Structure within paragraphs

Paragraphs can be metaphorically likened to building blocks that make up sections of a text. To ensure that the structure of the text is solid, paragraphs, too, have to be well structured. A paragraph typically consists of three elements: a topic sentence, supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence:

In the topic sentence (which is often the first sentence), the topic or focus of the paragraph is presented. The topic sentence thereby serves as a focal point, foregrounding the content of the whole paragraph. By signalling to the reader what the paragraph deals with, the topic sentence thus increases the readability of the text. Although it is possible for the topic sentence to appear anywhere in a paragraph, it usually appears at the beginning.
The main part of the paragraph consists of what is often called supporting sentences or development: this is where the argument that explains and/or proves the topic sentence is delivered.
At the end of the paragraph is theconcluding sentence (transition sentence), which sums up the argument of the paragraph, and sometimes creates a transition to the next paragraph. Such a transition provides the text with a smoother flow between paragraphs.
The following video provides more information about paragraph writing.
 
Instructional video from the free online MOOC "Writing in English at University" which was developed at Lund University in 2016.

The following paragraph comes from an article in Animal Behaviour about begging behaviour among young meerkats. 


Example:

  • Begging provides offspring with benefits in the form of 'free food' (reviewed in Wright & Leonard 2002). Such benefits to offspring occur at a cost to the adults that provide the food (Pugesek 1990; Wheelwright et al. 2003). This produces a conflict of interest between the offspring and the adults (Trivers 1974), such that offspring are expected to benefit from extending their begging period and attendant food supply, while adults benefit from stopping providing food to begging offspring. Eventually, all offspring cease demanding ‘free food’ and stop begging. Why do individuals stop begging, and so lose a low-cost source of nutrition? Three mechanistic explanations have been suggested, and these could apply to either vocal or nonvocal begging displays.


Madden, J. R., Kunc, H.-J. P., English, S., & Clutton-Brock, T. H. (2009). Why do meerkat pups stop begging? Animal Behaviour, 78(1), 85–89. doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.03.011


A closer look at the sentences that make up the paragraph reveals its structure:

Topic sentence
The topic of the paragraph is stated in an introductory sentence which catches the essence of the paragraph and directs the reader to the issue under discussion - begging behaviour in young animals:

"Begging provides offspring with benefits in the form of 'free food' (reviewed in Wright & Leonard 2002)."

Supporting sentences
What is stated in the topic sentence is then followed up by three supporting sentences. The first and the third supporting sentences ("Such benefits to offspring occur..." and "Eventually...") provide further information and clarification, whereas the second supporting sentence ("This produces...") offers an example of the statement that has been presented:

"Such benefits to offspring occur at a cost to the adults that provide the food (Pugesek 1990; Wheelwright et al. 2003). This produces a conflict of interest between the offspring and the adults (Trivers 1974), such that offspring are expected to benefit from extending their begging period and attendant food supply, while adults benefit from stopping providing food to begging offspring. Eventually, all offspring cease demanding 'free food' and stop begging."

Concluding sentences
The last two sentences conclude the argument of the paragraph and also creates a transition on to the next paragrpah, where the explanations referred to are explained more in detail:

"Why do individuals stop begging, and so lose a low-cost source of nutrition? Three mechanistic explanations have been suggested, and these could apply to either vocal or nonvocal begging displays."

Exercise

Go here for an exercise on how to revise and strengthen your paragraphs:

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