How to Write a Body Paragraph for a College Essay
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- Body paragraphs play an essential role in crafting a successful college essay.
- The basic body paragraph structure has six parts, including a topic sentence and evidence.
- Key paragraphing tips include moving transitions and avoiding repetition in your essay.
Paragraphing is an essential key to successful academic writing. A writer's organizing decisions control the reader's (i.e., your professor's) attention by raising or decreasing engagement with the subject. Writing an effective paragraph includes determining what goes into each paragraph and how your paragraphs and ideas relate to one another.
The first paragraph in any academic essay is the introduction, and the last is the conclusion, both of which are critical to crafting a compelling essay. But what is a body paragraph? The body paragraphs — all the paragraphs that come between the intro and conclusion — comprise the bulk of the essay and together form the student's primary argument.
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In this article, we look at the function of a body paragraph and provide guidance on how to write a good body paragraph for any college essay.
What Is the Purpose of a Body Paragraph?
Body paragraphs play an indispensable role in proving the essay's thesis, which is presented in the introduction. As a sequence, body paragraphs provide a path from the introduction — which forecasts the structure of the essay's content — to the conclusion, which summarizes the arguments and looks at how final insights may apply in different contexts. Each body paragraph must therefore relate logically to the one immediately before and after it.
If you can eliminate a paragraph without losing crucial information that supports your thesis claim, then that paragraph is a divergence from this path and should be edited so that it fits with the rest of your essay and contains necessary evidence, context, and/or details.
Each body paragraph must relate logically to the one immediately before and after it, and must also focus on a single topic or idea.
Each paragraph must also focus on a single topic or idea. If the topic is complex or has multiple parts, consider whether each would benefit from its own paragraph.
People tend to absorb information in short increments, and readers usually time mental breaks at paragraph ends. This stop is also where they pause to consider content or write notes. As such, you should avoid lengthy paragraphs.
Finally, most academic style conventions frown upon one-sentence paragraphs. Similar to how body paragraphs can be too long and messy, one-sentence paragraphs can feel far too short and underdeveloped. Following the six steps below will allow you to avoid this style trap.
6 Steps for Writing an Effective Body Paragraph
There are six main steps to crafting a compelling body paragraph. Some steps are essential in every paragraph and must appear in a fixed location, e.g., as the first sentence. Writers have more flexibility with other steps, which can be delayed or reordered (more on this later).
Step 1: Write a Topic Sentence
Consider the first sentence in a body paragraph a mini-thesis statement for that paragraph. The topic sentence should establish the main point of the paragraph and bear some relationship to the essay's overarching thesis statement.
In theory, by reading only the topic sentence of every paragraph, a reader should be able to understand a summary outline of the ideas that prove your paper's thesis. If the topic sentence is too complex, it'll confuse the reader and set you up to write paragraphs that are too long-winded.
Step 2: Unpack the Topic Sentence
Now, it's time to develop the claims in your paragraph's topic sentence by explaining or expanding all the individual parts. In other words, you'll parse out the discussion points your paragraph will address to support its topic sentence.
You may use as many sentences as necessary to achieve this step, but if there are too many components, consider writing a paragraph for each of them, or for a few that fit particularly well together. In this case, you'll likely need to revise your topic sentence. The key here is only one major idea per paragraph.
Step 3: Give Evidence
The next step is to prove your topic sentence's claim by supplying arguments, facts, data, and quotations from reputable sources. The goal is to offer original ideas while referencing primary sources and research, such as books, journal articles, studies, and personal experiences.
Step 4: Analyze the Evidence
Never leave your body paragraph's evidence hanging. As the writer, it's your job to do the linking work, that is, to connect your evidence to the main ideas the paragraph seeks to prove. You can do this by explaining, expanding, interpreting, or commentating on your evidence. You can even debunk the evidence you've presented if you want to give a counterargument.
Step 5: Prove Your Objective
This next step consists of two parts. First, tie up your body paragraph by restating the topic sentence. Be sure to use different language so that your writing is not repetitive. Whereas the first step states what your paragraph will prove, this step states what your paragraph has proven.
Second, every three or four paragraphs, or where it seems most fitting, tie your proven claim back to the paper's thesis statement on page 1. Doing so makes a concrete link between your discussion and the essay's main claim.
Step 6: Provide a Transition
A transition is like a bridge with two ramps: The first ramp takes the reader out of a topic or paragraph, whereas the second deposits them into a new, albeit related, topic. The transition must be smooth, and the connection between the two ideas should be strong and clear.
Purdue University lists some of the most commonly used transition words for body paragraphs.
Body Paragraph Example
Here is an example of a well-structured body paragraph, and the beginning of another body paragraph, from an essay on William Shakespeare's play "Twelfth Night." See whether you can identify the topic sentence and its development, the evidence, the writer's analysis and proof of the objective, and the transition to the next paragraph.
As well as harmony between parent and child, music represents the lasting bond between romantic couples. Shakespeare illustrates this tunefulness in the relationship between Viola and Orsino. Viola's name evokes a musical instrument that fits between violin and cello when it comes to the depth of tone. Orsino always wants to hear sad songs until he meets Viola, whose wit forces him to be less gloomy. The viola's supporting role in an orchestra, and Orsino's need for Viola to break out of his depression, foreshadow the benefits of the forthcoming marriage between the two. The viola is necessary in both lamenting and celebratory music. Shakespeare uses the language of orchestral string music to illustrate how the bonds of good marriages often depend on mediating between things.
The play also references cacophonous music. The unharmonious songs that Sir Toby and Andrew sing illustrate how indulging bad habits is bad for society as a whole. These characters are always drunk, do no work, play mean tricks, and are either broke or squander their money. …
Strategies for Crafting a Compelling Body Paragraph
Break Down Complex Topic Sentences
A topic sentence with too many parts will force you to write a lot of support. But as you already know, readers typically find long paragraphs more difficult to absorb. The solution is to break down complicated topic sentences into two or more smaller ideas, and then devote a separate paragraph for each.
Move the Transition to the Following Paragraph
Though a body paragraph should always begin with a topic sentence and end with proof of your objective — sometimes with a direct connection to the essay's thesis — you don't need to include the transition in that paragraph; instead, you may insert it right before the topic sentence of the next paragraph.
For example, if a body paragraph is already incredibly long, you might want to avoid adding a transition at the end.
Your body paragraphs should be no longer than half to three-quarters of a double-spaced page with 1-inch margins in Times New Roman 12-point font. A little longer is sometimes acceptable, but you should generally avoid writing paragraphs that fill or exceed one page.
Shift Around Some of the Paragraph Steps Above
The steps above are a general guide, but you may change the order of them (to an extent). For instance, if your topic sentence is fairly complicated, you might need to unpack it into several parts, with each needing its own evidence and analysis.
You could also swap steps 3 and 4 by starting with your analysis and then providing evidence. Even better, consider alternating between giving evidence and providing analysis.
The idea here is that using more than one design for your paragraphs usually makes the essay more engaging. Remember that monotony can make a reader quickly lose interest, so feel free to change it up.
Don't Repeat the Same Information Between Paragraphs
If similar evidence or analysis works well for other paragraphs too, you need to help the reader make these connections. You can do this by incorporating signal phrases like "As the following paragraph also indicates" and "As already stated."