How do I organize a paragraph?
There are many different ways to organize a paragraph. The organization you choose will depend on the controlling idea of the paragraph. Below are a few possibilities for organization, with brief examples.
- Narration: Tell a story. Go chronologically, from start to finish. (See an example.)
- Description: Provide specific details about what something looks, smells, tastes, sounds, or feels like. Organize spatially, in order of appearance, or by topic. (See an example.)
- Process: Explain how something works, step by step. Perhaps follow a sequence—first, second, third. (See an example.)
- Classification: Separate into groups or explain the various parts of a topic. (See an example.)
- Illustration: Give examples and explain how those examples prove your point. (See the detailed example in the next section of this handout.)
Let’s walk through a 5-step process to building a paragraph. Each step of the process will include an explanation of the step and a bit of “model” text to illustrate how the step works. Our finished model paragraph will be about slave spirituals, the original songs that African Americans created during slavery. The model paragraph uses illustration (giving examples) to prove its point.
Step 1. Decide on a controlling idea and create a topic sentence
Paragraph development begins with the formulation of the controlling idea. This idea directs the paragraph’s development. Often, the controlling idea of a paragraph will appear in the form of a topic sentence. In some cases, you may need more than one sentence to express a paragraph’s controlling idea. Here is the controlling idea for our “model paragraph,” expressed in a topic sentence:
Model controlling idea and topic sentence— Slave spirituals often had hidden double meanings.
Step 2. Explain the controlling idea
Paragraph development continues with an expression of the rationale or the explanation that the writer gives for how the reader should interpret the information presented in the idea statement or topic sentence of the paragraph. The writer explains his/her thinking about the main topic, idea, or focus of the