Eight Paragraphs

2.1. Development by authority: These paragraphs develop the topic sentence by supporting it with the authority of facts (or, in the case of literature, with the authority of the text).

2.1.1. Numerous examples

Some paragraphs require examples either to explain or to defend the topic sentence. In the paragraph below, Mr. Chesterton uses three examples of three different street phrases to articulate his main point: that the idioms of common parlance are subtle.

The phrases of the street are not only forcible but subtle: for a figure of speech can often get into a crack too small for a definition. Phrases like “put out” or “off colour” might have been coined by Mr. Henry James in an agony of verbal precision. And there is no more subtle truth than that of the everyday phrase about a man having “his heart in the right place.” It involves the idea of normal proportion; not only does a certain function exist, but it is rightly related to other functions (From “The Suicide Of Thought”in Orthodoxy, p. 27).

2.1.2. One example

Other paragraphs utilize one example, which explains or defends the topic sentence in more depth of detail.

2.1.3. Textual analysis 

When a paragraph makes a claim about a book or “text,” the topic sentence of that paragraph requires textual evidence. In other words, if your topic sentence states, In Macbeth Shakespeare is saying X, then the body of your paragraph must include instances of Shakespeare in Macbeth saying X.

When citing a text, always follow this format (The Office of Assertion pp. 35-6):

1. Make a claim about the passage in question.

2. Quote the passage in question.

3. Tie the passage to your claim and “explore” (The Office of Assertion p. 35).

When quoting and citing a passage, put the closing quotation marks before the parentheses and the parentheses before the period, as follows: 

“Quote” (title, page #).

In the following paragraph, notice how textual evidence supports the topic sentence. In addition, notice how the writer makes a claim, quotes a passage, and links the claim to the passage quoted.

From the start of his treatise “On Clemency,” Seneca tries to persuade the emperor Nero to listen. The philosopher begins by announcing his purpose, to “be a sort of mirror” and “to show you yourself” (“On Clemency,” 1.1). He intends to tell the emperor how good rulers behave. Recognizing the risk of this venture, Seneca soothes Nero by depicting the young man as the one good soul left to the human race. He contrasts Nero’s “good conscience” with “the immense crowd: fractious, scheming, weak, ready to exult in the destruction of itself and of others” unless Nero controls it (ibid, 1.1). This is not empty propaganda but rhetorical calculation. As long as Nero feels that this little tract acknowledges his worth, he may heed Seneca’s warnings. Such a hope drives Seneca to enthusiastic praise in this opening passage.

2.2. Development by juxtaposition: These paragraphs develop the topic sentence by showing its relation to other things, ideas, or textual events.

2.2.1. Compare and contrast

Sometimes the main idea of a topic sentence involves two different ideas, set side-by-side for comparison. The topic sentence might state, X is not Y. In this case, the main idea of the topic sentence includes two concepts (both X and Y). The principal point is that X and Y are not the same.

In other cases, however, a writer may choose to compare two ideas, not because the topic sentence necessarily includes more than one concept, but because the one-main-idea becomes clearer when juxtaposed with something it is not. The topic sentence might state, for example, While X does this, Y does that.

A paragraph that compares and contrasts may either 

1. Describe all the elements of Idea A, and then describe all the elements of Idea B.

2. Describe one element of Idea A, and then describe a corresponding element of Idea B. Repeat. (See The New Oxford Guide to Writing, pp. 86-7.)

In the paragraph below, C. S. Lewis juxtaposes the ideas First Friend and Second Friend. Notice how his main idea, the particular excellence of the Second Friend, becomes clear when compared with that of the First Friend. Notice also that he chooses the first structure listed above; he lists all the elements of the First Friend before proceeding to the Second Friend.

My next [friend] was Owen Barfield. There is a sense in which Arthur [the First Friend] and Barfield are the types of every man’s First Friend and Second Friend. The First is the alter ego, the man who first reveals to you that you are not alone in the world by turning out (beyond hope) to share all your most secret delights. There is nothing to be overcome in making him your friend; he and you join like raindrops on a window. But the Second Friend is the man who disagrees with you about everything. He is not so much the alterego as the anti-self. Of course he shares your interests; otherwise he would not become your friend at all. But he has approached them all at a different angle. He has read all the right books but has got the wrong thing out of every one (Surprised by Joy, p.199).

2.2.2. Analogy

Sometimes a writer will develop his or her topic sentence by juxtaposing it with another subject, a subject related to it not logically, but analogically. By an analogy, I mean a statement in the form X is like Y or, formulated more complexly, a is to b as c is to d. An analogy clarifies the topic sentence when the subject of comparison (Y) is more comprehensible than the main subject (X). (See The New Oxford Guide to Writing, p. 90.)

In the paragraph below, Mr. Adler uses skiing as an analogy to explain his main subject: the frustrations of learning to read.

Reading is like skiing. When done well, when done by an expert, both reading and skiing are graceful, harmonious activities. When done by a beginner, both are awkward, frustrating, and slow. Learning to ski is one of the most humiliating experiences an adult can undergo….He slips and slides, falls down, has trouble getting up, get his skis crossed, tumbles again, and generally looks–and feels–like a fool (How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler, p. 54).

Notice that the analogical subject, skiing, clarifies how a multistep process like reading can seem difficult to a beginner.

2.2.3. Textual synthesis (see The Office of Assertion, pp. 37-8)

Textual synthesis, like textual analysis, cites a work and explores its meaning. But unlike analysis, which deals only in particular passages, synthesis relates the details of particular passages to the work taken as a whole. Synthesis connects one aspect of the text (X) to other aspects (Y). Shakespeare is not only saying X in places a, b, and c, but throughout the play he also says Y. From X and Y, I conclude Z. Synthesis allows you to say things about the entire book, not just about one or two passages.

In the paragraph below, notice that textual analysis of two passages from the Inferno (a and b) allows us to conclude that Dante suffers from blindness (X). Juxtaposing this conclusion with some textual synthesis — that is, with the general truth that Dante can finally see in the Paradiso (Y) — we infer that learning to see grants Dante satisfaction (Z).

Throughout his Divine Comedy, Dante demonstrates that human beings cannot satisfy their desires unless they learn to see God. In the Inferno, Dante’s greatest problem is blindness. The opening lines place him “alone in a dark wood” (Inf. I.1-3), later described as a “piteous night” (Inf. I.21). When Dante awakens to himself, he realizes that he is blind and cannot see the truth. In the Paradiso, however, Dante finally uses his eyes and finds happiness. First he gazes at Beatrice and drinks in her beauty. Then he looks at God: “I saw a Point that radiated light” (XXVIII.16). The bliss that follows hinges on Dante’s ability to see. He watches the angel host dancing around God; he sees them sparkling like iron, racing to resemble God more and more. Canto XXVIII alone repeats a form of the verb tosee sixteen times. In the Divine Comedy, satisfaction comes through seeing God.2.3. Development by logic: These paragraphs develop the topic sentence by explaining what has caused the truth it contains to occur, or what effects follow from the topic sentence, or what rational arguments make the topic sentence true.

2.3.1. Cause and effect

Cause-and-effect paragraphs fall into three categories: 

1. The topic sentence emphasizes the effect, and the body emphasizes the cause.

2. The topic sentence emphasizes the cause, and the body emphasizes the effect. (See The New Oxford Guide to Writing, pp. 93-7.) 

3. The topic sentence and the body emphasize both cause and effect equally.

In the following paragraph from the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton argues that the thirteen colonies should become a single nation, not several smaller ones. Notice how Hamilton articulates the effect (discord and competition) of a particular cause (the existence of several independent nations rather than one politically unified country). This is a paragraph of the third type; it consistently emphasizes both cause and effect.

A man must be far gone in Utopian speculations who can seriously doubt that if these States should either be wholly disunited, or only united in partial confederacies [cause], the subdivisions into which they might be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other [effect]. To presume a want of motives for such contests as an argument against their existence would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious [cause]. To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent, unconnected sovereignties situated in the same neighborhood [cause] would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages [effect] (Federalist 6).

2.3.2. Reasons

In some paragraphs, the author attempts to explain what the topic sentence means; in other paragraphs, he or she tries to persuade the reader that the topic sentence is true. This second kind of paragraph, the persuasive kind, requires more than clear examples: it requires strong, compelling reasons.

In the example below, C. S. Lewis argues for his topic sentence by presenting three reasons.

Topic sentence: Fairy-tales are not necessarily children’s literature.

Reason #1: Historically, the fairy-tale has not been written for children in particular.

Reason #2: Many children do not like fairy-tales, and many adults do.

Reason #3: Children and adults like fairy-tales for the same reasons.

The whole association of fairy tale and fantasy with childhood is local and accidental.… The fairytale has not been specially made for, nor exclusively enjoyed by, children. It has gravitated to the nursery when it became unfashionable in literary circles, just as unfashionable furniture gravitated to the nursery in Victorian houses. In fact, many children do not like this kind of book, just as many children do not like horsehair sofas: and many adults do like it, just as many adults like rocking chairs. And those who do like it, whether young or old, probably like it for the same reason. And none of us can say with any certainty what that reason is (“On Three Ways of Writing for Children” from On Stories, p. 35).

When arranging the shape of your paragraph, order your reasons from weakest to strongest, saving the most compelling one for last (Rod and Staff English Handbook, p. 159).