Main bodyHow to write a good paragraph

As the name suggests, the main body is the main part of your essay. It is a collection of paragraphs related to your topic, and in order to understand how to write a good main body, you need to understand how to write good paragraphs. This section will help you understand the three main structural components of any good paragraph: the topic sentence, supporting sentences, and the concluding sentence. An example essay has been given to help you understand all of these, and there is a checklist at the end which you can use for editing your main body.


The topic sentence

The topic sentence is the most important sentence in a paragraph. It is usually the first sentence, though may sometimes also be placed at the end. It indicates what the paragraph is going to discuss, and thus serves as a useful guide both for the writer and the reader; the writer can have a clear idea what information to include (and what information to exclude), while the reader will have a clear idea of what the paragraph will discuss, which will aid in understanding.


The topic sentence comprises two separate parts: the topic of the paragraph, and the controlling idea, which limits the topic to one or two areas that can be discussed fully in one paragraph.


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Consider the following topic sentence (from the example essay below):


The most striking advantage of the car is its convenience.


The topic of this short essay is the advantages and disadvantages of cars, as a result of which each paragraph has either the advantages or the disadvantages of cars as its topic. In this case, the topic is the advantage of cars. The controlling idea is convenience, which limits the discussion of advantages of cars to this one idea. This paragraph will therefore give supporting ideas (reasons, facts, etc.) to show why convenience is an advantage of cars.


Here is another topic sentence from the same example essay:


Despite this advantage, cars have many significant disadvantages, the most important of which is the pollution they cause.


The topic of this paragraph is the disadvantage of cars. The controlling idea is pollution. This paragraph will therefore give supporting ideas (reasons, facts, etc.) to show why pollution is a disadvantage of cars.


Here is the final topic sentence from the same example essay:


A further disadvantage is the traffic problems that they cause in many cities and towns of the world.


The topic of this paragraph is again the disadvantage of cars. The controlling idea this time is traffic problems. This paragraph will therefore give supporting ideas (reasons, facts, etc.) to show why traffic congestion is a disadvantage of cars.


The following are key points to remember about the topic sentence:

  • it should be a complete sentence
  • it should contain both a topic and a controlling idea
  • it is the most general statement in the paragraph, because it gives only the main idea with any supporting details

Supporting sentences

Supporting sentences develop the topic sentence. They are more specific than the topic sentence, giving reasons, examples, facts, statistics, and citations in support of the main idea of the paragraph.


Below is the whole paragraph for the second topic sentence above. The supporting sentences are in bold.


Despite this advantage, cars have many significant disadvantages, the most important of which is the pollution they cause. Almost all cars run either on petrol or diesel fuel, both of which are fossil fuels. Burning these fuels causes the car to emit serious pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxide. Not only are these gases harmful for health, causing respiratory disease and other illnesses, they also contribute to global warming, an increasing problem in the modern world. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (2013), transportation in the US accounts for 30% of all carbon dioxide production in that country, with 60% of these emissions coming from cars and small trucks. In short, pollution is a major drawback of cars.


The paragraph above has the following support:

  • burning fuels (petrol and diesel) in car engines emits pollutants - fact
  • cars emit carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide - examples (of pollutants)
  • the pollutants are harmful for health - fact
  • the pollutants cause respiratory disease - example (of how they harm our health)
  • the pollutants contribute to global warming - fact
  • 30% of carbon dioxide in the US comes from transport - statistic
  • 60% of the these emissions come from cars and small trucks - statistic
  • this information comes from Union of Concerned Scientists (2013) - citation

The concluding sentence

The concluding sentence is an optional component of a paragraph. In other words, it is not absolutely necessary. It most useful for especially long paragraphs, as it will help the reader to remember of the main ideas of the paragraph.


Below is the concluding sentence from the paragraph above:


In short, the harm to our health and to the environment means that pollution from cars is a major drawback.


Here the concluding sentence not only repeats the controlling idea of the topic sentence, that cars cause pollution, but also summarises the information of the paragraph, which is that the pollution from cars is harmful to both our health and the environment.


The following are useful transition signals to use for the concluding sentence:

  • In conclusion...
  • In summary...
  • In brief...
  • Therefore...
  • Thus...
  • In short...
  • These examples show that...
  • This evidence strongly suggests that...

Example essay

Below is a discussion essay which looks at the advantages and disadvantages of car ownership. This essay is used throughout the essay writing section to help you understand different aspects of essay writing. Here it focuses on topic sentences and controlling ideas (mentioned on this page), the thesis statement and general statements of the introduction, and the summary and final comment of the conclusion. Click on the different areas (in the shaded boxes to the right) to highlight the different structural aspects in this essay.


Thesis
statement
Topic
sentences
 
1
2
3
  
Topic
Controlling ideas
1
2
3
1
2
3
  
Summary
 

Although they were invented almost a hundred years ago, for decades cars were only owned by the rich. Since the 60s and 70s they have become increasingly affordable, and now most families in developed nations, and a growing number in developing countries, own a car. While cars have undoubted advantages, of which their convenience is the most apparent, they have significant drawbacks, most notably pollution and traffic problems.

The most striking advantage of the car is its convenience. When travelling long distance, there may be only one choice of bus or train per day, which may be at an unsuitable time. The car, however, allows people to travel at any time they wish, and to almost any destination they choose.

Despite this advantage, cars have many significant disadvantages, the most important of which is the pollution they cause. Almost all cars run either on petrol or diesel fuel, both of which are fossil fuels. Burning these fuels causes the car to emit serious pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxide. Not only are these gases harmful for health, causing respiratory disease and other illnesses, they also contribute to global warming, an increasing problem in the modern world. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (2013), transportation in the US accounts for 30% of all carbon dioxide production in that country, with 60% of these emissions coming from cars and small trucks. In short, pollution is a major drawback of cars.

A further disadvantage is the traffic problems that they cause in many cities and towns of the world. While car ownership is increasing in almost all countries of the world, especially in developing countries, the amount of available roadway in cities is not increasing at an equal pace. This can lead to traffic congestion, in particular during the morning and evening rush hour. In some cities, this congestion can be severe, and delays of several hours can be a common occurrence. Such congestion can also affect those people who travel out of cities at the weekend. Spending hours sitting in an idle car means that this form of transport can in fact be less convenient than trains or aeroplanes or other forms of public transport.

In conclusion, while the car is advantageous for its convenience, it has some important disadvantages, in particular the pollution it causes and the rise of traffic jams. If countries can invest in the development of technology for green fuels, and if car owners can think of alternatives such as car sharing, then some of these problems can be lessened.

References


Union of Concerned Scientists (2013). Car Emissions and Global Warming. www.ucsusa.org/clean vehicles/why-clean-cars/global-warming/ (Access date: 8 August, 2013)

Thesis
statement
 
Topic
sentences
1
2
3
 
Topic
1
2
3
 
Controlling ideas
1
2
3
 
Summary



Checklist

Below is a checklist for the main body of an essay. Use it to check your own writing, or get a peer (another student) to help you.


Item OK? Comment
Each paragraph has a topic sentence
Each topic sentence has a suitable topic and controlling idea
Each paragraph has detailed supporting ideas (facts, reasons, examples, citations, etc.)
Long paragraphs include a concluding sentence to make the paragraph clearer
Any concluding sentences are introduced using clear transition signals



Next section

Find out how to structure the conclusion of an essay in the next section.




Previous section

Go back to the previous section about the essay introduction.







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