How to Write a Good Paragraph in English

When you are learning a new language, you have to learn more than vocabulary. You have to learn grammar and pronunciation, too. You also have to learn something more difficult. Especially in writing, you must learn how people in the culture communicate. In some cultures, people communicate very directly, and in other cultures, people do not say exactly what they mean. Both styles of communication are fine if they are used in the correct culture. However, using the wrong style for the culture can cause a lot of confusion and frustration.

In writing, Americans are usually very direct. If you come from a culture that is also very direct, this will be easy for you. If you come from a culture that is not very direct, you will need more practice. Most students learn American writing style easily once they understand how we do it.

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

The easiest way to explain how to write a good paragraph in English is with a hamburger (which is also very American). A hamburger has:

  1. a top bun (bread)
  2. meat and toppings (lettuce, tomato, cheese, ketchup, pickles, etc.)
  3. a bottom bun

The bread is important for holding the sandwich together, but the reason you eat a hamburger is for the stuff in the middle. A good English paragraph also has three parts:

  1. an introduction or topic sentence
  2. support
  3. a conclusion

The introduction and conclusion are important for writing a complete paragraph, but the most important part is the support in the middle. Let’s look at all three parts of a good paragraph a little bit more.

Introduction/Topic Sentence

Usually, you will write a paragraph about a specific topic. Your teacher will ask a question, or you will read a prompt (a sentence or question to help you think about ideas for a paragraph). Your first sentence should answer the question very directly or make a statement about the prompt very clearly. Here are some examples of prompts and topic sentences. For each prompt, I will show you a few possible topic sentences.

  • prompt: Do you think all American school children should wear uniforms to school? Why/why not?
    topic sentence: I think all American school children should wear uniforms to school.
    topic sentence: I don’t think all American school children should wear uniforms to school.
    topic sentence: I think American school children should be able to choose their own clothes for school, not wear uniforms.
  • prompt: Do you agree with the saying, “Two wrongs don’t make a right”? Why/why not?
    topic sentence: I agree with the saying, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
    topic sentence: I don’t agree with the saying, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
    topic sentence: I agree that two wrongs don’t make a right.
  • prompt: Describe one of your heroes.
    topic sentence: One of my heroes is ___________________.
    topic sentence: ___________________ is my greatest hero.
    topic sentence: I think ___________________ is a good example of a hero for me and for other people.

In each of the examples, we see a very clear answer to the question or prompt. Now the reader knows what the paragraph will be about. We are prepared to read more. The next step is to explain or give reasons for your answer.

Support Sentences

After you give your answer in the topic sentence, you need to elaborate (give more information). Many prompts will say something like:

  • Why/why not?
  • Explain your answer.
  • Describe…
  • How…
  • What should you do?

These questions are asking you to give reasons, statistics, or stories to show why you chose your answer. You should write 2-4 support sentences. Here is an example:

  • prompt: Do you think all American school children should wear uniforms to school? Why/why not?
    topic sentence: I think all American school children should wear uniforms to school.
    support 1: Children should be free to focus on their school work and not have to worry about their clothes. If children wear uniforms, then they will not waste time thinking about their clothes or comparing them to other students’ clothes.
    support 2: Wearing uniforms makes all children equal in school because they cannot show off their family’s money by wearing designer clothes. This helps children see each other as equals, so they can work together better.
    support 3: If children wear uniforms, then parents and teachers do not have to worry about a school dress code. All students will obey the dress code easily, and teachers can focus on their job.

Conclusion

The last part of a good paragraph is the conclusion. This is one final sentence to end the paragraph. When you end a phone call, you don’t just stop talking. You always take a moment to say good-bye. A conclusion is similar. There are a couple of ways to write a conclusion. The easy way is to repeat the idea from your topic sentence.

  • topic sentence: I think all American school children should wear uniforms to school.
    conclusion: For these reasons, I think it’s a good idea for kids to wear uniforms to school.
  • topic sentence: I agree that two wrongs don’t make a right.
    conclusion: That’s why I think two wrongs don’t make a right.
  • topic sentence: One of my heroes is ___________________.
    conclusion: All of these qualities are what make ___________________ my hero.

The more difficult way to write a conclusion is to make the reader think more about the topic or suggest an action.

 

  • topic sentence: I think all American school children should wear uniforms to school.
    conclusion: If you agree, write a letter to your local school board today, and tell them that all students should wear uniforms.
  • topic sentence: I agree that two wrongs don’t make a right.
    conclusion: The next time someone does something wrong to you, think twice before you get revenge.
  • topic sentence: One of my heroes is ___________________.
    conclusion: We should all try to be more like ___________________.

The difficult conclusion is always more interesting, but if you can’t think of a really good ending for your paragraph, the easy conclusion is always correct. As you get more comfortable writing paragraphs in English, try to improve your conclusions by writing more of the difficult kind.

Paragraph Form

Finally, let’s talk about how a paragraph should look when you write by hand. Look at this paragraph.

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

 

  • Look at the first line of the paragraph. We start the first line a little bit into the line. This is called indenting. We indent (push in) the first line to show that it is a new paragraph.
  • All of the other lines start at the left side, and they are straight. We do not have some lines starting farther to the left or slowly moving to the right. They are straight down the left side.
  • You can see the three parts of a paragraph here (introduction, support, and conclusion), but the parts are not separated or labeled. They are simply there in the paragraph.
  • Finally, when a sentence ends, you do not need to start a new sentence on a new line. You can continue on the same line.

Your Turn

Choose one of the prompts below, and write a paragraph. Ask your teacher to check your work.

  1. What is a hobby that you enjoy? Why do you like it?
  2. Do you think that all adults should get married? Why/Why not?
  3. What is the perfect number of children to have in each family? Explain your answer.
  4. In English, we have a saying: “The early bird gets the worm.” This means that if you start something early, you will have more opportunities. Do you agree with this saying? Why/Why not?
  5. You want to plan a surprise party for your friend’s birthday. How do you do it?

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