Four Kinds of Paragraphs

Almost any essay you pick up and read in a TIME magazine or a general interest magazine will include examples of four types of paragraphs:

Introduction Paragraphs

Introductions attract a reader's attention, invite the reader to continue, and suggest what the essay will include and how it will be addressed. Here are a few examples of first paragraphs. Notice how they get a reader's attention and how they present a topic for discussion.

Controversial Statement

The average senior citizen looks at a nursing home as a human junkyard, as a prison--a kind of purgatory, halfway between society and the cemetery-or as the first step of an inevitable slide into oblivion. Negligence on the part of nursing home personnel can, in fact, have dire consequences:.....

Note of Contradiction

A bright-eyed woman, whose sparkle was rather more of eagerness than of intelligence, approached me at a party one afternoon and said, "Why do you hate women, Mr. Thurber?" I quickly adjusted my fixed grin and denied that I hated women; I said I did not hate women at all. But the question remained with me, and I discovered when I went to bed that night that I had been subconsciously listing a number or reasons I do hate women. It might be interesting--at least it will help pass the time--to set down these reasons, just as they came up out of my subconscious.

Short, Dramatic Statement

I had a little puppy for a while in Vietnam. For a period of three days, I would take this little puppy and squeeze it until it would yelp. Or twist its little paw.

The Use of Statistics

The beer industry in the United States grosses 40 billion dollars a year. Ninety-nine percent of those profits are made by giant corporations such as Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors. But today, even though dollars are tight and industries are struggling to hold their ground, several microbreweries have gained a foothold in Vermont and they are fighting for their share of the profits (Shaw, 1990). This paper examines the options available to the Vermont beer drinker and explains what distinguishes locally produced beers from their national competitors.

Figure of Speech, simile or metaphor

Appearing at times as if an artist has splashed paint on tree trunks and across the faces of rocks, lichens present a display as vibrant as wildflowers. Yet most people know very little about these exotic plants. Striking in variety as well as in color, lichens are useful to humans and serve as excellent reminders of both nature's fragility and its resilience.

Use of Quotation

Tragedy, said Aristotle, is the "imitation of noble actions," and though it is some twenty-five hundred years since the dictum was uttered there is only one respect in which we are inclined to modify it. To us "imitation" seems a rather naive word to apply to that process by which observation is turned into art, and we week one which would define or at least imply the nature of that interposition of the personality of the artist between the object and the beholder which constitutes his function and by means of which he transmits a modified version, rather than a mere imitation, of the things which he has contemplated.

Reference to a Current Event

It is always heartening to see an art revived, especially when you have forgotten how much pleasure it affords. The art of buck passing, for instance. It popped to life in New York a couple of weeks ago when Bruce Caputo, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, was caught as having described himself as a Viet Nam-era draftee and Army lieutenant. Mr. Caputo was neither. Yet when confronted with the fact that he had falsified his credentials in Who's Who in American Politics, he rose to the occasion as Michelangelo once rose to the ceiling: "To the extent that I or somebody on my staff was less than careful, we made a mistake." Thus in a single sentence he was able to identify the lie as carelessness and to imply that if anyone at all was responsible (a question he opens), it was probably an underling. Mr. Caputo is small potatoes, but his comment is buck passing at a very high level. When you see a performance like his, you see how intricate the art can get.

Conclusion Paragraphs

Conclusions alert the reader that a writer's thinking is nearly finished. They may review what has been said, raise issues for further discussion, prod the reader to further action. More later.

Transition Paragraphs

Transitions move the reader from one portion of the writing to another. Imagine that a writer is addressing the benefits of keeping a journal. He may have just finished a paragraph which discusses how the journal is a great way to keep a record of the events in one's life. In the next section, he will discuss how the journal can help a person re-live these events by reading them again and again. A transition paragraph might look like this:

We've learned how keeping a journal can be an effective way of recording the events of one's life. Having a record of these events can serve many purposes, one of the most important being their ability to help the journal keeper to relive important moments in his or her life.

Notice how the journal writer mentions the subject of the previous paragraph and predicts the subject of the coming paragraph as a way of tying the two paragraphs together. Sometimes the transition paragraph appears as part of another paragraph; the above information could easily have been the first two or three lines of a paragraph on using a journal to relive one's life.

Content Paragraphs

By far the most frequent paragraph is the content paragraph, the one that provides the "meat" of an essay. Typically, content paragraphs include these parts:

Topic The topic is the general subject of the paragraph: cats, for instance.
Restriction The restriction is that portion of the paragraph which identifies what the writer wants to say about the topic; for instance, the writer may want to suggest that a cat's intelligence rates somewhere between that of a gerbil and that of a hamster.
Illustration(s) The remainder of the paragraph, in fact, most of the paragraph consists of illustrations of the point that the writer wants to make. In our example about cat intelligence, the writer might develop the paragraph using any number of strategies. A story illustrating cat intelligence would work. Quotations from authorities can often make the point. Sometimes the writer may choose to refer to studies that have been done to illustrate the point that cats aren't very smart.
A Well-developed Content Paragraph Recent studies by pet psychologists have confirmed what many dog owners have long suspected, that generally speaking, a cat's intelligence rates somewhere between that of a gerbil and a hamsters. Richard Houndsley, a long-time pet psychologist, has recently completed long-term studies of cat intelligence which examined whether cats could be trained to perform prescribed tasks. Houndsley placed 67 cats, all of whom were award winners in cat shows, with an equal number of noted dog trainers. Each trainer was instructed to train his or her cat to perform tricks most dogs seems to master with ease. Cats, compared to dogs, were routinely more difficult to train to retrieve objects, walk on a leash, heel, sit and stay, or roll over. In fact, only one of the 67 cats in the study was able to master one of these tasks, walking on a leash. None of the others, despite the fact that each was trained by a qualified dog trainer, was successful in mastering even one of these tasks. Houndsley concluded, based on this evidence that cats, like gerbils and hamsters, were untrainable and thus were on a par intellectually.
A Poorly-Developed Content Paragraph Cats don't have great intelligence. Dogs are much smarter. Cats are fun to own. They can be very pleasant company to old people. Cats do a good job taking care of themselves so they require much less attention from their owners. Cats can be very playful and enjoyable to watch. Cats do shed heavily and cat owners have to find ways to get rid of hair left behind. Masking tape can do a good job of getting hair off clothes and furniture. Cats will throw up if they are not treated for hair balls.