MTM Writing Clinic
The paragraph is the essential building block of any written work. Whether you are telling a story or presenting research, paragraphs provide the necessary structure and coherence to convey your ideas effectively to your audience.
A topic sentence is a thesis in miniature. It will be the unifying force of your paragraph. In addition, the topic sentence should clearly link the main idea of your paragraph with the overall thesis of your paper.
Your supporting statements will be claims, or arguments, which support your topic sentence. As discussed in Claims v. Evidence, claims alone are insufficient. However, when coupled with evidence, they provide the backbone of your paragraph. You may have a multiple claims in each paragraph, but be careful that each claim supports the main idea found in the topic sentence. If not, it may signal that you need a new paragraph. Each claim presented should be supported with multiple pieces of evidence.
In most cases, it is not sufficient to merely list your evidence. You must explain how your evidence supports your claim, and ultimately, your thesis. To do this, you should clearly articulate to your reader why your evidence is significant. Many a professor has asked at the end of a student paper, “So what?” If this is the case at the end of your paper, it is a signal that you have not sufficiently explained the reasoning which led you to choose a particular piece of evidence to support your claim.
While every paragraph is an independent idea, it is the linking of your paragraphs into a cohesive whole that creates a paper. When you have completed the task of presenting and examining your claims and evidence, it is time to transition to the next main idea. You can signal a transition by using a number of key words or phrases and then present the next main idea you will be discussing in your paper.