Confusion to conclusion: Improving body paragraphs

Sometime into the first or second body paragraph of your essay, things start to get a little murky. What am I doing, again? Where is this going? Having body paragraphs that are individually sound and yet mesh well with the others can create a sensible entity to support your thesis and help you make it to the finish line: the concluding paragraph.

Here are a few strategies that can be used for both the process of writing body paragraphs of an essay and checking over them later.

Strategies for writing and checking over body paragraphs

1. Reread your thesis statement and develop a topic sentence for your paragraph based on that statement.

Your thesis statement, if well written, is a guiding light for your entire essay. Each body paragraph will simply explore one of the points that you have already mentioned in your thesis statement. So if you get stuck, look back at your thesis and rewrite it with an emphasis on just one of the points, explaining the how/why behind it.

Example:

  • Thesis statement = The problems with going to an actual movie theater to watch a movie include the trip to the theater, the atmosphere of the theater, and the behavior of other moviegoers.
  • Topic sentence for the first body paragraph = One problem with going to an actual movie theater to watch a newly released film is the actual process of getting there in spite of traffic and lines. – Adapted from MyBookezzz.com

As you can see, the topic sentence here is basically a parallel sentence to the thesis statement, only it is more focused, includes details, and explains how/why. It’s very basic, but you can always go back and make changes later. In the meantime, this sentence will give you direction and purpose for the paragraph you are currently working on.

2. Balance your facts/objective details and opinions/interpretations.

When writing a paragraph, many students inadvertently end up merely summarizing the topic. This is probably most obvious in “literary analyses” that consist of nothing more than the plot overview.

A good way to avoid this is to label your facts/details (F) and opinions/interpretations (O) to make sure there is a fair amount of each, because too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

This can be tricky if you’re expecting each sentence to be one or the other, because even single sentences can contain a mixture of the two.

Example:

The setting of “The Masque,” which Poe effectively and thoroughly illustrates (O), helps to create a desired atmosphere by developing the mood of the story (O). Poe describes the masque as “a gay and magnificent revel” (F) in which “the prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure” (F). This creates a joyous and blissful mood (O), and shows that the masque, for the most part, was a rather jubilant occasion (O). However, Poe also illustrates how a gigantic ebony clock, located in the westernmost apartment of the abbey (F), causes “the giddiest to grow pale” (F) with the sound of a loud, deep, and rather peculiar note when the clock strikes each hour (F). The “uneasy cessation of all things” resulting from the sound of the clock creates an unpleasant and apprehensive mood (O), directly opposite from the joyful mood described earlier (O). These descriptive settings of the clock and the rest of the masque are what assists in creating a desired atmosphere throughout the story (O). – Excerpt from StudyMode.com

Remember: labeling facts and opinions/interpretations is not always straightforward. The goal is not to perfectly differentiate between the two, but to estimate whether or not you have struck a reasonable balance.

In this example, the writer aptly moves back and forth between providing facts, specific details, and quotes from the text and giving his or her own interpretation and analysis of this information.

Confusion by Adi Ron via Wikimedia Commons

Confusion by Adi Ron via Wikimedia Commons

3. Include support from outside sources.

A paragraph should not, in general, consist of all of your own thoughts or opinions, as we saw in the previous strategy. One way to solidify your opinions is to provide support, to incorporate what others have said and written. In a sense, this also takes off some of the pressure. An essay is by no means 100% of your babble.

Example:

Reader response criticism raises the question of where literary meaning resides- in the literary text, in the reader, or in the interactive space between text and reader. In other words, the text itself has no meaning until it is read and interpreted by the reader. This analysis can take into account the strategies employed by the author to elicit a certain response from readers. It denies the possibility that works are universal (i.e. that they will always mean more or less the same thing to readers everywhere). Norman Holland argues, “Each reader will impose his or her ‘identity theme on the text, to a large extent recreating that text in the reader’s image.” Therefore, we can understand someone’s reading as a function of personal identity. – Excerpt from StudyMode.com

Here, the quote from Holland serves to support and authenticate the writer’s own explanation of reader response criticism.

4. Use transition words to smoothly move from one idea to the next.

Too many student writers mistakenly assume that their readers understand the connection between each idea that the writer is presenting. Instead, you, the writer, should assume that we, the readers, don’t understand any of the connections unless you spell it out for us.

Using transition words such as “therefore,” “for example,” “however,” and “on the other hand” can help readers understand how the previous idea connects to the next idea that you will share.  Transition words help your paragraph become a whole, and can even relate it to other paragraphs in the essay.

Example:

Harper Lee expresses the merciless global racism through her book. Not only are the colored people criticized from the whites but also the Radleys are part of the white society that is discriminated against. The Radleys live differently from the rest of the Maycomb people. However, just because the family lives in a different style, the people believe that they are different human beings. In fact, Jem describes Boo Radley as “about six-and-a- half feet tall, judging form his tracks” and adds that he dines “on raw squirrels and any cats he [can] catch: that is why his hands [are] bloodstained.” This is rather a description suitable for monsters than a human being. Just because the Radleys live differently, people create weird concepts about them. – Excerpt from 123Helpme.com

If you have already written your paragraph and feel that it just doesn’t flow, look back through it to see if you can use transition words to underscore the relationship of ideas. This thorough list of transition words categorizes them by their function (to show similarity, contrast, causation, etc.), so you’re sure to find an option that will help you transition from one idea to the next in your essay.

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