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Elements Of Essay Unity

What are body paragraphs? Body paragraphs are those paragraphs nestled between the introduction and the conclusion of a paper. They are, in a sense, mini-essays, as they each contain the essential elements of an effective essay: unity, order, coherency, and completeness.

I. Unity

Just as a paper has its controlling idea — the thesis statement — a paragraph has its controlling idea — the topic sentence. And just as an engine drives a train, the topic sentence drives the paragraph. All the sentences, or cars, of a paragraph should be related to the controlling idea contained in the topic sentence. If this is the case, then the paragraph possesses unity.

II. Order

Another word for “order” is organization. If the paragraph possesses a “plan,” if the topic idea is developed logically, sequentially, spatially, in order of importance, or in another pattern, then the paragraph possesses order.

III. Coherency

Coherency is the “glue” of writing. Sentences within a paragraph need to be connected (or glued) to each other, as cars on a train are connected to each other. One of the important ways to “link” your sentences together is through the use of transitions; these transitions are signposts for the reader; they illustrate logical or other relationships. Other ways to achieve coherency include repetition of key words, phrases, or images; consistent use of point of view and of tense; and incorporation of parallel structure into your prose.

IV. Completeness

If a paragraph offers sufficient supporting details to support its topic sentence, then it exhibits completeness. Yet what is “sufficient”? If the topic sentence asserts that “Coach Smith has changed my life,” and then the paragraph illustrates through the use of specific details how Coach Smith has changed the student's life, then the paragraph is complete. Conversely, if the topic sentence states that “Coach Smith has changed my life,” but the paragraph doesn't offer any illustrations of how Coach Smith has done this, then the paragraph is not “complete.”

A paragraph becomes the little paragraph that could if it offers one topic, provides an organizational plan, “glues” its sentences to each other through transitions and other means, and supplies sufficient and specific supporting details.

See also our handout on organizing paragraphs and topic sentences.

by Teresa Sweeney, 2004

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