Structure of Prose through Paragraph Writing



While words are the basic building blocks of sentences, paragraphs are complete sentences. They have form, structure, and function as the building blocks of text, whether nonfiction, memoir, autobiography, flash fiction, short fiction, or novel. All three will be explored in this post.

Purpose and Organization of the Paragraph

Paragraphs are visually represented as groups of sentences, with the first line indented. This indentation indicates each new section at the start of the text.

“As a reader, you identify the paragraph at a glance, just by its appearance,” writes Carol Pemberton in her book “Writing Paragraphs” (Allyn and Bacon, 1997, p. 1). “Because of differences in subject matter and intended audience, paragraph lengths can range widely.”

In terms of structure, they allow the writer to zero down on a central thesis statement, expanding upon it with additional information. Each paragraph in an essay, term paper, or nonfiction book chapter develops a central idea or theme, connects it to the next section, and then illustrates the entire piece.

Paragraphs can have both broad and narrow claims, like the ones below.

In a nutshell: movies may be tense.

The fast-paced action in movies like Die Hard and Die Hard 2 can make for a tense viewing experience.

The second illustration is more concrete because it cites two films and describes what makes them tense.

A general phrase can summarize the paragraph’s primary idea, but a more precise remark will help him zero in on an aspect of that idea.

There are two crucial components to a well-structured paragraph.

1). Paragraphs typically begin with a topic sentence summarizing the paragraph’s primary ideas.

2). One or more elaborative statements that back up and clarify the main point.

Look at the following paragraph, where the main idea is highlighted in bold, and the supporting points are italicized.

Since most people travel on weekends, flying mid-week, such as on a Tuesday or Wednesday, will secondly offer the lowest fares. Finally, if you travel during less popular seasons, like the winter, you can take advantage of the lower fares airlines offer during those times.

Paragraphs should include more than just sentence form. Unity is an important one.

Pemberton stresses (ibid., p. 7) that “when applied to paragraph writing,” unity indicates the paragraph is focused on a single main idea. “The writer does not stray from the central idea but stays with it, leading readers to a clear understanding with each succeeding sentence.”

The last example showed how a topic sentence might serve as an introduction to the body of the writing by stating that there were ways to save money on airfare and then having the supporting sentences elaborate on this idea by providing three specific strategies.

Paragraphs must also provide evidence for their claims by expanding on them or providing counterexamples. Example 1 would have been entirely irrelevant if the subsequent conversation about the best hotels in Florida had been included.

Length is a further consideration. Paragraphs range in length based on how much expansion is warranted by the topic sentence or how much evidence is needed to show it.

The final phrase either proves a point, provides a lingering thought, or restates the topic sentence.


Whereas students may be limited in the topics they can cover in paragraphs and the lengthier pieces of which those paragraphs are comprised due to curriculum-following tasks, others, especially freelance authors, have nearly endless options.

However, before putting their thoughts into words, they need to consider a few things.

Potential subjects should be identified primarily based on their interest, expertise, experience, and ability. A person’s ability to investigate and describe a topic in writing rests on his interest, which can lead to research and even firsthand experience.

However, if the writer cannot choose a topic, he or she can always take the assigned one and give it a new spin.

There’s also the question of why. Although completing an assignment for class can be considered a “purpose,” additional, optional goals could include writing to inform, instruct, guide, explain, convince, or entertain.

The third factor is the readership, which must be considered whenever an author writes anything, especially if he plans to publish it. A teacher or professor will peruse an academic paper submitted for a grade. Tourists might benefit from a travelogue highlighting the top attractions in San Antonio, Texas. Those who want to tend to their rose gardens would like to read an article.

Writing can be sparked by anything from an internal epiphany to an external prod or by generating several potential topics for discussion and then narrowing them down.


According to Pemberton (“the topic sentence states the main idea of a paragraph,” ibid., p. 35), “the thesis statement summarizes the entire paragraph.” Since paragraphs are built around subject sentences, and since readers look to them to determine which significant ideas are being discussed, they are, as the saying goes, “the most important sentence in the paragraph.”

The topic sentence serves two goals. First, it lays the groundwork for and hints at the paragraph’s main point. Second, it helps to focus the work by introducing a guiding principle, outlining the bounds within which the writer must stay to ensure that the material presented is pertinent to the task.

Topic sentences introduce ideas that are specific enough to be fully developed in a single paragraph but require further explanation and development in the body of the text.

Think about the following clauses.

When you say something like, “The primary value of writing for a student is that it improves his grades,” the emphasis is placed on the last four words of the sentence, which confine the discussion to what can be covered in that paragraph and set the reader up with an expectation that he will understand how writing helps a student’s grades.

Writers should “think of the topic sentence as a promise to the reader” (Pemberton, ibid., p. 36). “The author guarantees to elaborate on a certain central theme.”


Topic sentences are typically shorter and more general, but phrases that support them should be more precise and might be lengthier when presenting facts. The aim is for the reader to come away with a crystal-clear comprehension.

Readers can draw conclusions based on their experiences and knowledge when general references are made. “A well-paying position,” for example, can imply $25,000 to an unemployed person but seven figures to a wealthy person. Neither can understand the author’s intended significance without more data.

To back up a claim like “13.5 percent of Americans live below the poverty line,” which was taken from the “Probing Poverty” article in the September 15, 2019, issue of News and Views, the writer must include evidence in the form of specifics, facts, examples, and even published quotes.

According to Pemberton (“Details provide support,” ibid., p. 62), “details provide support.” Facts are statements about which independent observers agree… Quotations are the exact words of a writer or speaker. Examples illustrate the main idea. One or more examples might be used in a paragraph, depending on the general idea being supported.


Paragraph coherence is essential as well. Coherence comprises several components into itself. For example, you want your thoughts to have evident and straightforward connections, such that one idea naturally leads to the next. Arguments in support provide further clarification of prior assertions. Repetition is a valuable tool for communicating important ideas. Lastly, transition words like “but,” “however,” “nevertheless,” “therefore,” “for,” and “yet” are used to ensure and improve the text’s flow.

According to Pemberton (same source, page 68), reading incomprehensible writing is like being in a car with a driver who is disoriented and keeps going in circles.

Check the following paragraph for consistency.

“I have just returned from a hectic day. My alarm, as usual, went off at 6:30, and I showered and dressed. It looked like it would drizzle, so I brought my umbrella. There was hardly a drop in the sky, but everyone drove as if it was raining cats and dogs, and I was almost 15 minutes late to work. I found the report from my secretary on my desk. I think she’s having relationship problems because she hasn’t been up to snuff lately. Maybe she didn’t sleep well last night. I had a night like that last week. Even the Tylenol didn’t help. Because of the traffic, I missed Harold’s opening comments in the meeting. He twice told me we’d go fishing some Saturday but never seems to remember when I put him up to it. I wolfed down my lunch and almost fought with a client in the afternoon. I could hardly contain myself. The traffic was crawling because of a downpour when I drove home. Walking into the kitchen, I realized I hadn’t gone food shopping lately, so the cupboards were bare. I plopped on the couch instead, still in my suit and tie, and fell asleep.”

Using transitional words, phrases, and clauses can significantly improve coherence.

Pemberton suggests that “words, phrases, and clauses used as transitions are like bridges that carry readers safely from one point to another” (ibid, p. 72).

Introduction Paragraphs

Expository writing, which includes such activities as explaining, describing, exhibiting (with words), and disclosing, can be found in virtually any genre. For example, “Regina and Dawn argued last night” and “The garden was a tangle of weeds” are both examples of expository writing. In contrast, “Regina and Dawn Had an argument last night” and “The garden was a Tangle of Weeds” are examples of narrative essays.

Paragraphs can benefit from and be written using various expository writing strategies. The first of these made use of analogy.

According to Pemberton (ibid., p. 135), the comparison/contrast writing pattern requires the author to “examine similarities (comparisons) and differences” between two entities. A paragraph’s topic must be small enough to allow consideration of specific similarities and differences; it can be as broad as socialism versus capitalism or as precise as brand X versus brand Y toothpaste.

Think about the two cases in point below.

There have been comparisons made to diners, such as “The small restaurant that opened in town last month is very much like a diner; service is friendly, the food is simple and wholesome, and the prices are modest.”

“Frayer’s wheat bread is similar to Hoffmayer’s: all-natural and baked with stone-ground wheat, but it tends to be coarser and drier,” the author writes in contrast.

Process writing, another type of expository writing, is perfect for how-to guides and instructional manuals because it describes methods logically and sequentially, as in the following example.

The first step in reupholstering a chair is moving it to a work area, such as a basement or a garage. Then, you can remove the staples or tacks holding the fabric to the frame and examine the foam or stuffing underneath. If the chair is five or older, the foam or stuffing may have started to decay, so you’ll want to replace it.

Classification is another method used in expository writing. The author can use it to classify items, ideas, and even individuals and then explain the distinctions between them with specificity. However, a single theme runs across this entire text. Take this as an illustration.

Books from the United States and the United Kingdom, for example, are written in English, but words like “harbor” are spelled differently, with the letter “u,” as in “harbor.” The titles on the spines are read from the top to the bottom when the books are standing upright on a shelf. Books from Germany are written in that language, but the titles on their spines are read from the bottom to the top.

In this case, “published books” are the common denominator, while differences include spelling, language, spine printing, and reading direction.

Definition writing is another type of expository writing.

Pemberton writes (ibid., p. 157) that “normally, definitions are very brief” (just enough to clarify a term or concept that is unknown or being used in an uncommon context). “However, a whole paragraph… may be devoted to an extended definition of a term, at which point the reader may reasonably anticipate that the author will provide additional clarification on the term’s meaning.”

Take a look at this sample definition text.

“The most common definition of ‘alone’ is to be somewhere without the company or presence of at least one other. But there is more to this concept than simply existing without the company or fact of at least one other. If you are uncomfortable with, distrustful of, and unable to connect with others, you are equally alone because you cannot complete that person-to-person or soul-to-soul link.

Literature Cited

Carol Pemberton. Allyn & Bacon, 1997. “Writing Paragraphs.” Needham Heights, MA.

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