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an example of parallel structure

College Prep Writing

Paragraph to Essay

The Paragraph

A single paragraph is the basic unit of longer writing and a good length for practicing organizational skills. Paragraphs must be organized according to two principles—which also apply to essays and other kinds of writing. First, the scope of a paragraph must be limited. That is, the topic of a single paragraph must not be so broad that it cannot be developed within a single paragraph. The following topics, for example, are too broad for development in one paragraph.


Paragraph scope

These topics are to broad for a single paragraph.

• how the telephone was invented

• on a Mt. Everest climb

• global warming and climate change

• U.S. high school curriculum in the 1930s


These topics are brief in scope and are suitable for a single paragraph.

• I hate my cell phone.

• incredible snowfall on Mt. Everest in May

• a simple way to conserve energy at home

• a welcome change in science curriculum at my high school


Main Idea

The second principle of paragraph organization is that a paragraph must support a main idea or main point. The main idea of a paragraph may be expressed in more than one sentence, but in a paragraph of several sentences, one sentence is usually sufficient. Main idea sentences are often the most difficult sentences to write because they must very clearly tell the reader precisely the point that you want to make about the topic of the paragraph. Writing a good main idea sentence is not easy and requires careful thinking and planning no matter how experienced a writer is.


Example One

Read the following paragraph and decide which sentence tells the point about the topic of the paragraph.

I often get a look of surprise from friends who have not seen me in a while because I have lost a lot of weight. When people ask me how I got so trim and healthy looking, I tell them my three rules. One, I never eat within four hours before I go to bed at night. Eating prior to sleeping is a sure way to gain weight. Second, I walk as much as possible. There is no better exercise than that. My third rule for keeping fit is to eat a small breakfast. That keeps my stomach small, and I don't get so hungry at lunchtime.

Notice how the second sentence tells the reader what the paragraph is about. We learn that the writer has three rules for keeping fit, and we expect that the paragraph will tell us what they are.


Example Two

What is the main idea or point of the following paragraph?

Elena, a student in my math class, is not shy about asking questions in class. She puts her hand up whenever something is not clear, even if the teacher is talking. In addition, she visits the teacher's office if there is something about the class or the textbook that she does not understand. Elena also spends a lot of time at the college study center in order to take advantage of the math tutors there. She especially likes to go over math problems with the tutors before a test. For all of these reasons, Elena is the best student in my math class.

The last sentence in the preceding paragraph is the main idea sentence.


Supporting Details

In addition to clear main idea sentences, the preceding example paragraphs include information that provides support for the main ideas.


Example One

In the following paragraph, the main idea is expressed in the first sentence. The sentences that follow are numbered and represent the major support or direct support sentences. Sentences that do not directly or indirectly support the main idea are in brackets. These are irrelevant to the paragraph and should be omitted.

(Main idea) Yesterday was my lucky day. (1) In the morning, I arrived at work and learned that I had been given an increase in salary. That's going to allow me to pay off my student loans sooner than I had planned. [My co-workers are really great people.] (2) After lunch, my best friend called to tell me that she had won a trip to Hawaii for two, and that she wanted me to go there with her. I was so excited that I could hardly think about my work the rest of the afternoon. (3) Finally, in the evening, I went to a restaurant with my boyfriend, and he proposed to me. [My boyfriend was wearing the shirt that I gave to him for his birthday.]


Example Two

The following example contains no irrelevant sentences, and that makes the paragraph well unified.

I have been taking my car to Joe's Garage for more than nine years, but recently I have been thinking about finding a new mechanic. [Main idea] The reason is the quality of service at Joe's has declined in three important ways since a new owner took over the business six months ago. (1) First of all, the new employees are impatient and rude. They never say hello or have time to answer questions. In fact, one young man working on my car told me that if I did not like his work, I could go somewhere else. I had complained to him when he spilled oil on the hood of my car. (2) In addition, one of the mechanics told me that my car's wheels were out of balance when I knew the problem was that the right rear tire was not inflated properly. This kind of ignorance about basic automobile maintenance made me wonder whether I should continue to bring my car to Joe's. (3) Finally, prices have increased unreasonably since the garage changed hands. The price of an oil change has almost doubled. (Conclusion) I'm probably going to try another garage the next time my car needs servicing.

Notice that a wrap-up conclusion or ending has been added to the end of the paragraph. The last sentence reminds the reader of the main idea expressed in the second sentence.


The Essay

“However great a man's natural talent may be, the art of writing cannot be learned all at once.”—Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), French philosopher.


Maybe Rousseau was thinking about the need to master the paragraph before going on to multi-paragraph writing. The paragraph contains the elements of longer writing, however, so if you can write a good paragraph, you have an excellent foundation for writing good essays.


What is an essay?

An essay is a relatively brief piece of writing that often expresses a point of view, relates the writer's experience, or provides information.


Five paragraph essay

The five-paragraph essay is a good model for student writers because it includes the necessary elements of good composition: an introduction, supporting paragraphs or body, and a conclusion. An essay is not the only form of writing that follows this pattern. News articles often present facts in this straightforward way, as do good business letters and application essays, and public speakers organize presentations in this way too. There are exceptions to this kind of paragraph organization, of course. Paragraphs in fiction, for example, are organized differently.


Essay Example One

The following are two, brief, sample five-paragraph essays. The main ideas, major supporting points, and conclusion are labeled in brackets. (See also "Writing Organization Patterns" in College Prep Writing.)

How I Stay in Shape


[Introduction with essay main idea] I was not always in the healthy shape that I enjoy today. Two years ago I weighed far too much for my height and frame. At 230 pounds (104.5 kg), I was about 30 percent overweight. I never did any exercise, and I ate all sorts of junk food when I was not even hungry. Things are different today. I am more careful about my diet and I try to keep active. I weigh 177 pounds (80 kg), and I feel many years younger. [Essay main idea sentence] When people ask me how I got so trim and healthy, I tell them my three most important rules.


[First major support sentence] My first rule for keeping fit is to eat a small breakfast. That keeps my stomach small, and I do not get so hungry at lunch time. Naturally, the breakfast has to be nutritious. I eat a grapefruit and drink a glass of freshly made vegetable juice after I wake up in the morning, and if I get hungry before lunch, I drink a cup of green tea. These things hold me until noon.


[Second major support sentence] Second, I walk as much as possible. Researchers say there is no better exercise than that. Jogging may be popular with many people, but few of them keep it up. What is more, jogging is sometimes harmful to the knees. Walking, on the other hand, is gentle on the knees and a good aerobic exercise for the heart. For every mile, you can burn approximately a hundred calories when you walk, and walking makes me feel good.


[Third major support sentence] Finally, and most important, I never eat within four hours of going to sleep. Eating prior to sleeping is a sure way to gain weight. In fact, that has been one of my main problems. I like to eat sweets, and consuming a lot of calories before bedtime was responsible for my excessive weight until I made it a rule to make dinner my last bite to eat, usually before 7p.m.


[Conclusion] My method for keeping fit may not suit everyone, and I am sure there are other approaches to weight loss that work well for others. However, following these three rules has helped me lose weight and keep it off.


Essay Example Two

Two Apartments


[Introduction with essay main idea] Our new apartment is in a completely different kind of neighborhood from our old one. Now we live among mostly old homes and retired people. In contrast, our old neighborhood was in a new suburb and there were a lot of children on our street. Also, our new apartment is older than our former apartment. [Essay main idea sentence] In spite of these differences, however, the similarities between the two apartments are striking.


[First major support sentence] First of all, the new and old apartments have almost identical parking arrangements. Just as at our old apartment, parking is outdoors at our new place, so security is not very good. Also, our parking spot is directly under the only lamp post in the lot, just as it was at our former place, and both parking lots have two spots for visitors.


[Second major support sentence] Another similarity is the cost. We pay the same rent that we paid for our former place. In addition, utilities are included in our rent, and that was the case at our old place too. The security fee is also the same; we pay one month's rent in advance, just as we did at our old apartment.


[Third major support sentence] Finally, like our former apartment, our new place overlooks a very busy street and is directly across from a pizza restaurant. There is a bus stop in front of our apartment now and there was a bus stop in front of our former apartment.


[Conclusion] Naturally, not everything at our new place is the same as our former apartment. The kitchen is a little smaller at our new place, for example, and there are other minor differences. However, because the parking arrangement, the costs, and the street outside our building are so similar, I sometimes get the feeling we have never moved.