Main Body

Chapter 3. Putting Ideas into Your Own Words and Paragraphs

3.1 Sentence Writing

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the components of a basic sentence
  • Identify the four most serious writing errors

Before we work more on piecing ideas together to form summaries and paragraphs, we need to look at fundamental sentence construction. Imagine you are reading a book for school. You need to find important details that you can use for an assignment. However, when you begin to read, you notice that the book has very little punctuation. The sentences fail to form complete paragraphs and instead form one block of text without clear organization. Most likely, this book would frustrate and confuse you. Without clear and concise sentences, it is difficult to find the information you need.

For both students and professionals, clear communication is important. Whether you are typing an email or writing a report or essay, it is your responsibility as the writer to present your thoughts and ideas clearly and precisely. Writing in complete sentences is one way to ensure that you communicate well. This section covers how to recognize and write basic sentence structures and how to avoid some common writing errors.

Components of a Sentence

Clearly written, complete sentences require key information: a subject, a verb and a complete idea. A sentence needs to make sense on its own. Sometimes, complete sentences are also called independent clauses. A clause is a group of words that may make up a sentence. An independent clause is a group of words that may stand alone as a complete, grammatically correct thought. The following sentences show independent clauses.

Independent Clause: We went to the store. Independent clause: We bought the ingredients on our list, and then (independent clause): we went home.

All complete sentences have at least one independent clause. You can identify an independent clause by reading it on its own and looking for the subject and the verb.


When you read a sentence, you may first look for the subject or what the sentence is about. The subject usually appears at the beginning of a sentence as a noun or a pronoun. A noun is a word that identifies a person, place, thing, or idea. A pronoun is a word that replaces a noun. Common pronouns are Ihe, sheityouthey, and we. In the following sentences, the subject is underlined once.

Malik (underlined) is the project manager for this project. He (underlined) will give us our assignments.

In these sentences, the subject is a person: Malik. The pronoun He replaces and refers back to Malik.

The computer lab (underlined) is where we will work. It (underlined) will be open twenty-four hours a day.

In the first sentence, the subject is a place: computer lab. In the second sentence, the pronoun It substitutes for computer lab as the subject.

The project (underlined) will run for three weeks. It (underlined) will have a quick turnaround.

In the first sentence, the subject is a thing: project. In the second sentence, the pronoun It stands in for the project.


In this chapter, please refer to the following grammar key:
Subjects (underlined) are underlined once. Verbs (underlined) are underlined twice. LV means linking verb, HV means helping verb, ad V means action verb.

Compound Subjects

A sentence may have more than one person, place, or thing as the subject. These subjects are called compound subjects. Compound subjects are useful when you want to discuss several subjects at once.

Desmond (underlined) and Maria (underlined) have been working on that design for almost a year. Books, magazines (underlined) and online articles (underlined) are all good resources.

Prepositional Phrases

You will often read a sentence that has more than one noun or pronoun in it. You may encounter a group of words that includes a preposition with a noun or a pronoun. Prepositions connect a noun, pronoun, or verb to another word that describes or modifies that noun, pronoun, or verb. Common prepositions include inonundernearbywith, and about. A group of words that begin with a preposition is called a prepositional phrase. A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition and modifies or describes a word. It cannot act as the subject of a sentence. The following circled phrases are examples of prepositional phrases.

We went on a business trip (circled). That restaurant with the famous pizza (circled) was on the way. We stopped for lunch (circled).

Self-Practice EXERCISE 3.1

Read the following sentences. Underline the subjects and circle the prepositional phrases.

The gym is open until nine o’clock tonight.
The student with the most extra credit will win a homework pass.
Maya and Tia found an abandoned cat by the side of the road.
The driver of that pickup truck skidded on the ice.
Anita won the race with time to spare.
The people who work for that company were surprised about the merger.
Working in haste means that you are more likely to make mistakes.
The soundtrack has over 60 songs in languages from around the world.
His latest invention does not work, but it has inspired the rest of us.



Once you locate the subject of a sentence, you can move on to the next part of a complete sentence: the verb. A verb is often an action word that shows what the subject is doing. A verb can also link the subject to a describing word. There are three types of verbs that you can use in a sentence: action verbs, linking verbs, or helping verbs.

Action Verbs

A verb that connects the subject to an action is called an action verb. An action verb answers the question what is the subject doing? In the following sentences, the words underlined twice are action verbs.

The dog barked (underlined twice) at the jogger. He gave (underlined twice) a short speech before we ate.

Linking Verbs

A verb can often connect the subject of the sentence to a describing word. This type of verb is called a linking verb because it links the subject to a describing word. In the following sentences, the words underlined twice are linking verbs.

The coat was (underlined twice) old and dirty. The clock seemed (underlined twice) broken.

If you have trouble telling the difference between action verbs and linking verbs, remember:

An action verb shows that the subject is doing something.

A linking verb simply connects the subject to another word that describes or modifies the subject.

A few verbs can be used as either action verbs or linking verbs.

Action verb. The boy looked (underlined twice) for his glove. Linking verb, The boy looked (underlined twice) tired.

Although both sentences use the same verb, the two sentences have completely different meanings. In the first sentence, the verb describes the boy’s action. In the second sentence, the verb describes the boy’s appearance.

Helping Verbs

A third type of verb you may use as you write is a helping verb. Helping verbs are verbs that are used with the main verb to describe a mood or tense. Helping verbs are usually a form of bedo, or have. The word can is also used as a helping verb.

The restaurant (underlined once) is known (underlined twice) for its variety of dishes. She (underlined once) does speak up (underlined twice) when prompted in class. We (underlined once) have seen (underlined twiced) have seen that movie three times. She (underlined once) can tell (underlined twice) when someone walks on her lawn.


Whenever you write or edit sentences, keep the subject and verb in mind. As you write, ask yourself these questions to keep yourself on track:

Subject: Who or what is the sentence about?

Verb: Which word shows an action or links the subject to a description?

Self-Practice EXERCISE 3.2

Underline the verb(s) in each of the sentences below twice. Name the type of verb(s) used in the sentence in the space provided (LV, HV, or V).

The cat sounds ready to come back inside. ________
We have not eaten dinner yet. ________
It took four people to move the broken down car. ________
The book was filled with notes from class. ________
We walked from room to room, inspecting for damages. ________
Harold was expecting a package in the mail. ________
The clothes still felt damp even though they had been through the dryer twice. ________
The teacher who runs the studio is often praised for his restoration work on old masterpieces. ________

Sentence Structure (Including Fragments)

Now that you know what makes a complete sentence—a subject and a verb—you can use other parts of speech to build on this basic structure. Good writers use a variety of sentence structures to make their work more interesting. This section covers different sentence structures that you can use to make longer, more complex sentences.

Sentence Patterns

Six basic subject-verb patterns can enhance your writing. A sample sentence is provided for each pattern. As you read each sentence, take note of where each part of the sentence falls. Notice that some sentence patterns use action verbs and others use linking verbs.

Subject ——> Verb

Subject, computers (underlined once). Verb, hum (underlined twice).

Subject —–> Linking Verb ——> Noun

subject to link to noun

Subject —–> Linking Verb ——> Adjective

subject to verb to adjective
Subject —–> Verb ——> Adverb
Subject, Computers (underlined once), Verb, calculate (underlined twice), Adverb, quickly.

Subject —–> Verb ——> Direct Object

Subject, Sally, Verb, rides, a Direct Object, motorcycle.

When you write a sentence with a direct object (DO), make sure that the DO receives the action of the verb.

Subject —–> Verb ——> Indirect Object ——> Direct Object

Subject, my coworker (underlined once), Verb, gave (underlined twice), indirect object, me, direct object, the reports.

In this sentence structure, an indirect object explains to whom or to what the action is being done. The indirect object is a noun or pronoun, and it comes before the direct object in a sentence.

Self-practice EXERCISE 3.3

Use what you have learned so far to bring variety in your writing. Use the following lines or your own sheet of paper to write six sentences that practise each basic sentence pattern. When you have finished, label each part of the sentence (S, V, LV, N, Adj, Adv, DO, IO).




Collaboration: Find an article in a newspaper, a magazine, or online that interests you. Then, identify one example of each part of a sentence (S, V, LV, N, Adj, Adv, DO, IO).


The sentences you have encountered so far have been independent clauses. As you look more closely at your past writing assignments, you may notice that some of your sentences are not complete. A sentence that is missing a subject or a verb is called a fragment. A fragment may include a description or may express part of an idea, but it does not express a complete thought.
Fragment: Children helping in the kitchen.

Complete sentence: Children helping in the kitchen often make a mess.

You can easily fix a fragment by adding the missing subject or verb. In the example, the sentence was missing a verb. Adding often make a mess creates an S-V-N sentence structure. Figure 3.1 illustrates how you can edit a fragment to become a complete sentence.

Figure 3.1 Editing Fragments That Are Missing a Subject or a Verb

editing fragments

See whether you can identify what is missing in the following fragments.

Fragment: Told her about the broken vase.
Complete sentence: I told her about the broken vase.
Complete sentence: The store down on Main Street sells music.

Common Sentence Errors

Fragments often occur because of some common errors, such as starting a sentence with a preposition, a dependent word, an infinitive, or a gerund. If you use the six basic sentence patterns when you write, you should be able to avoid these errors and thus avoid writing fragments.

When you see a preposition, check to see that it is part of a sentence containing a subject and a verb. If it is not connected to a complete sentence, it is a fragment, and you will need to fix this type of fragment by combining it with another sentence. You can add the prepositional phrase to the end of the sentence. If you add it to the beginning of the other sentence, insert a comma after the prepositional phrase. Look at the examples. Figure 3.2 illustrates how you can edit a fragment that begins with a preposition.

Example A:

Incorrect: After walking over two miles. John remembered his wallet. Correct: After walking over two miles, John remembered his wallet. Correct: John remembered his wallet after walking over two miles.

Example B:

Incorrect: The dog growled at the vacuum cleaner. When it was switched on. Correct: When the vacuum cleaner was switched on, the dog growled. Correct: The dog growled at the vacuum cleaner when it was switched on.

Figure 3.2 Editing Fragments That Begin with a Preposition

editing fragments2

Clauses that start with a dependent word—such as sincebecausewithout, or unless—are similar to prepositional phrases. Like prepositional phrases, these clauses can be fragments if they are not connected to an independent clause containing a subject and a verb. To fix the problem, you can add such a fragment to the beginning or end of a sentence. If the fragment is added at the beginning of a sentence, add a comma after it before the independent clause.

Incorrect: Because we lost power. The entire family overslept. Correct: Because we lost power, the entire family overslept. Correct: The entire family overslept because we lost power.

Incorrect: He has been seeing a physical therapist. Since his accident. Correct: Since his accident, he has been seeing a physical therapist. Correct: He has been seeing a physical therapist since his accident.

When you encounter a word ending in -ing in a sentence, identify whether it is being used as a verb in the sentence. You may also look for a helping verb. If the word is not used as a verb or if no helping verb is used with the -ing verb form, the verb is being used as a noun. An -ing verb form used as a noun is called a gerund.

Verb: I was working (double underlined) on homework until midnight. Noun: Working (single underline) until midnight makes me tired the next morning.

Once you know whether the -ing word is acting as a noun or a verb, look at the rest of the sentence. Does the entire sentence make sense on its own? If not, what you are looking at is a fragment. You will need to either add the parts of speech that are missing or combine the fragment with a nearby sentence. Figure 3.3 illustrates how to edit fragments that begin with a gerund.

Figure 3.3 Editing Fragments That Begin with Gerunds


Incorrect: Taking deep breaths. Saul prepared for his presentation.

Correct: Taking deep breaths, Saul prepared for his presentation.

Correct: Saul prepared for his presentation. He was taking deep breaths.

Incorrect: Congratulating the entire team. Sarah raised her glass to toast their success.

Correct: She was congratulating the entire team. Sarah raised her glass to toast their success.

Correct: Congratulating the entire team, Sarah raised her glass to toast their success.

Another error in sentence construction is a fragment that begins with an infinitive. An infinitive is a verb paired with the word to; for example, to runto write, or to reach. Although infinitives are verbs, they can be used as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. You can correct a fragment that begins with an infinitive by either combining it with another sentence or adding the parts of speech that are missing.

Incorrect: We needed to make 300 more paper cranes. To reach the one thousand mark.

Correct: We needed to make 300 more paper cranes to reach the one thousand mark.

Correct: We needed to make 300 more paper cranes. We wanted to reach the one thousand mark.

Self-practice EXERCISE 3.4

Copy the following sentences onto your own sheet of paper and circle the fragments. Then combine the fragment with the independent clause to create a complete sentence.

Working without taking a break. We try to get as much work done as we can in an hour.
I needed to bring work home. In order to meet the deadline.
Unless the ground thaws before spring break. We won’t be planting any tulips this year.
You’ll find what you need if you look. On the shelf next to the potted plant.
To find the perfect apartment. Deidre scoured the classifieds each day.


Learning Objectives

  • Explain and apply the criteria for making a summary
  • Identify and avoid the challenges of creating summaries

In Chapter 2: Working with Words, you practised identifying main and supporting ideas, which is necessary for your understanding and for creating a summary of the information you have read; once you have identified what you think the important ideas are, you can transfer that information into a new paragraph, putting the original source’s ideas into your own words or what is called paraphrasing.

In this section and in other places throughout this book, you will meet Jorge, who has been assigned a paper on low-carbohydrate papers. You will follow Jorge on the steps to creating his paper, starting with his summary.

What Is a Summary?

When you summarize, you are filtering and condensing the most necessary points from a source, like a book, article, or website.

When summarizing material from a source, you zero in on the main points and restate them concisely in your own words. This technique is appropriate when only the major ideas are relevant to your paper or when you need to simplify complex information into a few key points for your readers. To create a summary, consider the following points:

Review the source material as you summarize it.

Identify the main idea and restate it as concisely as you can—preferably in one sentence. Depending on your purpose, you may also add another sentence or two condensing any important details or examples.

Check your summary to make sure it is accurate and complete.

Make a careful record of where you found the information because you will need to include the reference and citation if you choose to use the information in an essay. It is much easier to do this when you are creating the summary and taking notes than having to go back and hunt for the information later. Guessing where you think you got it from is not good enough.

Summaries and Abstracts

When you read many journal articles, you will notice there is an abstract before the article starts: this is a summary of the article’s contents. Be careful when you are summarizing an article to not depend too much on the abstract as it is already a condensed version of the content. The author of the abstract identified the main points from his or her perception; these may not match your own purpose or your own idea of what is important. What may also happen if you try to summarize the abstract is you will probably end up replacing some words with synonyms and not changing the overall ideas into your own words because the ideas are already summarized, and it is difficult to make them more generalized (we will discuss this more in Section 3.3: Paraphrasing). You have to read the entire source or section of the source and determine for yourself what the key and supporting ideas are.


A summary or abstract of a reading passage is one-tenth to one-quarter the length of the original passage, written in your own words. The criteria for a summary are that it:

Includes only the main points and key details

Is valuable because it is the surest way to measure your understanding

Helps you remember because you must attend carefully to what you read, organize your thoughts, and write them out to make it meaningful to you (This is absolutely necessary when you cannot mark a book because it belongs to someone else.)

Challenges you to be concise in your writing while providing balanced coverage of the main points.

Challenges you to paraphrase or use your own words and avoid using too many quotations.

Is important to remain objective because you are giving the author’s views not your own.

In his draft, Jorge summarized research materials that presented scientists’ findings about low-carbohydrate diets. Read the following passage from a trade magazine article and Jorge’s summary of the article.

Article: Assessing the Efficacy of LowCarbohydrate Diets

Adrienne Howell, Ph.D. (2010)

Over the past few years, a number of clinical studies have explored whether high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are more effective for weight loss than other frequently recommended diet plans, such as diets that drastically curtail fat intake (Pritikin) or that emphasize consuming lean meats, grains, vegetables, and a moderate amount of unsaturated fats (the Mediterranean diet). A 2009 study found that obese teenagers who followed a low-carbohydrate diet lost an average of 15.6 kilograms over a six-month period, whereas teenagers following a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet lost an average of 11.1 kilograms and 9.3 kilograms respectively. Two 2010 studies that measured weight loss for obese adults following these same three diet plans found similar results. Over three months, subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet plan lost anywhere from four to six kilograms more than subjects who followed other diet plans.


In three recent studies, researchers compared outcomes for obese subjects who followed either a low-carbohydrate diet, a low-fat diet, or a Mediterranean diet and found that subjects following a low-carbohydrate diet lost more weight in the same time (Howell, 2010).


A summary restates ideas in your own words, but for specialized or clinical terms, you may need to use terms that appear in the original source. For instance, Jorge used the term obese in his summary because related words such as heavy or overweight have a different clinical meaning.

Summary Paragraphs

summary shrinks a large amount of information into only the essentials. You probably summarize events, books, and movies daily. Think about the last movie you saw or the last novel you read. Chances are, at some point in a casual conversation with a friend, co-worker, or classmate, you compressed all the action of a two-hour film or a 200-page book into a brief description of the major plot movements. You probably described the main points in just a few sentences, using your own vocabulary and manner of speaking.

Similarly, a summary paragraph condenses a long piece of writing into a smaller paragraph by extracting only the vital information. A summary uses only the writer’s own words. Like the summary’s purpose in daily conversation, the purpose of an academic summary paragraph is to maintain all the essential information from a longer document. Although shorter than the original piece of writing, a summary should still communicate all the key points and key support. In other words, summary paragraphs should be succinct and to the point.

The following is another example of a report on the use of alcohol by adolescents with an example of a student summary of that information.

report information

article 2

A summary of the report should present all the main points and supporting details in brief. Read the following summary of the report written by a student:


Notice how the summary retains the key points made by the writers of the original report but omits most of the statistical data. Summaries do not need to contain all the specific facts and figures in the original document; they provide only an overview of the essential information.


To write a summary:

Survey the passage, anticipating main points and checking them.

Read carefully, locating all controlling ideas, identifying key details, and deciding which are necessary to remember and which are not.

Write a paragraph in whole sentences that relate/explain only the controlling ideas and supporting details; be economical and use no more words than necessary.

Differentiate between your ideas and the original author’s by using phrases such as “According to Marshall (2014), ….” or “ Marshall (2014) argues that ….

Self-practice Exercise 3.5

  • Read the following passage and use a note-taking method to identify the main points.
  • Compose a sentence summarizing the paragraph’s main points.

Several factors about the environment influence our behaviour. First, temperature can influence us greatly. We seem to feel best when the temperature is in the high teens to low 20s. If it is too hot or cold, we have trouble concentrating. Lighting also influences how we function. A dark lecture hall may interfere with the lecture, or a bright nightclub might spoil romantic conversation. Finally, our behaviour is affected by colour. Some colours make us feel a peaceful while others are exciting. If you wanted a quiet room in which to study, for example, you would not paint it bright orange or red.

Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.

Here are possible answers:
Key points:

Environmental factors influence behaviour:

  • Temperature: extremes make focus difficult
  • Lighting: inappropriate lighting is disorientating
  • Colour: colour affects relaxation

Summary sentence:

Three environmental influences that impact human behaviour include temperature, as extreme fluctuations make it difficult to focus; lighting, which can affect our ability to engage with different environments; and colour, which affects our mood.

Passage taken from: Ueland, B. (2006). Becoming a Master Student. Boston, MA : Houghton Mifflin College Div., p. 121.

Self-practice Exercise 3.6

Read the passage.
Highlight or underline necessary information (hint: there are five important ideas).
Write your summary.

Most people drink orange juice and eat oranges because they are said to be rich in vitamin C. There are also other foods that are rich in vitamin C. It is found in citrus fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, and carrots.

Vitamin C is important to our health. Do you really know how essential this nutrient is to our health and well-being? Our body needs to heal itself. Vitamin C can repair and prevent damage to the cells in our body and heal wounds. It also keeps our teeth and gums healthy. That is not all. It protects our body from infections such as colds and flu and also helps us to get better faster when we have these infections. That is why a lot of people drink orange juice and take vitamin C tablets every day. This wonderful vitamin is also good for our heart. It protects the linings of the arteries, which are the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood. In other words, it offers protection against heart disease.

If we do not get enough vitamin C, which means we are not eating enough food that contains this vitamin, it can lead to serious diseases. Lack of vitamin C can lead to scurvy, which causes swollen gums, cheeks, fingers, hands, toes, and feet. In serious conditions, it can lead to bleeding from wounds, loss of teeth, and opening up of wounds. Therefore, make sure you have enough vitamin C in your diet.

Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.

Exercise taken from:

3.3 Paraphrasing

Learning Objectives

  • Identify how summarizing and paraphrasing work together
  • Apply paraphrasing techniques of changing words and sentence structures

When you quote a source, you are taking the words directly from the passage: these are the original author’s words. Quotes can be useful (see Chapter 9: Citations and Referencing), but in order to show you understand what you have read, you should paraphrase. Paraphrasing is putting information into your words; it is an important skill to develop because when you do it, you are not only showing you understand what you have read, but you are also processing and adapting that information to your writing purpose.

When you paraphrase, you are using the technique of putting a condensed version of someone else’s ideas (summary) into your own words.

It is very important to remember when you are paraphrasing is you still need to include citations because although the words are yours, the ideas belong to the original authors, and you must give that person credit for the ideas (again, we will look at this more in Chapter 9: Citations and Referencing).


If you prefer rewriting, try not to copy but use your own paraphrasing of the material. If a concept is difficult, put it in your own terms with a concrete example so you understand it. Try to put it in the vocabulary of the course.

Paraphrasing Sources

When you paraphrase material from a source, restate the information from an entire sentence or passage in your own words, using your own original sentence structure. A paraphrased source differs from a summarized source in that you focus on restating the ideas, not condensing them. Again, it is important to check your paraphrase against the source material to make sure it is both accurate and original. Inexperienced writers sometimes use the thesaurus method of paraphrasing; that is, they simply rewrite the source material, replacing most of the words with synonyms. This constitutes a misuse of sources. A true paraphrase restates ideas using the writer’s (your) own language and style.

In his draft, Jorge frequently paraphrased details from sources. At times, he needed to rewrite a sentence more than once to ensure he was paraphrasing ideas correctly. Below is a passage with examples of how he paraphrased and adapted the information to create his own paragraph. Read the passage from a website. Then read Jorge’s initial attempt at paraphrasing it, followed by the final version of his paraphrase.


According to Heinz (2009), dieters nearly always get great results soon after they begin following a low-carbohydrate diet, but these results tend to taper off after the first few months, particularly because many dieters find it difficult to follow a low-carbohydrate diet plan consistently.

Jorge’s Original Summary

People usually see encouraging outcomes shortly after they go on a low-carbohydrate diet, but their progress slows down after a short while, especially because most discover that it is a challenge to adhere to the diet strictly (Heinz, 2009).

After reviewing the paraphrased sentence, Jorge realized he was following the original source too closely. He did not want to quote the full passage verbatim, so he again attempted to restate the idea in his own style.

Jorge’s Revised Summary

Because it is hard for dieters to stick to a low-carbohydrate eating plan, the initial success of these diets is short lived (Heinz, 2009).

Self-Practice Exercise 3.7

On a sheet of paper, paraphrase each of the following passages.

“The twenties were the years when drinking was against the law, and the law was a bad joke because everyone knew of a local bar where liquor could be had. They were the years when organized crime ruled the cities, and the police seemed powerless to do anything against it. Classical music was forgotten while jazz spread throughout the land, and men like Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie became the heroes of the young. The flapper was born in the twenties, and with her bobbed hair and short skirts, she symbolized, perhaps more than anyone or anything else, America’s break with the past.” From Kathleen Yancey, English 102 Supplemental Guide (1989): 25.

“While the Sears Tower is arguably the greatest achievement in skyscraper engineering so far, it’s unlikely that architects and engineers have abandoned the quest for the world’s tallest building. The question is: Just how high can a building go? Structural engineer William LeMessurier has designed a skyscraper nearly one half mile high, twice as tall as the Sears Tower. And architect Robert Sobel claims that existing technology could produce a 500-story building.” From Ron Bachman, “Reaching for the Sky.” Dial (May 1990): 15.

Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.


Here are possible answers:

During the twenties, lawlessness and social nonconformity prevailed. In cities, organized crime flourished without police interference, and, in spite of nationwide prohibition of liquor sales, anyone who wished to buy a drink knew where to get one. Musicians like Louis Armstrong become favourites, particularly among young people, as many turned away from highly respectable classical music to jazz. One of the best examples of the anti-traditional trend was the proliferation of young “flappers,” women who rebelled against custom by cutting off their hair and shortening their skirts (Yancey, 1989, p. 25).

The Sears Tower is a world marvel, and it is unknown how much higher skyscrapers of the future will rise. However, the design of one twice as tall as the Sears Tower is already on the boards, and an architect, Robert Sobel, thinks we currently have sufficient know how to build a skyscraper with over 500 storeys (Bachman, 1990, p. 15).

Exercise taken from:


Self-Practice Exercise 3.8

On a sheet of paper, follow these steps to practise paraphrasing.

  • Choose an important idea or detail from your notes.
  • Without looking at the original source, restate the idea in your own words.
  • Check your paraphrase against the original text in the source. Make sure both your language and your sentence structure are original.
  • Revise your paraphrase if necessary.


Assignment 2: summary practice (5%)

Read the following article and compose a summary of 100 to 150 words. Determine what the key points are and paraphrase accordingly. Make sure all the points you choose are important to the understanding and overall meaning of the essay.


You want to use objective language that accurately represents the original author’s angle of vision: do not provide analysis or discussion.

You should not simply substitute words.

You should change up the sentence structure.

The end result needs to capture all the main points but also be in your own words.

You need to submit this assignment to your instructor for marking. (5%)


Heroin as One of the Most Lethal Drugs
Among prohibited narcotic substances, heroin has been classified as one of the most addictive and detrimental. In a recent research study run by the Institute of Narcotic Examination in Rollesque, Nevada, heroin ranked 2.89 out of 3 on a dependence rating scale (Perez, 2012). This result was also confirmed by scores of research held in London by the Academy of Pharmaceutical Studies (Perez, 2012). An opiate processed from morphine, heroin is delineated as a lethal drug. The common form of heroin sold in streets looks like a white or brown gummy substance with a high consistency of tar.

Heroin is injected into the human body through a hypothermic needle directly in a muscle or a particular blood vein. It can also be smoked like cigarettes. There is the possibility of it being successfully mixed with drugs or snorted as cocaine. Street heroin is often mixed with other substances like sugar, starch, quinine, poisons or even powder milk to dilute the effect. Short and long term effects of heroin use have different levels of withdrawal, reinforcements, tolerance, dependency and intoxication. Heroin reduces pain and mimics the traits of endorphins, which causes the human brain to experience pleasure (Hollow, 2011). The central neural system becomes supersaturated with endorphin like substances, and when the effect of heroin ends, individuals begin to feel the need for a new injection to prolong pleasure (Hollow, 2011).

The degree of heroin addictiveness can be measured by the severe withdrawal symptoms which it induces in individuals. Among the most common symptoms, one can enlist the following: a warm flush feeling in the skin, an ill mood and depression, vomiting, itching, nausea, and heavy pain in joints. The cardiac functions and the neural system functions slow down, though it often depends on the individual’s genetic type, amount of the drug taken, and the purity of the substance (Hollow, 2011).

Heroin addiction causes numerous side effects to the physical body. Blood vein structure collapses, and a risk of receiving a heart infection, liver disease, or abscesses dramatically increases. Long term addiction to the drug takes the form of a chronic, relapsing disease. Long term use of heroin prompts users to gradually increase doses. Once a user is in the chronic stage, this implies such symptoms as restlessness, bone and muscle pain, insomnia, and intense withdrawal stages lasting for 24 to 48 hours after heroin has been taken (Lichter, 2012).

The treatment of heroin addiction includes a thorough detoxification program, which helps to minimize the severity of withdrawal symptoms. The use of medications for treatment along with therapy helps individuals cope. Methadone programs, buprenorphine, together with behavioral therapies aid to recover from addiction (Perez, 2012). These aspects are important, as both behavioral and pharmacological interventions can effectively normalize addiction levels, brain functions and social behavior. These methods are used in a varied combination to cure the withdrawal, tolerance, dependence and intoxication elements to minimize the addictive qualities of heroin.


Hollow, M. (2011). Heroin: The Ultimate Drug. Chicago: Running Hill Books.

Lichter, M. (2012). The Dark Hole of Heroin. Boston: Sidetrack Books.

Perez, G. (2012). Studies of Heroin. New York: Gold Beard Press.

Essay taken and adapted from:

3.4 Effective Means for Writing a Paragraph

Learning Objectives

  • Identify characteristics of a good topic sentence
  • Identify the three parts of a developed paragraph
  • Apply knowledge of topic sentences and parts of a developed paragraph in an assignment

This section addresses paragraph composition. In the next chapter, we will look at identifying common assignment purposes and how to select appropriate content for a particular audience, but here we will look at what actually makes up a paragraph. Composing an effective paragraph requires a method similar to building a house. You may have the finest content, or materials, but if you do not arrange them in the correct order, then the final product will not hold together very well.

Imagine reading one long block of text, with each idea blurring into the next. Even if you are reading a thrilling novel or an interesting news article, you will likely very quickly lose interest in what the author. During the writing process, it is helpful to position yourself as a reader. Ask yourself whether you can focus easily on each point you make. One technique that effective writers use is to begin a fresh paragraph for each new idea they introduce.

Paragraphs separate ideas into logical, manageable chunks. One paragraph focuses on only one main idea and presents coherent sentences to support that one point. Because all the sentences in one paragraph support the same point, a paragraph may stand on its own. To create longer assignments and to discuss more than one point, writers group together paragraphs.

A strong paragraph contains three distinct components:

Topic sentence. The topic sentence is the main idea of the paragraph.

Body. The body is composed of the supporting sentences that develop the main point.

Conclusion. The conclusion is the final sentence that summarizes the main point.

The foundation of a good paragraph is the topic sentence, which expresses the main idea of the paragraph. The topic sentence relates to the thesis, or main point, of the essay and guides the reader by signposting what the paragraph is about. All the sentences in the rest of the paragraph should relate to the topic sentence.

This section covers the major components of a paragraph and examines how to develop an effective topic sentence.

Paragraph Length

How long should a paragraph be?

One answer to this important question may be “long enough”—long enough for you to address your points and explain your main idea. To grab attention or to present succinct supporting ideas, a paragraph can be fairly short and consist of two to three sentences. A paragraph in a complex essay about some abstract point in philosophy or archaeology can be two-thirds of a page or more in length. As long as the writer maintains close focus on the topic and does not ramble, a long paragraph is acceptable. In general, try to keep the paragraphs longer than one sentence but shorter than two-thirds of a page of double spaced text, or roughly 75 to 200 words in length.


Journalistic style often calls for brief two- or three-sentence paragraphs because of how people read the news, both online and in print. Blogs and other online information sources often adopt this paragraphing style, too. Readers often skim the first paragraphs of a great many articles before settling on the handful of stories they want to read in detail.

You may find that a particular paragraph you write may be longer than one that will hold your audience’s interest. In such cases, you should divide the paragraph into two or more shorter paragraphs, adding a topic statement or some kind of transitional word or phrase at the start of the new paragraph. Transition words or phrases show the connection between the two ideas.

In all cases, however, be guided by what your instructor wants and expects to find in your draft. Many instructors will expect you to develop a mature style as you progress through the semester’s assignments.

Developing a Topic Sentence

Pick up any newspaper or magazine and read the first sentence of an article. Are you fairly confident that you know what the rest of the article is about? If so, you have likely read the topic sentence. An effective topic sentence combines a main idea with the writer’s personal attitude or opinion. It serves to orient the reader and provides an indication of what will follow in the rest of the paragraph. Read the following example.

Creating a national set of standards for math and English education will improve student learning in many provinces.

This topic sentence declares a favourable position for standardizing math and English education. After reading this sentence, a reader might reasonably expect the writer to provide supporting details and facts as to why standardizing math and English education might improve student learning in many provinces. If the purpose of the essay is actually to evaluate education in only one particular province or to discuss math or English education specifically, then the topic sentence is misleading.


When writing a draft of an essay, allow a friend or colleague to read the opening line of your first paragraph. Ask your reader to predict what your paper will be about. If he or she is unable to guess your topic accurately, you should consider revising your topic sentence so that it clearly defines your purpose in writing.

Main Idea versus Controlling Idea

Topic sentences contain both a main idea (the subject, or topic that the writer is discussing) and a controlling idea (the writer’s specific stance on that subject). Just as a thesis statement includes an idea that controls a document’s focus, a topic sentence must also contain a controlling idea to direct the paragraph. Different writers may use the same main idea but can steer their paragraph in a number of different directions according to their stance on the subject. Read the following examples.

Marijuana is a destructive influence on teens and causes long-term brain damage.

The anti-nausea properties in marijuana are a lifeline for many cancer patients.

Legalizing marijuana would create a higher demand for Class A and Class B drugs.

Although the main idea—marijuana—is the same in all three topic sentences, the controlling idea differs depending on the writer’s viewpoint.

Self-Practice Exercise 3.9

Circle the main idea and underline the controlling idea in each of the following topic sentences.
Exercising three times a week is the only way to maintain good physical health.
Sexism and racism are still rampant in today’s workplace.
Raising the legal driving age to 21 would decrease road traffic accidents.
Owning a business is the only way to achieve financial success.
Dog owners should be prohibited from taking their pets on public beaches.


Characteristics of a Good Topic Sentence

Five characteristics define a good topic sentence:

A good topic sentence provides an accurate indication of what will follow in the rest of the paragraph.

Weak example. People rarely give firefighters the credit they deserve for such a physically and emotionally demanding job. (The paragraph is about a specific incident that involved firefighters; therefore, this topic sentence is too general.)

Stronger example. During the October riots, Unit 3B went beyond the call of duty. (This topic sentence is more specific and indicates that the paragraph will contain information about a particular incident involving Unit 3B.)

A good topic sentence contains both a topic and a controlling idea or opinion.

Weak example. In this paper, I am going to discuss the rising suicide rate among young professionals. (This topic sentence provides a main idea, but it does not present a controlling idea or thesis.)

Stronger example. The rising suicide rate among young professionals is a cause for immediate concern. (This topic sentence presents the writer’s opinion on the subject of rising suicide rates among young professionals.)

A good topic sentence is clear and easy to follow.

Weak example. In general, writing an essay, thesis, or other academic or nonacademic document is considerably easier and of much higher quality if you first construct an outline, of which there are many different types. (This topic sentence includes a main idea and a controlling thesis, but both are buried beneath the confusing sentence structure and unnecessary vocabulary. These obstacles make it difficult for the reader to follow.)

Stronger example. Most forms of writing can be improved by first creating an outline. (This topic sentence cuts out unnecessary verbiage and simplifies the previous statement, making it easier for the reader to follow.)

A good topic sentence does not include supporting details.

Weak example. Salaries should be capped in baseball for many reasons, most importantly so we don’t allow the same team to win year after year. (This topic sentence includes a supporting detail that should be included later in the paragraph to back up the main point.)

Stronger example. Introducing a salary cap would improve the game of baseball for many reasons. (This topic sentence omits the additional supporting detail so that it can be expanded upon later in the paragraph.)

A good topic sentence engages the reader by using interesting vocabulary.

Weak example. The military deserves better equipment. (This topic sentence includes a main idea and a controlling thesis, but the language is bland and unexciting.)

Stronger example. The appalling lack of resources provided to the military is outrageous and requires our immediate attention. (This topic sentence reiterates the same idea and controlling thesis, but adjectives such as appalling and immediate better engage the reader. These words also indicate the writer’s tone.)

Self-Practice Exercise 3.10

Choose the most effective topic sentence from the following sentence pairs.
a. This paper will discuss the likelihood of the Liberals winning the next election.
b. To boost their chances of winning the next election, the Liberals need to listen to public opinion.

a. The unrealistic demands of union workers are crippling the economy for three main reasons.
b. Union workers are crippling the economy because companies are unable to remain competitive as a result of added financial pressure.

a. Authors are losing money as a result of technological advances.
b. The introduction of new technology will devastate the literary world.

a. Rap music is produced by untalented individuals with oversized egos.
b. This essay will consider whether talent is required in the rap music industry.


Self-Practice Exercise 3.11

Using the tips on developing effective topic sentences in this section, create a topic sentence on each of the following subjects. Remember to include a controlling idea as well as a main idea.
An endangered species:
The cost of fuel:
The legal drinking age:
A controversial film or novel:

Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.

Writing at Work

When creating a workplace document, use the “top down” approach—keep the topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph so that readers immediately understand the gist of the message. This method saves busy colleagues precious time and effort trying to figure out the main points and relevant details.

Headings are another helpful tool. In a text-heavy document, break up each paragraph with individual headings. These serve as useful navigation aids, enabling colleagues to skim through the document and locate paragraphs that are relevant to them.

Developing Paragraphs That Use Topic Sentences, Supporting Ideas, and Transitions Effectively

Learning how to develop a good topic sentence is the first step toward writing a solid paragraph. Once you have composed your topic sentence, you have a guideline for the rest of the paragraph. To complete the paragraph, a writer must support the topic sentence with additional information and summarize the main point with a concluding sentence.

This section identifies the three major structural parts of a paragraph and covers how to develop a paragraph using transitional words and phrases.

Identifying Parts of a Paragraph

An effective paragraph contains three main parts: a topic sentence, the body, and the concluding sentence. A topic sentence is often the first sentence of a paragraph. The body of the paragraph usually follows, containing supporting details. Supporting sentences help explain, prove, or enhance the topic sentence. The concluding sentence is the last sentence in the paragraph. It reminds the reader of the main point by restating it in different words. Figure 3.4 provides a template you can use for organizing your paragraphs.

Figure 3.4 Paragraph Structure Graphic Organizer

paragraph structure


Read the following paragraph. The topic sentence is underlined for you.

After reading the new TV guide this week, I had just one thought—why are we still being bombarded with reality shows? This season, the plague of reality television continues to darken our airwaves. Along with the return of viewer favourites, we are to be cursed with yet another mindless creation. Prisoner follows the daily lives of eight suburban housewives who have chosen to be put in jail for the purposes of this fake psychological experiment. A preview for the first episode shows the usual tears and tantrums associated with reality television. I dread to think what producers will come up with next season, but if any of them are reading this blog—stop it! We’ve had enough reality television to last us a lifetime!

The first sentence of this paragraph is the topic sentence. It tells the reader that the paragraph will be about reality television shows, and it expresses the writer’s distaste for these shows through the use of the word bombarded.

Each of the following sentences in the paragraph supports the topic sentence by providing further information about a specific reality television show. The final sentence is the concluding sentence. It reiterates the main point that viewers are bored with reality television shows by using different words from the topic sentence.

Paragraphs that begin with the topic sentence move from the general to the specific. They open with a general statement about a subject (reality shows) and then discuss specific examples (the reality show Prisoner). Most academic essays contain the topic sentence at the beginning of the first paragraph.

Now take a look at another paragraph. The topic sentence is underlined for you.

Last year, a cat travelled 200 kilometres to reach its family, who had moved to another city and had left their pet behind. Even though the cat had never been to the new home, it cat was able to track down its former owners. A dog in my neighbourhood can predict when its master is about to have a seizure. It makes sure that he does not hurt himself during an epileptic fit. Compared to many animals, our own senses are almost dull.

The last sentence of this paragraph is the topic sentence. It draws on specific examples (a cat that tracked down its owners and a dog that can predict seizures) and then makes a general statement that draws a conclusion from these examples (animals’ senses are better than humans’). In this case, the supporting sentences are placed before the topic sentence and the concluding sentence is the same as the topic sentence.

This technique is frequently used in persuasive writing. The writer produces detailed examples as evidence to back up his or her point, preparing the reader to accept the concluding topic sentence as the truth.

Sometimes, the topic sentence appears in the middle of a paragraph. Read the following example. The topic sentence is underlined for you.

For many years, I suffered from severe anxiety every time I took an exam. Hours before the exam, my heart would begin pounding, my legs would shake, and sometimes I would become physically unable to move. Last year, I was referred to a specialist and finally found a way to control my anxiety—breathing exercises. It seems so simple, but by doing just a few breathing exercises a couple of hours before an exam, I gradually got my anxiety under control. The exercises help slow my heart rate and make me feel less anxious. Better yet, they require no pills, no equipment, and very little time. It is amazing how just breathing correctly has helped me learn to manage my anxiety symptoms.

In this paragraph, the underlined sentence is the topic sentence. It expresses the main idea—that breathing exercises can help control anxiety. The preceding sentences enable the writer to build up to his main point (breathing exercises can help control anxiety) by using a personal anecdote (how the writer used to suffer from anxiety). The supporting sentences then expand on how breathing exercises help the writer by providing additional information. The last sentence is the concluding sentence and restates how breathing can help manage anxiety.

Placing a topic sentence in the middle of a paragraph is often used in creative writing. If you notice that you have used a topic sentence in the middle of a paragraph in an academic essay, read through the paragraph carefully to make sure that it contains only one major topic.

Implied Topic Sentences

Some well-organized paragraphs do not contain a topic sentence at all. Instead of being directly stated, the main idea is implied in the content of the paragraph. Read the following example:

Heaving herself up the stairs, Luella had to pause for breath several times. She let out a wheeze as she sat down heavily in the wooden rocking chair. Tao approached her cautiously, as if she might crumble at the slightest touch. He studied her face, like parchment; stretched across the bones so finely he could almost see right through the skin to the decaying muscle underneath. Luella smiled a toothless grin.

Although no single sentence in this paragraph states the main idea, the entire paragraph focuses on one concept—that Luella is extremely old. The topic sentence is thus implied rather than stated. This technique is often used in descriptive or narrative writing. Implied topic sentences work well if the writer has a firm idea of what he or she intends to say in the paragraph and sticks to it. However, a paragraph loses its effectiveness if an implied topic sentence is too subtle or the writer loses focus.


Avoid using implied topic sentences in an informational document. Readers often lose patience if they are unable to quickly grasp what the writer is trying to say. The clearest and most efficient way to communicate in an informational document is to position the topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph.

Self-Practice Exercise 3.12

Identify the topic sentence, supporting sentences, and concluding sentence in the following paragraph.

The desert provides a harsh environment in which few mammals are able to adapt. Of these hardy creatures, the kangaroo rat is possibly the most fascinating. Able to live in some of the most arid parts of the southwest, the kangaroo rat neither sweats nor pants to keep cool. Its specialized kidneys enable it to survive on a minuscule amount of water. Unlike other desert creatures, the kangaroo rat does not store water in its body but instead is able to convert the dry seeds it eats into moisture. Its ability to adapt to such a hostile environment makes the kangaroo rat a truly amazing creature.


Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.

Supporting Sentences

If you think of a paragraph as a hamburger, the supporting sentences are the meat inside the bun. They make up the body of the paragraph by explaining, proving, or enhancing the controlling idea in the topic sentence. Most paragraphs contain three to six supporting sentences depending on the audience and purpose for writing. A supporting sentence usually offers one of the following:


Sentence: The refusal of the baby boom generation to retire is contributing to the current lack of available jobs.


Sentence: Many families now rely on older relatives to support them financially.


Sentence: Nearly 10 percent of adults are currently unemployed in the United States.


Sentence: “We will not allow this situation to continue,” stated Senator Johns.


Sentence: Last year, Bill was asked to retire at the age of 55.

The type of supporting sentence you choose will depend on what you are writing and why you are writing. For example, if you are attempting to persuade your audience to take a particular position, you should rely on facts, statistics, and concrete examples, rather than personal opinions. Read the following example:

There are numerous advantages to owning a hybrid car. (Topic sentence)

First, they get 20 percent to 35 percent more kilometres to the litre than a fuel-efficient gas-powered vehicle. (Supporting sentence 1: statistic)

Second, they produce very few emissions during low-speed city driving. (Supporting sentence 2: fact)

Because they do not require as much gas, hybrid cars reduce dependency on fossil fuels, which helps lower prices at the pump. (Supporting sentence 3: reason)

Alex bought a hybrid car two years ago and has been extremely impressed with its performance. (Supporting sentence 4: example)

“It’s the cheapest car I’ve ever had,” she said. “The running costs are far lower than previous gas-powered vehicles I’ve owned.” (Supporting sentence 5: quotation)

Given the low running costs and environmental benefits of owning a hybrid car, it is likely that many more people will follow Alex’s example in the near future. (Concluding sentence)

To find information for your supporting sentences, you might consider using one of the following sources:

Reference book

Academic journal/article









Previous experience

Personal research


When searching for information on the Internet, remember that some websites are more reliable than others. Websites ending in .gov or .edu are generally more reliable than websites ending in .com or .org. Wikis and blogs are not reliable sources of information because they are subject to inaccuracies and are usually very subjective and biased.

Concluding Sentences

An effective concluding sentence draws together all the ideas you have raised in your paragraph. It reminds readers of the main point—the topic sentence—without restating it in exactly the same words. Using the hamburger example, the top bun (the topic sentence) and the bottom bun (the concluding sentence) are very similar. They frame the “meat” or body of the paragraph. Compare the topic sentence and concluding sentence from the previous example:

Topic sentence: There are numerous advantages to owning a hybrid car.

Concluding sentence: Given the low running costs and environmental benefits of owning a hybrid car, it is likely that many more people will follow Alex’s example in the near future.

Notice the use of the synonyms advantages and benefits. The concluding sentence reiterates the idea that owning a hybrid is advantageous without using the exact same words. It also summarizes two examples of the advantages covered in the supporting sentences: low running costs and environmental benefits.

You should avoid introducing any new ideas into your concluding sentence. A conclusion is intended to provide the reader with a sense of completion. Introducing a subject that is not covered in the paragraph will confuse the reader and weaken your writing.

A concluding sentence may do any of the following:

Restate the main idea.

Example: Childhood obesity is a growing problem in North America.

Summarize the key points in the paragraph.

Example: A lack of healthy choices, poor parenting, and an addiction to video games are among the many factors contributing to childhood obesity.

Draw a conclusion based on the information in the paragraph.

Example: These statistics indicate that unless we take action, childhood obesity rates will continue to rise.

Make a prediction, suggestion, or recommendation about the information in the paragraph.

Example: Based on this research, more than 60 percent of children in North American will be morbidly obese by the year 2030 unless we take evasive action.

Offer an additional observation about the controlling idea.

Example: Childhood obesity is an entirely preventable tragedy.

Self-Practice Exercise 3.13

On your own paper, write one example of each type of concluding sentence based on a topic of your choice.


A strong paragraph moves seamlessly from the topic sentence into the supporting sentences and on to the concluding sentence. To help organize a paragraph and ensure that ideas logically connect to one another, writers use transitional words and phrases. A transition is a connecting word that describes a relationship between ideas. Take another look at the earlier example:

There are numerous advantages to owning a hybrid car. First, they get 20 percent to 35 percent more kilometres to the litre than a fuel-efficient gas-powered vehicle. Second, they produce very few emissions during low speed city driving. Because they require less gas, hybrid cars reduce dependency on fossil fuels, which helps lower prices at the pump. Alex bought a hybrid car two years ago and has been extremely impressed with its performance. “It’s the cheapest car I’ve ever had,” she said. “The running costs are far lower than previous gas-powered vehicles I’ve owned.” Given the low running costs and environmental benefits of owning a hybrid car, it is likely that many more people will follow Alex’s example in the near future.

Each of the underlined words is a transition word. Words such as first and second are transition words that show sequence or clarify order. They help organize the writer’s ideas by showing that he or she has another point to make in support of the topic sentence. Other transition words that show order include thirdalso, and furthermore.

The transition word because is a transition word of consequence that continues a line of thought. It indicates that the writer will provide an explanation of a result. In this sentence, the writer explains why hybrid cars will reduce dependency on fossil fuels (because they require less gas). Other transition words of consequence include as a resultso thatsince, or for this reason.

To include a summarizing transition in her concluding sentence, the writer could rewrite the final sentence as follows:

In conclusion, given the low running costs and environmental benefits of owning a hybrid car, it is likely that many more people will follow Alex’s example in the near future.

Table 3.1: Transitional Words and Phrases to Connect Sentences provides some useful transition words to connect supporting sentences and concluding sentences. (In other chapters of this book, you will be exposed to more transitional words and phrases for other purposes.)

Table 3.1 Transitional Words and Phrases to Connect Sentences

For Supporting Sentences
above all but for instance in particular moreover subsequently
also conversely furthermore later on nevertheless therefore
aside from correspondingly however likewise on one hand to begin with
at the same time for example in addition meanwhile on the contrary
For Concluding Sentences
after all all things considered in brief in summary on the whole to sum up
all in all finally in conclusion on balance thus

Self-Practice Exercise 3.14

On a sheet of paper, write a paragraph on a topic of your choice. Be sure to include a topic sentence, supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence and to use transitional words and phrases to link your ideas together.

Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.


Writing at Work

Transitional words and phrases are useful tools to incorporate into workplace documents. They guide the reader through the document, clarifying relationships between sentences and paragraphs so that the reader understands why they have been written in that particular order.

For example, when writing an instructional memo, it may be helpful to consider the following transitional words and phrases: before you begin, firstnextthenfinallyafter you have completed. Using these transitions as a template to write your memo will provide readers with clear, logical instructions about a particular process and the order in which steps are supposed to be completed.

Key Takeaways

  • A good paragraph contains three distinct components: a topic sentence, body, and concluding sentence.
  • The topic sentence expresses the main idea of the paragraph combined with the writer’s attitude or opinion about the topic.
  • Good topic sentences contain both a main idea and a controlling idea, are clear and easy to follow, use engaging vocabulary, and provide an accurate indication of what will follow in the rest of the paragraph.
  • Topic sentences may be placed at the beginning, middle, or end of a paragraph. In most academic essays, the topic sentence is placed at the beginning of a paragraph.
  • Supporting sentences help explain, prove, or enhance the topic sentence by offering facts, reasons, statistics, quotations, or examples.
  • Concluding sentences summarize the key points in a paragraph and reiterate the main idea without repeating it word for word.
  • Transitional words and phrases help organize ideas in a paragraph and show how these ideas relate to one another.


Supplemental Exercises

Select one of the following topics or choose a topic of your choice:

Drilling for oil in Alberta
Health care reform
Introducing a four day work week
Bringing pets to work
Create a topic sentence based on the topic you chose, remembering to include both a main idea and a controlling idea. Next, write an alternative topic sentence using the same main idea but a different controlling idea.

Collaboration: P
lease share with a classmate and compare your answers.

Group activity. Working in a group of four or five, assign each group member the task of collecting one document each. These documents might include magazine or newspaper articles, workplace documents, academic essays, chapters from a reference book, film or book reviews, or any other type of writing. As a group, read through each document and discuss the author’s purpose for writing. Use the information you have learned in this chapter to decide whether the main purpose is to summarize, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate. Write a brief report on the purpose of each document, using supporting evidence from the text.

Group activity. Working in a small group, select a workplace document or academic essay that has a clear thesis. Examine each paragraph and identify the topic sentence, supporting sentences, and concluding sentence. Then, choose one particular paragraph and discuss the following questions:

  • Is the topic sentence clearly identifiable or is it implied?
  • Do all the supporting sentences relate to the topic sentence?
  • Does the writer use effective transitions to link his or her ideas?
  • Does the concluding sentence accurately summarize the main point of the paragraph?

As a group, identify the weakest areas of the paragraph and rewrite them. Focus on the relationship between the topic sentence, supporting sentences, and concluding sentence. Use transitions to illustrate the connection between each sentence in the paragraph.

Peer activity. Using the information you have learned in this chapter, write a paragraph about a current event. Underline the topic sentence in your paragraph. Now, rewrite the paragraph, placing the topic sentence in a different part of the paragraph. Read the two paragraphs aloud to a peer and have him or her identify the topic sentence. Discuss which paragraph is more effective and why.

Please share with a classmate, compare your answers, and discuss the contrasting results.


Journal entry #3

Write a paragraph or two responding to the following.

Reflecting on what you read about sentence structure in this chapter, think about your writing tendencies. Which of the common sentences errors apply to your writing? How do you plan to address these?

What challenges did you face when summarizing and paraphrasing? What will you try to focus on doing or not doing in the future when writing summaries?

Reflect on the goals you set previously. Is there anything you would like to add or already feel more confident with doing?

Remember as mentioned in the Assessment Descriptions in your syllabus:

You will be expected to respond to the questions by reflecting on and discussing your experiences with the week’s material.

When writing your journals, you should focus on freewriting—writing without (overly) considering formal writing structures—but you want to remember that it will be read by the instructor, who needs to be able to understand your ideas.

Your instructor will be able to see if you have completed this entry by the end of the week but will not read all of the journals until week 6.


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Writing for Success - 1st Canadian Edition Copyright © 2015 by Tara Horkoff; an author removed at the request of the original publisher; and Horkoff, Tara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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