Paragraph Drills

As you complete these drills, begin with a clear topic sentence, and make every subsequent sentence contribute to your one main idea. When necessary, use transition words to pass smoothly from thought to thought. 

Each drill will offer you a question or prompt. Your basic answer to this prompt will serve as the topic sentence. When writing your topic sentence, do not merely restate the wording of the prompt. This practice makes clunky writing, as in the following example.

Prompt: In the Iliad, what kind of person is Odysseus? 

Original answer: In the Iliad, Odysseus is the kind of person who is clever and prevails by deceiving others. 

Better answer: In the Iliad, Odysseus is a clever man who prevails by deceiving others.


2.1.3. Textual Analysis Drill

Write a paragraph that answers the following question by quoting and analyzing the text (in this case, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness).

In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Mr. Kurtz is a “manager” or head explorer in the African jungle. What is Mr. Kurtz’s defining characteristic? 


In the Heart of Darkness, Mr. Kurtz is an idealist who directs his life-purpose at a single object. At first, he seems selfless because he pursues ideas rather than personal pleasure or riches. Others see him as “an emissary of pity, and science, and progress,” a man with “a singleness of purpose” that allows him to collect more ivory than any other manager does (Heart of Darkness, p. 62). But his single-mindedness is not selflessness. Rather, Kurtz’s ideals and “immense plans” (ibid, p. 111) center around his own reputation. His single-mindedness becomes an instrument of power that allows him to control others and collect ivory not for the good of the world but for his own gain. The ivory is “my ivory” (ibid, p. 91); he is the idea on which his idealism depends. Although Kurtz begins by pursuing the outer realm of abstract ideas, he ends by keeping within the confines of his own heart. His last words, “the horror” (ibid, p. 115), express how miserable it is to be one’s own ideal. Kurtz is always single-minded, but he destroys himself by shifting the attention of his mind from the outside to the inside.