Paragraphs are the basic building blocks of most types of text and it is important that you know how to construct a good one.  The first point you should remember is that one sentence on its own does not make a paragraph.  Rather, a paragraph is a group of sentences with one theme which can be called the topic.  It is useful for the reader to be introduced to the theme in the first sentence of the paragraph.  The topic sentence, therefore, should be the first sentence in the paragraph.

There will also be supporting sentences, perhaps giving examples and information or detail.  Some sentences will give definitions, while others will give reasons. Your final sentence should either sum up the paragraph, or lead logically and coherently into the beginning of the next.

We can say, therefore, that paragraphs help you to set out your thoughts clearly.  This in turn helps the reader, as text is easier to read when it is broken up into manageable sections on a page.  Do not make paragraphs too long or too short.  Six to ten sentences is a good guide in an essay.

Read the following paragraph reproduced from a student’s essay:

Given the importance of family relationships in most women’s lives it is not surprising that the family has occupied a central place in feminist theory and research (Jackson et al., 1998). Feminists have challenged the view that the family is becoming more equalitarian and symmetrical; some say the family is a site of inequality in which women are subordinated (Abbot et al., 2005).  Feminists have argued that this is largely because of the woman’s position as wife and mother, and because socialization processes in the family perpetuate male domination and female subordination. Some feminists say that the woman’s position in the family as wife or mother results in a position of subordination to men or fathers, at least in part because of economic dependency, but also because of widely shared ideologies of the family (Abbot et al., 2005). Feminist work on marriage has emphasized the structural inequalities built into marital relationships, which is particularly evident in the economic aspects of family life (Jackson et al., 1998).

  • The topic sentence is the first sentence.  The theme of the feminist perspective on family relationships is introduced.
  • The second sentence gives information through an example why feminists are researching family relationships.
  • The third and fourth sentences give reasons in support by expanding on the second sentence.
  • The fifth sentence concludes the paragraph with a summary and introduces us to the topic of the next paragraph on the economic aspects of family life.