraph. Linkers such as first, second, and finally help the readers follow the ideas presented. A good expository paragraph, like any other type of paragraph, should be woven around the topic sentence, supporting sentences, and the concluding sentence.

Since the purpose of this type of paragraph is to give clear information about a subject, objectivity is an important part. The writer has to ensure that the paragraph is devoid of personal opinions, thoughts, or feelings.

(IV) The Descriptive Paragraph

A descriptive paragraph gives detailed information about a thing—person, place, and so on. The use of words that appeal to the five senses of sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell has often been described as one of the best ways to write a descriptive paragraph, as it allows the readers to form an image in their minds' eyes.

Another useful tool for creating a good descriptive paragraph is the use of adjectives. Generally, a descriptive paragraph gives a good mental picture of the idea or thing being described.

(V) The Persuasive Paragraph

A persuasive paragraph tries to influence the reader to consider a particular point of view. A persuasive paragraph enables the reader to see the different sides of an issue but calls for the reader to favorably consider one over the other. The persuasive paragraph could be based on anything one has some ideas about. One could, for instance, argue for or against the use of electronic cooking appliances in students' hostels.

A number of tools can be used while writing a persuasive paragraph. Some of the important ones include supporting one's position with facts, figures, and references; engaging the readers in such a way that they are called to (re)evaluate the issues; anticipating or acknowledging opposing arguments and refuting them.

Parts of a Paragraph

It has been indicated earlier that a paragraph is a collection of related sentences that revolve around an idea. The sentences that make up a paragraph serve different purposes and are of different statuses. These sentences are categorized according to the purposes they serve in a paragraph. They are: the topic sentence, the supporting sentences, and the concluding sentence.

(i) The Topic Sentence

The topic sentence is described as the most important element in a paragraph as it houses the main idea in the paragraph. One common myth about the topic sentence is that it has to be the first element in the paragraph. As much as the topic sentence gives the reader exactly what the paragraph centers on, it does not have to come first in the paragraph. The topic sentence can also be located in the middle or at the end of the paragraph.

(ii) The Supporting Sentences

The supporting sentences are more than one, and they follow one another in a logical sequence. The supporting sentences, which make up the body of the paragraph, give details in terms of examples and explanations in order to expand on or support the topic sentence.

(iii) The Concluding Sentence

The concluding sentence closes the paragraph by recapitulating the main ideas in the essay or placing emphasis on the inferences made from the previous paragraphs. It also signals the end of the paragraph. The concluding paragraph may express the same idea as expressed in the topic sentence without necessarily repeating the same words used in the topic sentence. Certainly, such words as in conclusion, clearly, in sum, and in summary may signal the end of a paragraph.

Methods of Paragraph Development

This segment of the discussion on paragraphs deals with the structures that a paragraph can take when a thought is being developed to accommodate all the other information that will make it comprehensible to the reader. In order to achieve this comprehensiveness, facts and statistics may be used; examples, anecdotes, incidents, comparisons, and/or contrasts may also be used.

  • General to Specific: Here, the writer begins with a general statement and narrows it down to specific ideas.
  • Specific to General: This is the opposite of (i) above; the writer begins with a particular idea and then broadens it as he or she progresses.
  • Order of Importance: This can be in either of two ways. The ideas can be arranged from the more important ones to the less important ones, or vice versa.
  • Chronological: This has to do with arranging the issues being discussed based on their time of occurrence.
  • Order of Familiarity: The writer may begin with the subject he or she is most familiar with or less familiar with.

Methods of Developing a Paragraph

There are other different methods of developing a paragraph; the choice of a particular method depends on the questions being answered and the structure of the essay topic. The different methods are discussed below. Students should, however, note that it is possible to merge two or more methods of paragraph development into one paragraph.

  • Compare-Contrast: This form of paragraph development has to do with discussing the similarities and differences of a particular subject(s). It is used mainly to highlight and explain the connection between two items. This is usually done by highlighting the features of each subject and checking for similar and dissimilar areas.
  • Cause-Effect: This mode of paragraph development involves discussing the reasons for and consequences of a particular action or phenomenon. The sequence often takes the format of cause and effect because, naturally, something has to happen before its consequences occur. However, it is not impossible to make the effects come first.

Also, this cause-and-effect method can be organized in two ways. First, the topic sentence may contain the cause, and the supporting sentences may contain the effect. Second, it could be vice versa. No method supersedes the other; however, the first is more popularly used than the second.

  • Description: This kind of paragraph is developed through a representation of the form, appearance, or manifestation of something. The representation is done using words. There is a subject and/or an object being described, usually with a predominant use of adjectives and adverbs. The representation of the subject matter is usually done through the eye of the writer.
  • Classification: Developing a paragraph through a method called classification involves a division of the subject under discussion into different groups or categories. These different groups are then explained.
  • Exemplification and/or Functional Analysis: Here, a subject is discussed, but beyond the discussion, examples as well as their functions are provided. This goes a long way toward aiding readers' comprehension. This method explains how a subject exists as a unit. The main reason for using this kind of paragraph development method is to support one's point using different examples. Another idea is to break down the subject into various units and explain how each of these functions in relation to the existence of the whole.

  • Facts: This mode of paragraph development involves the use of numbers, statistics, and other data or information that help to prove the point being made. This type of paragraph usually contains the subject of discussion as well as the data and information that corroborate the claim being made about the subject. The major aim of using this kind of paragraph development is to provide information about certain claims being made or discussed.
  • Definition: Here, the meanings of terms and ideas are provided. This kind of paragraph development is geared towards providing meanings for terms for better understanding. This type of paragraph may either provide these definitions formally or informally.
  • Comparison and Analogy: This paragraph development involves using a familiar concept to define or discuss something else that appears to be or is less understood. When explaining difficult concepts, use something that the reader is likely to be familiar with and compare it to the concept in question.
  • Problem-Solution: Usually, this kind of paragraph contains the problem in the topic sentence, and the other sentences in the paragraph are used to discuss the solution to the problem highlighted in the topic sentence. Although the reverse can also be the case, the first format is more widely used.
  • Narration: In an organic narrative paragraph, all of these components are usually found in the paragraph: rising action, complication, climax, denouement, and resolution.

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