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Paragraph Development

Every paragraph should have a topic sentence that states the main idea; all other sentences in the paragraph should relate to the topic sentence, either supporting it or expanding on it. It might be compared to a magnet, which holds all the separate sentences together.

Here is an example of a paragraph that falls apart because the writer has no clear idea of his topic sentence.

I fail to see how the length of a boy’s hair can affect his schoolwork. If a high school boy wants to have long hair, he should be able to. If the restrictions are placed on a student, it should be done by his parents rather than by the school administration. Many boys are merely trying to stay in style, not letting their hair grow as a sign of rebellion. A little bit of hair never hurt anyone.

No sentence in the above paragraph develops or supports any other sentence. The result is no more than a collection of random statements about long hair. Revising it to make the first sentence the controlling one would produce a coherent and unified paragraph like the following:

I fail to see how the length of a boy’s hair can affect his school -work. Being long on hair doesn’t necessarily mean being short on intellect. It might even mean the opposite. It may be that the boy who has the courage to let his hair grow down over his collar in spite of harassment from the school coaches and administrators also has the intelligence to think for himself in other matters. I suggest, therefore, that until the authorities who make so much fuss about hair can show by actual statistics that long hair leads to poor grades, they should not interfere.

Developing a Paragraph

Choose a topic and at least two sub-topics that will support your assertion.

Topic:  William Shakespeare is probably the greatest playwright who ever lived.

Main reason 1: People read and perform Shakespeare’s plays today.

Main reason 2:  Shakespeare’s plays have influenced many other artists.

Create a topic sentence that incorporates the topic and sub-topics.

As can be seen by the influence and popularity of his plays, William Shakespeare is probably the greatest playwright who ever lived.

Create an outline by listing supporting reasons for your sub-topics. This need not be a formal outline; it is only to help you organize your thoughts.

Informal Outline

Topic sentence:  As can be seen by the influence…

(Sub-topic)  Main reason 1:  People read and perform…

1. There are many Shakespeare companies and festivals in England and the United States.

a. Alabama
b. Washington, DC
c. Atlanta


2. Many popular screen actors have performed Shakespeare’s plays for the movies.

a. Lawrence Olivier
b. Stacy Keach
c. Mel Gibson

(Sub-topic)   Main reason 2:  Shakespeare’s plays have influenced many…

1. Many composers have set Shakespeare’s plays to music.

a. Leonard Bernstein
b. Tchaikovsky


2.  Other playwrights and poets have been influenced by Shakespeare.

a. Ben Jonson
b. Tom Stoppard


Write your paragraph using your outline as a guide or map.

As can be seen by the popularity and influence of his plays, William Shakespeare is probably the greatest playwright who ever lived. Shakespeare companies abound, not only in England where the Bard was born, but also in the United States.   In Alabama, Washington D.C., and even in Atlanta, companies devoted exclusively to Shakespeare stage his plays year-round. Even Hollywood has its share of Shakespeare. Many popular screen actors such as Lawrence Olivier as King Lear, Stacy Keach as Richard III, and Mel Gibson as Hamlet have brought Shakespeare’s characters to life on the big screen. Along with Shakespeare’s popularity, his influence on other artists has earned him his place in history. Composers as diverse as Bernstein and Tchaikovsky have adapted Shakespeare’s best plays to symphony and opera. In addition, poets and playwrights throughout the centuries have drawn on Shakespeare’s work to produce their own. From Ben Jonson’s poetry honoring Shakespeare to Tom Stoppard’s amusing adaptation of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, four hundred years of playwrights and poets have felt Shakespeare’s influence. This enormous influence and popularity have earned “The Bard of Avon” his title as the greatest playwright who ever lived.

Note:    If this paragraph is to be part of a longer essay, make sure that each topic sentence relates to a general thesis. Connecting the paragraphs in this way will give your paper the structure and continuity it needs.