Unit 4: Fundamentals of Academic Essay Writing

27 Paragraph Structure and Development

In the following section, you will learn more about paragraph development.

Features of an effective paragraph

An effective paragraph includes the following:

  • a topic sentence (typically the first sentence, identifying the topic and controlling idea)
  • unity (the paragraph focuses on one topic only)
  • coherence (ideas are organized logically and connected with transitions)
  • supporting ideas (sentences which sufficiently develop the topic)
  • not all paragraphs require a concluding sentence

Common Patterns of Organization

Read about five of the most common patterns of paragraph organization:

  1. Listing
  2. Generalization and example
  3. Sequence of events (chronological)
  4. Comparison and contrast
  5. Cause and effect

#1 Listing

Explanation: Contains a series of items which support the main idea of the paragraph.

Example topic sentence: University students experience various challenges during their first semester of college.

#2 Generalization and example

Explanation: An idea, word, or concept is explained and then illustrated with an example.

Example topic sentence: Online learning can take many forms. For example, “hyflex learning,” also known as “hybrid flexible” learning is a type of learning where…

#3 Sequence of events

Explanation: Contains information in the order in which it occurred

Example topic sentence: The history of the University of Wisconsin – Madison can be traced back to 1848.

#4 Comparison and contrast

Explanation: Demonstrates the similarities and differences among two or more topics

Example topic sentence: Online learning can be divided into two main approaches, synchronous and asynchronous.

#5 Cause and effect

Explanation: Describes an event caused by another event

Example topic sentence: Providing access to support services can better ensure student success in the first year of college.

Your turn

Directions: Look at paragraph two from the Model Essay on Peer Review. Which of the patterns above does this paragraph illustrate?

Peer review is used in ESL classes to improve student’s English writing or get better grades on writing assignments. Many ESL programs involve international students in peer review to improve their writing skills, and many studies support the idea that peer review is essential to improve students’ writing skills. Bijami, Kashef and Nejad (2013) state that critical and specific peer comments can be utilized to enhance students’ writing skills and help students become competent writers (p.93). Peer comments can address specific aspects of writing. For example, peer comments help students improve their writing ability in terms of organization and content (Zeqiri, 2012, p. 50). Moreover, helping the writer identify the strengths and weaknesses in his or her writing helps the writer develop self-awareness. According to Tsui and Ng (2000), it is often difficult for students to see their own weaknesses, but peers can point out these problems (p. 166). These examples illustrate how ESL students’ writing skills can be enhanced through peer review because it helps them improve awareness of their papers’ strengths and weaknesses.


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