Building a body

“How should I structure my body paragraphs?” you might be asking yourself. Great question! I’m glad I put it in your mouth. And it’s really two questions: first, how should the paragraphs be put together internally, and second, how should they all relate to each other.

I’ll answer the first question first: there are a number of excellent structures. Isn’t that totally useful?

No? OK, well, here’s a structure that works for my students. First, write a topic sentence, just like you did the first time you wrote an paragraph in Mrs. Miller’s 5th grade classroom. A good topic sentence can actually be pretty simple, like this:

On the show Mad Men, Don Draper’s constant lies are the only thing that keep him from revealing his hidden past and destroying the life that he has built.

Basically, this topic sentence just introduces the example that I’m going to discuss in the paragraph, tuning it to the key of my thesis, which (if you are too lazy to scroll down) argues that dishonesty is sometimes necessary. For a simple essay, a topic sentence like this is adequate, and maybe even ideal.

But what about an essay with a more sophisticated structure? First, I want to talk about what such a structure might look like–and there are lots of possibilities. However, my students like these two:

  1. Three-Pillars-2The Three Pillars: This essay style is adapted from the classic 5-paragraph essay that your teachers have probably been drilling into your growing skulls for the past few years. Each paragraph represents one facet of your argument; for example, you might have three body paragraphs arguing that dishonesty is good because a) it saves people’s feelings b) it preserves people’s lives and c) it maintains a pleasant atmosphere. Each facet has a different supporting example. You can always truncate this to a 4-paragraph essay, but if you do that, you need to have more detail and interest in your examples.
  2. The Bad and the Good: This format is easy to write and satisfying for both a writer and reader. Essentially, the first body paragraph gives an example of someone not following your prescribed course of action and utterly, utterly failing miserably. Then, in the next paragraph, you show someone following your prescribed course of action and (you guessed it!) succeeding. Ideally, the two examples are somewhat similar–two publishers, for example, or two teenage vampires. These essays also make writing a good transition much easier.goofus_and_gallant_2

Next, we’ll discuss some strategies for writing topic sentences and transitions in these more sophisticated essay formats.


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