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The structure of a paragraph parallels the structure of an essay in order as well as content. Both contain a coherent argument, supporting evidence/analysis, and a conclusion. Specifically, the contents of a paragraph are as follows:
The Topic Sentence
... serves two functions: first, it functions as the thesis of your paragraph; second, it pushes the thesis of your essay forward and presents an arguable point. The topic sentence is usually the first or second sentence of a paragraph. Occasionally, you may find it interesting or necessary to place the topic sentence at the end of the paragraph, but don't make a habit of it!
... makes your claim digestible. You need to find a balance between evidence you provide (facts, quotations, summary of events/plot, etc.) and analysis (interpretation of evidence). If your paragraph is evidence-heavy, you haven't presented an argument; if it is analysis-heavy, you haven't adequately supported your claim.
The Concluding Observation
... closes your paragraph with an observation that is more than just summary of the contents of the paragraph. The concluding observation provides a final idea that leads to the next step in your argument. The observation is usually the last or second-to-last sentence in the paragraph.
The following paragraph has been broken down into its constituent parts:
The means by which environmentalists seek to achieve their political (Topic Sentence) goals demonstrate a willingness to operate within traditional political channels. [point arguable: some people may believe environmentalists largely use antidemocratic strategies.] Like many other special interest groups, advocates for the environmentalist movement use lobbying tactics such as contributing financially to the (Supporting Analysis and ...) campaigns of environmentally friendly candidates. Lobbying provides a ( ... Evidence) source of political influence and power. As one analyst of environmental politics notes, in "making some commitment to work within the political system. . .[environmental lobby groups] succumb to. . .pressure to play 'by the rules of the game' in the compromise world of Washington, D.C." (Vig and Kraft 70). [blend of supporting evidence/analysis] Some might argue that environmentalists have taken a distinctly anti-(Concluding) American approach to policy change, claiming that lobbying is inherently (Observation) undemocratic in its bias towards certain segments of the population; however, lobbying remains a constitutionally legitimate form of political activism. [more than just summary, the point is arguable and could easily lead to another point.]
by Linwood Rumney ’04
Thank you to Jennifer Rose ’04 for permission to use the above paragraph.
Strunk, William, and E.B. White. The Elements of Style, fourth edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.
Office / Department Name
Nesbitt-Johnston Writing Center
Writing Center Director