Chapter 9: Paragraph Development

Part 2: Chapter 9

Once you have the structure of your paper figured out, and the main idea you will support, you can start with the introduction and conclusion.

Not all people like to begin writing their introduction. Some writers like to begin the body paragraphs and then return to the introduction and conclusion once they know what it is they would like to focus on. There is no one right process. Find the process that works for you.

The following information from Successful Writing, explains how to support your thesis statement within your body paragraphs.

Broken pillars supporting no argument next to stable pillars supporting an argument

Without primary support, your argument is not likely to be convincing. Primary support can be described as the major points you choose to expand on as you prove your thesis. Your primary support is the most important information you select to argue for your point of view. Each point you choose will be incorporated into the topic sentence for each body paragraph you write. Your primary supporting points are further supported by supporting details within the paragraphs.

Identify the Characteristics of Strong Primary Support

In order to fulfill the requirements of strong primary support, the information you choose must meet the following standards:

  • Be specific. The main points you make about your thesis and the examples you use to expand on those points need to be specific, for example using quotes or detailed paraphrases. Use specific examples to provide the evidence and to build upon your general ideas. These types of examples give your reader something narrow to focus on, and if used properly, they leave little doubt about your claim. General examples, while they convey the necessary information, are not nearly as compelling or useful in writing because they are too obvious and typical.

  • Be relevant to the thesis. Primary support is considered strong when it relates directly to the thesis. Primary support should show, explain, or prove your main argument without delving into irrelevant details. When faced with lots of information that could be used to prove your thesis, you may think you need to include it all in your body paragraphs. But effective writers resist the temptation to lose focus. This idea is so important, here it is again: effective writers resist the temptation to lose focus. Choose your examples wisely by making sure they directly connect to your thesis.

  • Be detailed. Remember that your thesis, while specific, should not be overly detailed. The body paragraphs are where you develop the discussion that a thorough essay requires. Using detailed support shows readers that you have considered all the facts and chosen only the most precise details to enhance your point of view.

Integrating Evidence

When you support your thesis, you are revealing evidence. Evidence includes anything that can help support your stance. The following are the kinds of evidence you will encounter as you conduct your research:

  • Facts. Facts are the best kind of evidence to use because they often cannot be disputed. They can support your stance by providing background information or a solid foundation for your point of view. However, some facts may still need explanation. For example, the sentence “The most populated state in the United States is California” is a pure fact, but it may require some explanation to make it relevant to your specific argument

  • Judgments. Judgments are conclusions drawn from the given facts. Judgments are more credible than opinions because they are founded upon careful reasoning and examination of a topic.

  • Testimony. Testimony consists of direct quotations from either an eyewitness or an expert witness. An eyewitness is someone who has direct experience with a subject; he adds authenticity to an argument based on facts. An expert witness is a person who has extensive experience with a topic. This person studies the facts and provides commentary based on either facts or judgments, or both. An expert witness adds authority and credibility to an argument.

  • Personal observation. Personal observation is similar to testimony, but personal observation consists of your testimony. It reflects what you know to be true because you have experiences and have formed either opinions or judgments about those experiences. For instance, if you are one of five children and your thesis states that being part of a large family is beneficial to a child’s social development, you could use your own experience to support your thesis.

Adapted from “Chapter 9” of Successful Writing, 2012, used according to creative commons CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Once you have your evidence organized, and the evidence relates to the points you have outlined for yourself, you have the scaffolding that you need to begin constructing strong body paragraphs. Now it’s time to begin constructing the building blocks that will help you create strong and developed body paragraphs.

Keep in mind that your evidence should compliment your ideas rather than overshadow them.

Next we have a chapter from Writing published by Boundless, on the topic of writing effective paragraphs:

Topic Sentences

When you created your outline, you wrote your thesis statement and then all the claims you need to support it. Then you organized your research, finding the evidence to support each claim. You’ll be grateful to have done that sorting now that you’re ready to write your paragraphs. Each of these claims will become a topic sentence, and that sentence, along with the evidence supporting it, will become a paragraph in the body of the paper.

Paragraph Structure

While you’re writing, think of each paragraph as a self-contained portion of your argument. Each paragraph will begin by making a claim (your topic sentence) that connects back to your thesis. The body of the paragraph will present the evidence, reasoning, and conclusions that pertain to that claim. Usually, paragraphs will end by connecting their claim to the larger argument or by setting up the claim that the next paragraph will contain.

  • Topic sentence: summarizes the main idea of the paragraph; presents a claim that supports your thesis.

  • Supporting sentences: examples, details, and explanations that support the topic sentence (and claim).

  • Concluding sentence: gives the paragraph closure by relating the claim back to the topic sentence and thesis statement.

Paragraphs should be used to develop one idea at a time. If you have several ideas and claims to address, you may be tempted to combine related claims into the same paragraph. Don’t do it! Combining different points in the same paragraph will divide your reader’s attention and dilute your argument. If you have too many claims, choose the strongest ones to expand into paragraphs, or research the counterarguments to see which of your claims speak most powerfully to those.

By dedicating each paragraph to only one part of your argument, you will give the reader time to fully evaluate and understand each claim before going on to the next one. Think of paragraphs as a way of guiding your reader’s attention—by giving them a single topic, you force them to focus on it. When you direct your readers’ focus, they will have a much easier time following your argument.

Creating Topic Sentences

Every paragraph of your argument should begin with a topic sentence that tells the reader what the paragraph will address—that is, the paragraph’s claim. By providing the reader with expectations at the start of the paragraph, you help him or her understand where you are going and how the paragraph fits in with the overall structure of your argument. Topic sentences should always connect back to and support your thesis statement.

Mistakes to Avoid in Your Topic Sentence

Referring to the Paper or Paragraph Itself

You do not have to make announcements like, “This paragraph is about …” There is no need to remind your reader that he or she is reading a paper. The focus should be on the argument. This kind of announcement is like riding with training wheels in the Tour de France. You don’t need this crutch, and seeing it in a paper can be somewhat startling to the reader, who’s expecting a professional presentation.

Offering Evidence or an Example

Stick with your claim in your topic sentence, and let the rest of the paragraph address the evidence and offer examples. Keep it clear by stating the topic and the main idea. Instead of stating the following: “On one occasion, another EMT and I were held at gunpoint.” Consider a more precise example: “Twenty-first century emergency-services personnel face an ever-increasing number of security challenges compared to those working fifty to a hundred years ago.”

Not Being Specific Enough

The topic may relate to your thesis statement, but you’ll need to be more specific here. Consider a sentence like this: “Cooking is difficult.” The claim is confusing because it is not clear for whom cooking is difficult and why. A better example would be, “While there are food pantries in place in some low-income areas, many recipients of these goods have neither the time nor the resources to make nutritionally sound meals from what they receive.” (Stylistically speaking, if you wanted to include “Cooking is difficult,” you could make it the first sentence, followed by the topic sentence. The topic sentence should be precise.)

In expository writing, each paragraph should articulate a single main idea that relates directly to the thesis statement. This construction creates a feeling of unity, making the paper feel cohesive and purposeful. Connections between each idea—both between sentences and between paragraphs—should enhance that sense of cohesion.

Why Use Transitions?

Following the parts of a poorly constructed argument can feel like climbing a rickety ladder. Transition words and phrases add the girders and railings, smoothing the journey of reading your paper, so it feels more like climbing a wide, comfortable staircase.

Ball of sentence flow bouncing up stairs of transition phrases

Using transitions will make your writing easier to understand by providing connections between paragraphs or between sentences within a paragraph. A transition can be a word, phrase, or sentence—in longer works, they can even be a whole paragraph. The goal of a transition is to clarify for your readers exactly how your ideas are connected.

Transitions refer to both the preceding and ensuing sentence, paragraph, or section of a written work. They remind your readers of what they just read, and tell them what will come next. By doing so, transitions help your writing feel like a unified whole.

Transitions Between Paragraphs

In Topic Sentences

Using transitions in your topic sentences can explain to the reader how one paragraph relates to the previous one. Consider this set of topic sentences from a paper about metrical variation in the poem “Caliban Upon Setebos”:


“Browning begins the poem by establishing a correspondence between metrical variation and subversive language.”


“Once Caliban begins his exploration of the nature of Setebos, though, the pattern established earlier in the poem begins to break down.”


“Browning further subverts the metrical conventions established in the opening stanza by … switching to iambic pentameter when acknowledging that unmotivated events can and do occur.”

The transitions help the reader understand how the argument is progressing throughout the paper, beginning with the poem’s basic meter, then explaining different ways in which the pattern shifts. The word “though” in the second topic sentence lets the reader know that the pattern explained in the first paragraph is going to change in the second paragraph. The use of “further” in the third topic sentence alerts the reader that the pattern is shifting again in the third paragraph. These simple words are the handrail for the steps the reader is climbing.

In Concluding Sentences

A paragraph’s concluding sentence also offers an excellent opportunity to begin the transition to the next paragraph—to wrap up one idea and hint at the next.

You can use a question to signal a shift:


“It’s clear, then, that the band’s biggest selling original compositions were written early in their career, but what do we know about their later works?”

Alternatively, you could conclude by comparing the idea in the current paragraph with the idea in the next:


“While the Democratic Republic of Congo is rich in natural resources, it has led a troubled political existence.”

An “if–then” structure is a common transition technique in concluding sentences:


“If we are decided that climate change is now unavoidable, then steps must be taken to avert complete disaster.”

Here, you’re relying on the point you’ve just proven in this paragraph to serve as a springboard for the next paragraph’s main idea.

Transitions Within Paragraphs

Transitions within a paragraph help readers to anticipate what is coming before they read it. Within paragraphs, transitions tend to be single words or short phrases. Words like while, however, nevertheless, but, and similarly, as well as phrases like on the other hand and for example, can serve as transitions between sentences and ideas.

Signal Phrases

Another transitional option within a paragraph is the use of signal phrases, which alert the reader that he or she is about to read referenced material, such as a quotation, a summation of a study, or statistics verifying a claim. Ideally, your signal phrases will connect the idea of the paragraph to the information from the outside source.

  • “In support of this idea, Jennifer Aaker of the Global Business School at Stanford University writes that …”

  • “In fact, the United Nations Environmental Program found that …”

  • “However, ‘Recycling programs,’ the Northern California Recycling Association retorts …”

  • “As graph 3.2 illustrates, we can by no means be certain of the outcome.”

Such phrases prepare the reader to receive information from an authoritative source and subconsciously signal the reader to process what follows as evidence in support of the point being made. Table 9.1, “Common Signal-Phrase Verbs” displays common action words you can use to introduce quotes and evidence.

Table 9.1 Common Signal-Phrase Verbs
acknowledges confirms implies rejects
adds contends insists reports
admits declares notes responds
argues denies observes suggests
asserts disputes points out things
believes emphasizes reasons writes
claims grants refutes  

Transition Paragraphs

In longer pieces of writing, you might need an entire paragraph to connect the ideas presented in two separate sections. The purpose of a transitional paragraph is to summarize the information in the previous paragraph, and to tell your reader how it is related to the information in the next paragraph. Transition paragraphs are good places to review where you have been and how it relates to the next step of your argument.

Appropriate Use of Transition Words and Phrases

Before using a particular transitional word or phrase, be sure you completely understand its meaning and usage. For example, if you use a word or phrase that indicates addition (“moreover,” “in addition,” “further”), you must actually be introducing a new idea or piece of evidence. A common mistake with transitions is using such a word without actually adding an idea to the discussion. That confuses readers and puts them back on rickety footing, wondering if they missed something.

Whenever possible, stick with transition words that actually have meaning and purpose. Overusing transition words, or using them as filler, is distracting to the reader. “It is further concluded that,” for example, sounds unnatural and a little grandiose because of the passive voice. “Also,” or “Furthermore” would be clearer choices, less likely to make the reader’s eyes roll.

With that said, here are some examples of transitional devices that might be useful once you’ve verified their appropriateness:

Table 9.2 Transitional Devices
Result Transitional devices Sample Sentence
To indicate addition and, again, and then, besides, equally important, finally, further, furthermore, nor, too, next, lastly, what’s more, moreover, in addition, still, first (second, etc.) “Strength of idea is indeed a factor in entrepreneurial success, but equally important is economic viability.”
To indicate comparison whereas, but, yet, on the other hand, however, nevertheless, on the contrary, by comparison, where, compared to, up against, balanced against, although, conversely, in contrast, although this may be true, likewise, while, whilst, although, even though, on the one hand, on the other hand, in contrast, in comparison with, but, yet, alternatively, the former, the latter, respectively, all the same “In contrast to what we now consider his pedantic prose, his poetry seemed set free to express what lies in every human heart.”
To indicate a logical connection because, for, since, for the same reason, obviously, evidently, furthermore, moreover, besides, indeed, in fact, in addition, in any case, that is “The Buddha sat under the bodhi tree for the same reason Jesus meditated in the desert: to vanquish temptation once and for all.”
To show exception yet, still, however, nevertheless, in spite of, despite, of course, once in a while, sometimes “Advocates of corporate tax incentives cite increased jobs in rural areas as an offset; still, is that sufficient justification for removing their financial responsibilities?
To show time immediately, thereafter, soon, after a while, finally, then, later, previously, formerly, first (second, etc.), next, and then “First, the family suffered a devastating house fire that left them without any possessions, and soon thereafter learned that their passage to the New World had been revoked due to a clerical error.”
To summarize or indicate repetition in brief, as I have said, as I have noted, as has been noted, as we have seen, to summarize “We have seen, then, that not only are rising temperatures and increased weather anomalies correlated with an increase in food and water shortages, but animal-migration patterns, too, appear to be affected.”
To indicate emphasis definitely, extremely, obviously, in fact, indeed, in any case, absolutely, positively, naturally, surprisingly, notwithstanding, only, still, it cannot be denied “Obviously, such a highly skilled architect would not usually be inclined to give his services away, and yet this man volunteered his services over and again to projects that paid him only through appreciation.”
To indicate sequence first, second, third, and so forth, next, then, following this, at this time, now, at this point, after, afterward, subsequently, finally, consequently, previously, before this, simultaneously, concurrently “So, finally, the author offers one last hint about the story’s true subject: the wistful description of the mountains in the distance.”
To indicate an example for example, for instance, in this case, in another case, on this occasion, in this situation, take the case of, to demonstrate, to illustrate, consider. “Take, for example, the famous huckster P. T. Barnum, whose reputation as ‘The Prince of Humbugs’ belied his love and support of the finer things of life, like opera.”
To qualify a statement under no circumstances, mainly, generally, predominantly, usually, the majority, most of, almost all, a number of, some, a few, a little, fairly, very, quite, rather, almost “Generally, we can assume that this statement has merit, but in this specific case, it behooves us to dig deeper.”

Adapted from “Chapter 7” of Writing, 2015, used under
creative commons CC-BY-SA 4.0

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