Paragraph Essay Writing: a foundation to Academic Writing

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Paragraph Essay Writing: A Foundation to Academic Writing
This unit shows how to compose a logically organized, well-developed, structurally eloquent paragraph essay. A paragraph essay states clearly an idea and moves the reader through a series of points that illustrate and explain the idea stated in a topic sentence. It is usually eight sentences. We will outline the paragraph essay first before writing it. Here is the generic outline:
Title (This is centered.)

  1. Topic sentence (This is a complete sentence. Note: Do not include the word “because.” )

  1. Supporting point (This is a phrase.)

  2. Supporting point (This is a phrase.)

  3. Supporting point (This is a phrase.)

  1. Clincher (This is a concluding remark that restates or comments directly on the topic sentence.)

Before continuing, we will consider a few preliminary pieces of information. There are three types of academic writing. In the table, you will see what each addresses and how this is achieved.

Types of Academic Writing

What and how is this type of writing achieved?

Expository writing

This type explains a process or function.

Persuasive writing.

This type uses convincing points based upon emotional and ethical appeals.

Argumentative writing.

This type relies upon logical, inductive or deductive reasoning.

For our purpose, we will focus first on persuasive writing. To adequately use this type of writing, students must distinguish between fact and opinion. What is the difference? This is a central question since the topic sentence in persuasive writing needs to be an opinion. Look at the chart that follows to notice the distinction.


Answer: A fact is usually observable and can be agreed or verified by many people. An opinion is usually a belief that can be contested as not everyone agrees with the belief.

Fact versus Opinion Quiz (2 points each)
Directions: Write the word “TRUE” or “FALSE” next to the appropriate item.
1.__________A fact is something that is debatable.

2.__________An opinion requires verification from two or more observers.

3.__________The topic sentence is usually an opinion.

4.__________The supporting points in a paragraph essay are observable facts.

5.__________The concluding remark (clincher) is a restatement of opinion.

Point (Main topic)

Supporting points (examples)

Explanations (Expansions)

Before starting to write a well-structured paragraph essay, we need to outline following this generic format:

State the prompt (The question that will be answered in the paragraph)

(skip two lines)

Write the title and center it.

(skip two more lines)

Indent five spaces and then write the outline.

(Note: Have the topic sentence and the clincher as complete sentences. Have the supporting points as phrases.)

How are Mr. Albert’s teeth?

Mr. Albert’s Horrible Teeth
I. As most will agree, Mr. Albert has horrible teeth.

  1. plaque build up

  2. missing teeth

  3. chipped teeth

II.Even now if this unfortunate person would take care of his teeth, they would still be beyond help.

Directions: Choose ____ of the following prompts and write a separate paragraph outline for each.

Paragraph Essay Prompts (Generic)

  1. How is the spaghetti?

  2. Pick a T.V. sitcom and give reasons for its merit or demerit.

  3. Explain your reasons for going to the mall (choose a store).

  4. How was Driver’s Education?

  5. Did you pass (pick a class)? How?

  6. Why is your bedroom the worst or best in the neighborhood?

  7. What is there to do in Tucson during the summer?

  8. How did you get your job?

  9. Why are you taking this class?

  10. Prove that you did a good job.

  11. What are your talents? (Limit to one activity)

  12. What are your plans for the future? (If college, focus on preparation)

  13. Why should I not take that class?

  14. Why is my help in ___________ valuable?

  15. What is wrong with Martha’s teeth?

  16. How is the monsoon season in Tucson problematic?

  17. What’s wrong with the T.V.?

  18. What makes Stanley looks so good today?

  19. What are your plans for the party tonight?

  20. How is your future in dance shaping up?

  21. What are some of your pet peeves when in a crowd?

  22. What happened to your room?

  23. Do you like (pick a literary piece we have read)?

  24. What is still left to do to prepare for the wedding?

Once we have the outlines, then we can start writing the separate paragraph essays. Students need to be aware that each sentence in the paragraph essay serves a particular purpose. To recognize this purpose, we will use a coding system. When writing the paragraph essay, use the following code to understand the function of each sentence in your writing.

Label Coding for Paragraph Essay Writing and Application

Level 1 (L1) Topic Sentence/ Concluding Remark

Level 2 (L2) Supporting Point

Level 3 (L3) Expansion Sentence


A1- First supporting point

B1- Second supporting point

C1 –Third supporting point


A2 – Expansion sentence for first supporting point

B2 – Expansion sentence for second supporting point

C2 – Expansion sentence for third supporting point

Here is an example of how to apply the label coding. Notice that label coding is included at the end of each sentence within the period.

Mr. Albert’s Horrible Teeth

As most will agree, Mr. Albert has horrible teeth (L1). First of all, his teeth have plaque build up in varying degrees (A1-L2). Apparently throughout his adult life, he ate Italian food excessively without brushing or flossing, which contributed to the problem (A2-L3). Next some of his teeth are missing which include molars and canines (B1-L2). Because Mr. Albert played hockey in his spare time, he lost many teeth in hockey fights (B2-L3). Not only are his teeth missing, but also his remaining teeth are chipped (C1-L2). As a child, Mr. Albert was walking to church when he tripped on the sidewalk and landed on the concrete (C2-L3). Even now if this unfortunate person were to take care of his teeth, they would still be beyond help (L1).

Notice that there are different types of transitions. Also refer to your transitional word chart for a variety of choices depending on your purpose.

1. Baby transitions—Single words such as first, second, also, …
2. Just jump in transition—Words used to state the next point of the topic. For example, running events are favorite American activities… Jumping events comprise the next category of activities…
3. Half/half transitions—Not only…but also sentence pattern The pattern indicates the previous point and leads the reader into the next point. These are called correlative conjunctions. Others include: “either/or” and “neither/nor”.
Note: Half/half transitions can be placed at different positions within the paragraph essay. But limit yourself to only one time per paragraph. Also never place a half/half transition at the A1-L2 position. Why?
Half/half transition at the B1-L2 position:
Not only are Mr. Albert’s teeth full of plaque, but his teeth are also incomplete (Bl-L2).
Half/half transition at the C1-L2 position:
Not only does Mr. Albert have missing teeth, but he also has chipped ones (C1-L2).

Guided practice for using half/half transition

Requirements for paragraph essay writing.
1. Write half/half transitions in three of your separate paragraph essays. Practice placing them at different positions. Note: Only use one per paragraph essay.

2. Also include subordinating conjunctions in your expansion sentences, and underline them.

Guided practice: Read the following outline and write half/half transitions at the B1-L2 position and the C1-L2 position.

Prompt: How is the lasagna?

Wonderful Lasagna

I. Lasagna is the most delicious Italian dish ever.
A. saucy vegetables
B. fresh fermata cheese
C. thick-sheeted noodles
II. If lasagna was on the restaurant menu, I would choose it every time.

Directions: Complete the following half/half transitions at various positions within the lasagna paragraph essay.

Not only does lasagna have________________________, but also it has fresh fermata cheese (B1-L2).

Not only does the lasagna have___________, but also it has _______________. (C1-L2).

Directions: Write a paragraph essay using the lasagna outline. Include one of the half/half transitions from above.

Directions: Label code the following paragraph essay using the symbols on page 4 of the paragraph essay packet.
The Horrible Friend
Harriet is the worst friend that anyone could have in the entire world ( ). First of all, she calls people profane names ( ). For instance, while waiting at the bus stop, she cursed a poor old man for no reason ( ). Although she had failed a test at school that day, the behavior was totally inappropriate ( ). Next, she does not keep herself physically clean ( ). That is, she does not shower routinely and has bad breadth ( ). Granted, she is not a wealthy person, she does have money to buy soap and mouthwash. Finally, she is physically violent ( ). In this case, students were peacefully standing in the lunch line, and she hit the girl behind her for no apparent reason ( ). Because she has a mean character from years of spoiled living, she is a selfish, mean-spirited person ( ). For these reasons and others, Harriet is the epitome of a terrible friend ( ).

Example for Improving Paragraph Essay Writing

To produce a well-developed piece of writing will take time and effort. Often students have not taken the time or put forth the effort to write regularly in this fashion. Here are some examples of good and poor writing


Example of a Poorly-Developed Paragraph Essay

Writing Prompt: If you had to name the time when you experienced the happiest moment in life, when would it have been?
When I was really happy it occurred at Disneyland and we were crossing the street in Annaheim and we saw the gates of the park. My mom said, “Oh look,” and we—me and my mom—moved into the park. I can’t think of any other time that was more happier than this, but if I did I think it would not compare to this. I think that anyone going to Disneyland for the first time would enjoy the unique experience.
Critique: In this paragraph essay there is lack of organization and no clearly defined supporting points. It is a collection of experiences that are valid, but the focus of the essay is similar to an eyewitness account sprinkled with opinions. In addition, the essay lacks proper transitions, but most words are spelled correctly. Other problems involve usage such as “me and my mom” for “my mother and I” and “more happier” for “happier. Also the first sentence tends to ramble.

Example of a Better-Developed Paragraph Essay Title_________________________

The time I came closest to sheer bliss was during our winter trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, California last year. Upon arriving on that sunny, pleasant morning, my mother, young brother and I were crossing an crowded intersection where we boarded the people tram to the front gate. In eager anticipation, I felt utterly content for this was my first trip to the enchanted amusement park. Its freshly-painted metal girders and the electronic-marquee affixed to the gateway projected cartoon images. While the high-tech presentation occurred, soothing music reminiscent of early animated films poured into my ears. Moreover, the friendly staff dressed in Disney characters disarmed me during this initial scene. As they greeted me, Snow White smiled intently as Goofy tried to dance with my younger brother. Soon after, we headed for Space Mountain, the cosmic ride that appealed to me most of all. Strapped into the rocket seat, I whirled and twirled among the changing interstellar scenes, which were indescribably exhilarating. In brief, the whole experience transported me to another world that will likely never be forgotten.
Disneyland Paragraph Essay
Critique: In this paragraph essay there is more organization and clearly defined supporting points. It also has expansion sentences that build upon detail for each point. With at least three illustrations, each supports the topic sentence that expresses the quality of the vacation experience. No grammatical errors are present, and the clincher sentence reaffirms the topic sentence.

Directions for Extra Practice: Outline the previous paragraph essay. Make sure to include a topic sentence, three supporting point, and a clincher.




Paragraph Essay of Literary Analysis --- Characterization

Characterization refers to the techniques a writer uses to develop characters. There are four basic methods of characterization:

  1. A writer may use physical description.

  2. The character’s own words, thoughts, and feelings might be presented.

  3. The actions, words, thoughts, and feelings of other characters provide another means of developing a character.

  4. the narrator’s own direct comments also serve to develop a character.

As a source of literary criticism, the writer can classify characters as either static (flat) or dynamic (round). Static characters tend to stay in a fixed position over the course of the story. They do not experience life-altering moments and seem to act the same, even though their situations may change. In contrast, dynamic characters evolve as individuals, learning from their experiences and growing emotionally.

Example Essay:

Ahab’s Frozen Nature

Captain Ahab, the main character in Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick, can be considered a flat character, that is, someone who is unchanging and static (L1). First of all, Ahab remains unseen particularly in the early chapters (A1-L2). He stays in his cabin and emerges only after the crew has retired for the night (A2-L3). Next, Ahab’s main goal for living is to kill Moby Dick, the whale that maimed the captain (B1-L2). On the ship, Ahab assembles all the men to entice them with a Spanish Guinea that he tacks onto the ship’s mast (B2-L3). Last of all, he is psychologically and socially inaccessible; no one is close to him—not even Starbuck, the chief mate who dines with him every evening (C1-L2). As Ahab, Starbuck, Stubb and Flask, who are all high-ranking mates, are seated in the ship’s cabin, the officers say very little other than acknowledging the passing of food and drink. Apparently Ahab’s obsession to kill the white whale follows him even at the dinner table (C2-L3). Thus because of Ahab’s preoccupation, he appears to have “frozen nature” that qualifies him as a flat character (L1).

Directions for Extra Practice: Outline the previous paragraph essay. Make sure to include a topic sentence, three supporting point, and a clincher.




Paragraph Essay of Literary Analysis – Imagery
Here is an example of a paragraph essay based upon an analysis of Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”:
Poe’s Skilled Imagery
In Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Masque of the Red Death,” the author uses visual imagery to depict death (L1). First, the lethal “Grim Reaper” character, who arrives at the castle is described as being “tall and gaunt” as well as “shrouded in the habiliments of the grave” (A1-L2). This provides a ghostly image that heightens suspense (A2-L3). Next Poe includes many phrases such as “stiff-frozen” and “pale and corpselike” complexion (B1-L2). These refer to the contagion’s effect on the castle dwellers (B2-L3). Not only does Poe use phrases dealing with sickly appearance, but he also emphasizes the imagery of blood (C1-L2). The “scarlet stains” or “besprinkled, blood-bedewed” surroundings create an almost violent mortal effect (C2-L3). With this visual imagery, Poe attempts to capture the imagination of the reader to stress loss of life in a chilling portrayal of life’s great mysteries (L1).
IMPORTANT: Notice the italicized items. These are either one-word transitions or, as in the case of the half/half transition (Not only…but also), phrases that guide the reader along to the next idea. These elements are essential for effective writing development. The underlined words are subordinating conjunctions that help to create complex sentences.
Here is the outline for this paragraph essay:

  1. Poe uses visual imagery to depict death in “Masque of the Red Death.”

    1. deadly appearance of “Grim Reaper” character

    2. sickly human descriptions

    3. emphasis on bloody images

  2. Poe attempts to capture the reader’s imagination using visual imagery.

Now it’s your turn. Choose from the following list and write a paragraph essay along with the outline and the label coding:

      1. Choose a character in one of the short stories you have read. Take a position and decide if the author portrays the character as flat or round. (Flat character does not change through the story, and a round character does change, that is, physically, socially, psychologically etc.)

      2. Choose a symbol in a short story you have read that stresses a particular theme. Make sure to include at least three supporting points.

3. Choose a theme in a short story you have read and support the explanation of theme using evidence from the text in the form of characterization, symbols, imagery and/or motif.
For this assignment, choose a character in a piece of literature you have read and determine whether the character is flat (static) or round (dynamic) in a paragraph essay. Make sure your paragraph essay has the following elements:

  1. Outline

  2. Meaningful title

  3. Clearly stated topic sentence at the beginning of the essay

  4. Three supporting points plus expansion sentences

  5. Transitions at the beginning of each supporting point

  6. Subordinating conjunctions in expansion sentences

  7. Label coding

  8. Half/half transitions at the B1-L2 or Cl-L2 position (Not only…but also)

  9. Clincher (Concluding remark that restates the topic sentence)

Paragraph Essays of Literary Analysis

Guide Sheet
There are several ways to compose a literary analysis. Here is a list based upon various literary ideas:

  1. CHARACTER ANALYSIS is an analysis of a fictional character in one of the author’s works. It includes a reference to the work in your article. Be sure to include terms such as: characterization, round versus flat, author’s intent.

  2. THEMATIC ANALYSIS: A literary work can have more than one idea that the author intends to communicate to the reader. Theme is usually not stated directly and must be inferred by the reader. For example, a possible theme in Melville’s Moby Dick is this: Humans who are consumed with vengeance eventually destroy themselves.

  3. SYMBOLIC ANALYSIS: Symbols are representations to describe characters, events or ideas in a story. For example, a clock can symbolize the life expectancy of a character, or water can symbolize a “thirst for knowledge.” Symbols can take many forms, including natural occurrences such as a storm representing “impending doom.”

  4. HISTORICAL ANALYSIS: This analysis deals with the historical times the author experienced. For instance, Mark Twain grew up during the pre-Civil War Era which affected what issues and ideas molded his literature, namely the characters he included in novels such as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

  5. SENTENCE STYLE ANALYSIS: Include one article dealing with the writing style of the author. What type of complex sentences does the author use? Does he or she use single word transitions, subordinating conjunctions, semicolons, parallel structure, half/half transitions, and other sentence patterns studied in class? Choose a text from a novel and find these patterns to include in your article.

  6. IMAGERY ANALYSIS: This focuses on the descriptive words and phrases that a writer uses to recreate sensory experience. By appealing to the five human senses, the author helps the reader imagine what characters or events are really like in the story. This composition will focus on the way phrases, adjectives, and adverbs are used to create this literary effect.

Directions: You will be using the POINT-ILLUSTRATE-EXPLAIN method (PIE) as the paragraph format. The topic sentence must appear as the first sentence. Three supporting points and expansion sentences must include appropriate transitions and subordinating conjunctions, and a clincher (concluding remark) must be present. Here is the structure:

    1. Topic Sentence (L1)

      1. Supporting Point (A1-L2) – expansion sentence (A2-L3)

      2. Supporting Point (B1-L2) - expansion sentence (B2-L3)

      3. Supporting Point (C1-L2) - expansion sentence (C2-L3)

    2. Clincher (L1) (This sentence restates or comments directly on the topic

Note: The letters, dashes and numbers are known as label coding. L1 represents the most important sentences. L2 represents the second most important, and L3 represents the third most important part of the paragraph’s development. The A1, B1, and C1 are the supporting points that appear usually in the order of significance, that is, least to most strongest point. The expansion sentences explain each supporting point and are labeled A2, B2, and C2. These sentences provide the “expanding development” in your paragraph.

Title Rules

  1. Always capitalize the first and last word in your title.

2) Capitalize all significant words.

  1. Capitalize all verbs.

  2. Do not capitalize articles ( a, and, the)

How do you know if a word is significant and hence needs capitalization?

Answer: If you can restate the title without the word in question without losing the general meaning, then it is insignificant.
Raiders of the Lost Ark

Lost Ark Raiders

Battle Hymn of the Republic

Republic Battle Hymn

Guided Practice

Directions: Rewrite the following titles to reflect the rules of capitalization.

  1. ark of the covenant

  2. the most dangerous Game

  3. hills made of White elephants

  4. Shadows of The wind

  5. Cry our beloved country

  6. Something wicked this way comes

  7. Death comes For the archbishop

  8. sound Of thunder

  9. one hundred years of solitude

  10. prince and the pauper

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