Writing Paragraphs

As mentioned when analysing a task, a subject is a broad area of information.  Your essay and even whole books are about a subject.  However to write a paragraph about a subject, you must narrow that subject to a topic.  That is you must move from a general subject to a more specific topic .  So although you may have been given a subject to write about, before you begin to write each paragraph you need to be clear on what the topic for that individual paragraph is.


Who tells parables
Typical characters in a parable

Purpose of parables

Intended audience of parables

Prevalence of parables

Topic Sentence/Controlling Ideas

A paragraph is a series of sentences about one topic.  The paragraph usually begins with a general sentence that introduces the topic.  This sentence is called the topic sentence and it tells what the paragraph is going to be about.  It basically states the paragraphs main point.  An effective topic sentence will also have a clear relation to the essay’s thesis statement (see below). If it doesn’t then the whole paragraph is basically irrelevant and should be omitted from the essay.  Although you may read texts where the topic sentence is in the middle or at the end of the paragraph, it is better for you to place a topic sentence at the start of a paragraph when you write.  This is the simplest organisation - it helps you write a good paragraph and helps your reader understand easily. The topic sentence is followed by a number of other sentences that explain, describe or illustrate the main idea in the topic sentence. The topic sentence therefore is more general than the material supporting it - but it should still be quite specific. The main ideas that support the topic sentence are called controlling ideas because they control the information that is given in the paragraph. The topic sentence contains words or phrases that indicate what the paragraph is going to be about.

In Saudi Arabia, parents have separate responsibilities for raising their children.

Here the subject we are writing about may be ‘raising children in Saudi Arabia’.  However, the focus (topic) for this particular paragraph indicates that what we should expect to find later in the paragraph is a) fathers’ responsibilities and b) mothers’ responsibilities. We should not find (in this paragraph) any mention of the role of grandmothers or other siblings in the raising of children.  We should not even find reference to responsibilities that mothers and fathers share.  All these are relevant to the subject but are separate ‘topics’ from the one introduced in this paragraph and so should be mentioned in separate paragraphs.

In Saudi Arabia, parents have separate responsibilities for raising their children.  As with many other cultures the father tends to be the breadwinner and so spends his days at work.  The mother therefore spends most time with the children and especially with regard to education she is the one who talks to teachers on a regular basis and helps her children with their homework.  However, mainly because of access to the family car, the father is responsible for taking the children to school each day.  He is also the one who attends formal parent teacher meetings despite the fact that his wife tends to follow his children’s education more closely.  The mother is completely responsible for feeding the children. Her husband may accompany her on major shopping trips at weekends - driving the car when a lot of goods are purchased.  However, generally the mother does most of the shopping and this applies particularly to clothing for the children.  In the evenings and at weekends the father tends to take his son(s) swimming, playing football or driving in the car. Daughters tend to stay at home with their mothers learning how to cook, sew and clean. If there are younger children in the family, older daughters will also be taught to look after them. This of course is the sole responsibility of the mother.  So it is quite clear that as a parent in Saudi Arabia, one is expected to perform certain functions.  However there are certain tasks that can be done by either the mother or the father depending on what is most convenient for the family.


1.    How are the ideas in the above paragraph organised?  Are they all relevant?
2.    What do you think the next paragraph of the essay will be about?
3.    Write a topic sentence for the next paragraph.

Supporting the Topic Sentence

There are many ways in which you can develop and support a topic sentence: you might use examples, details, anecdotes, facts, statistics or quotations from experts.

An example
a specific instance that explains an idea
A detail
a particular part or characteristic of a whole thing or a whole idea. Details are frequently used in descriptions.
A fact
Something which is objectively verifiable
A statistic
a numerical fact which presents significant information about a subject

Paragraph Organisation

Copyright - © 2002 David O'Regan - All rights reserved.