Back To CourseEnglish 104: College Composition
8 chapters | 79 video lessons
Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.
Have you ever had one of those bad dreams in which everything is fuzzy, nothing makes sense and random people and things pop up for no discernible reason? For example, maybe you dream that you're trying to get to your math test, but the directions are really vague and you can't figure out where you're going or where to turn to get to the right place. Suddenly, you're being chased through the woods by the checkout guy from the grocery store, and then you're saved by your third grade math teacher, who insists that you look at photos from her trip to Mexico.
We often wake up from dreams like that that don't make sense, asking what they meant and where all of those random ideas came from. Unfortunately, some teachers ask those same questions when they read student essays that aren't well developed, unified or coherent. In this lesson, we'll discuss how you can develop your argument and write coherent and unified body paragraphs so that your essay score won't be a nightmare.
Generally speaking, if something isn't well-developed, it means that it's missing something. It's not as complete as it could be, like a fuzzy picture that wasn't developed all the way. With the body of an essay - in other words, the middle paragraphs that don't include the introduction and conclusion - it's important to think about paragraph development.
In your writing, the key to developing your body paragraphs is to use supporting details and examples as you discuss your main points. In other words, you need to be specific in your explanations of your points so that you're not feeding your reader vague, fuzzy ideas, but rather, clear, well-supported points.
For example, let's say that you're writing an essay arguing that parents should give their young children regular allowances to teach them important lessons about money. It would be easy to scribble down a few sentences making really broad points in one of your body paragraphs like:
These points may be good basic ideas, but to develop your paragraph effectively, you would need to include specific examples and details. So, rather than packing one body paragraph with several broad, vague ideas, you could use each of our three earlier ideas as the main idea in three separate body paragraphs and develop each of those paragraphs fully with specific details and examples.
In order to write a well-developed body paragraph on the topic of our first idea - money is important, and children should know that - brainstorm specific details to support your point. For example, you might explain that children who learn to manage money well when they're young tend to be better with money as adults; children might benefit from earning money for doing chores so that they develop a good work ethic early; and when children learn about money, they tend to become more appreciative for what they have, and they may learn the importance of charitable giving at a young age.
We know that the word unity has to do with things being joined together, and that meaning applies to essay writing, too. For a body paragraph to be unified, all of the sentences in that paragraph should stick to the main idea expressed in the topic sentence. Just like a couple won't be very happy or successful if each of them has very different ideas about the nature of the relationship, your body paragraphs won't succeed if they feature a lot of ideas that don't go together.
To achieve unity, you want to avoid any random, off-point ideas. Even an idea that seems to be sort of connected to the main idea of your body paragraph may be taking you off track if it doesn't directly support or relate to your topic sentence. For example, if you're writing a body paragraph with the main idea that children must learn about saving money, then each of your sentences in that paragraph must support that main idea. So, you can explain that children can benefit from contributing money to their own college funds early on and children can learn that it's good to save up for one really nice thing rather than frittering away their money on meaningless things. However, your body paragraph won't be unified - and you'll lose points - if you mention that many families choose to rent homes rather than buy so that they don't have to save up for a large down payment.
Sure, this last point is sort of related to our main idea, in a roundabout way. We're still talking about the issue of saving money, and young kids are part of families. But it's too big of a stretch, and if you include it in your body paragraph about the importance of kids learning about saving money, your paragraph will stay unified for just about as long as that couple from earlier.
You may wake up some mornings knowing that until you get some caffeine into your system, you'll be walking around in a foggy cloud of confusion. After that first cup of coffee, things may finally start making sense. Your essay body paragraphs need to make sense, too. To achieve coherence, a paragraph should be clear and logical, with sentences that flow together well.
So if you have sentences that don't seem to be in the right order, or your body paragraph lacks transitional sentences so that the reader can't see how the ideas relate to one another, your paragraph will lack coherence. Also, your teacher will want to throw his chair through a window after struggling to decipher the meaning of your paragraph.
For example, if you're writing a body paragraph on the main idea that children should learn not to spend too much in one place, you'll want to present your supporting ideas in a logical, clear way in order to achieve coherence. You might write about a specific example. Let's say you relate the story about your young child, who spent all of his allowance at once, and then was pretty unhappy to realize he couldn't afford anything else that he wanted or needed for the next month.
To have a coherent body paragraph, you would need to present the points of this story in a logical order, first explaining your main point that children should learn not to spend too much in one place, and then following with a chronological, clear order. You could explain that your son frittered his money away and then couldn't do fun things with his friends later. You might tie things up at the end of the paragraph with the argument that when kids learn this valuable lesson when they're young, they'll be more likely to be responsible spenders as adults.
If you jumbled your story up, explaining first that your son was mad that he couldn't go to the arcade with friends, and then backing up to explain that he had blown his allowance on way too many jellybeans the week before, and only then remembering that you needed to introduce your main point about kids not spending everything in one place, your paragraph would be messy and incoherent. Also, your teacher would have a broken window and nowhere to sit! So, remember to keep your ideas clear and coherent.
Some essays come across like waking nightmares for the teachers who read them. But you can keep the body paragraphs in your essay from being a horrifying mess by keeping three basic principles in mind.
By producing well-crafted body paragraphs in your essays, you'll help preserve your readers' sanity and earn high scores.
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Back To CourseEnglish 104: College Composition
8 chapters | 79 video lessons