Text: Components of an Effective Paragraph

Every paragraph in the body of an essay consists of three main parts: a topic sentence, some supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence.  Transition words and phrases provide links between individual paragraphs, and so are important to consider, as well.

Of these elements, the topic sentences are the most important to building a strong essay, and deserve the most attention.

Topic Sentences

A clear topic sentence in each paragraph will assist with essay organization. Consider writing topic sentences early in the process, while you’re working on an outline.  You can return later to fill in the rest of the paragraph.  Having these single sentences figured out early makes the rest of the essay much easier to write! 

Devote each body paragraph of an essay to discussing only the point of its topic sentence. If something is interesting to you, but not directly related to the topic sentence, save it for elsewhere in the essay (or hang on to it for a future writing task!). This will help keep your essay focused and effective.

Ensure that your topic sentence is directly related to your main argument or thesis.

Make sure that your topic sentence offers a “preview” of your paragraph’s discussion. Many beginning writers forget to use the first sentence this way, and end up with sentences that don’t give a clear direction for the paragraph.

For example, compare these two first sentences:

Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743.

Thomas Jefferson, who was born in 1743, became one of the most important people in America by the end of the 18th century.

  • The first sentence doesn’t give a good direction for the paragraph. It states a fact but leaves the reader clueless about the fact’s relevance. The second sentence contextualizes the fact and lets the reader know what the rest of the paragraph will discuss.


Supporting & Concluding Sentences

This video walks through all three components of an effective paragraph, giving good examples of what supporting statements and concluding sentences might look like.



You spend so much time thinking about the ideas of an academic essay that the way these ideas connect makes perfect sense to you.  Keep in mind, though, that readers of your essay aren’t nearly as familiar with the subject as you are, and will need your guidance.

Transitional phrases, usually found at the beginning of body paragraphs, will allow your reader to follow your train of thought.  Phrases like “likewise” or “in contrast” are key indicators as to what relationship different paragraphs have to one another. 

  • Transitions help underline your essay’s overall organizational logic. For example, beginning a paragraph with something like “Despite the many points in its favor, Mystic Pizza also has several elements that keep it from being the best pizza in town” allows your reader to understand how this paragraph connects to what has come before.
  • Transitions can also be used inside paragraphs. They can help connect the ideas within a paragraph smoothly so your reader can follow them.
  • If you’re having a lot of trouble connecting your paragraphs, your organization may be off. Experiment with different paragraph order, to see if that helps.