Now comes the fun part – writing your first draft. In this chapter you’ll learn to effectively develop each key element of your essay.

Covered in This Chapter

  • Title. Here is the first chance to grab your readers’ attention.
  • Introductory paragraph. This paragraph introduces your topic, sets the tone for the essay, and ends with your thesis statement.
  • Developmental paragraphs. These paragraphs in the body of your essay lay out and support your key points and begin with a clear topic sentence that conveys the idea of its paragraph.
  • Concluding paragraph. This paragraph ends the essay with your ultimate goal achieved or question answered.

Title

Titles matter. Readers see them first, and they often buy a book or read an article – print or electronic – if the title catches their attention.

What You Need to Know

Publishers have teams of people working weeks, sometimes months, to come up with the best title for a book. That’s great for them, but you won’t have that kind of time, nor are you trying to sell a book to millions of readers. So don’t worry about finding the perfect title. Do give it a fair amount of thought, though, so you choose a title that captures both your readers’ attention and the essence of what your essay is about.

What You Need to Do

To produce a good title:

  • Find the common theme in the essay. If you write an essay about Hawaii, but the main focus of the essay is surfing in Hawaii, then “Surf Hawaii” would be an appropriate name.
  • Keep the title succinct. You have about three seconds to capture the readers’ attention, so a title of two to five words is ideal.
  • Keep the title relevant. The title should accurately reflect what the paper is about.
  • Choose a title that fits the tone of your paper. If it’s a humorous essay, then a light and funny title would be a good choice.
  • Do not give away too much or the readers may not read on. “Float- ing in Hawaii” is more intriguing than “What I Learned on My Trip to Hawaii.”
  • Avoid being too general. “There Is a Lot to See at the Mall” is too broad. Better would be, “The Surprising Mall.”

Extra Help

The title stands alone. Do not use it to start the essay. And consider writing your title last, after you’ve fully developed your essay and what you want to say.

Introductory Paragraph

The introductory paragraph is generally three to five sentences. It lays the foundation for the developmental and concluding paragraphs that follow.

What You Need to Know

Similar to the goal of a good title, your introductory paragraph needs to grab readers’ attention so they will want to read on. And though you know your teacher will read on, an effective introductory paragraph will engage both your teacher and an audience, and your readers will tend to be more open to what you have to say in the rest of the essay.

Extra Help

Like the title, some people write their introductory paragraph (or the introduction to a book) last, but you’ll need at least a working thesis statement to give direction to your essay.

What You Need to Do

If you begin an essay with, “In this paper I am going to write about . . .,” you’ve already bored your readers and they won’t want to go on. In this example, to get the readers on our side, we’ll start the introductory para- graph with a story that many readers will identify with, a story that is suited to our purpose and our audience. We end with a strong thesis statement.

Story: I went to PE today, but I really didn’t want to. First, it was bas- ketball practice day—and to be honest, I’m not very good at basket- ball. Also, the last PE period, my friends played a joke on me in the locker room. I talked to my parents about getting out of PE. Dur- ing our discussion, they pointed out several reasons why PE is really worthwhile.

Thesis: Now I realize how students can benefit from taking PE classes.

Note that in the last sentence, which is the thesis statement, “students” is the subject and “can benefit” is the controlling idea.

Here are four valuable techniques you can use to grab your readers’ attention in your introductory paragraph and encourage them to read on:

  • Ask an intriguing question.
  • Use a startling fact.
  • Use a quote.
  • Tell a story.

Introductory Paragraph Examples

Let’s return to our environmental theme. In the following examples, the last sentence is the thesis statement. You’ll note that the wording is slightly altered to fit the particular introductory paragraph, but each retains the initial concept of our thesis statement, “Individuals can help make our planet greener.”

What You Need to Know

1. Ask an intriguing question. If you ask “Do you want to have enough food to eat?” the answer is obvious. Who doesn’t want to have enough food to eat? Better to ask, “With the terrible state of our planet, should people quit having children?” That seems like a drastic statement, and proposal, but it will certainly grab almost any reader’s attention. You might continue:

With the terrible state of our planet, should people quit having children? That seems pretty drastic. Yet, at the rate we’re using up our natural resources and trashing our planet, some people see this as the ultimate solution to save resources. If we, as individuals, work to make our planet greener, such drastic steps won’t be necessary.

2. Use a startling fact. “Each person produces about 4.3 pounds of trash each day. That’s 200 million tons of trash in the entire United States per day.” That image is sure to grab your readers’ attention:

Each person produces about 4.3 pounds of trash each day. That’s 200 million tons of trash in the entire United States per day. Have you ever seen the pile of garbage outside a local fast-food restaurant at night? Did you ever wonder where it all goes? The reality is that it goes to a “landfill,” but what exactly does that mean? What will happen when the landfill fills up? We each need to find methods to produce less garbage rather than find more places to put it.

3. Use a quote. Quoting an authority shows the importance of your concept, and the readers will usually want to know the significance that quote has both for you and for them.

Stuart Udall, former Secretary of the Interior, said, “A land ethic should stress the oneness of our resources and the live-and-help-live logic of the great chain of life.” There have been many bills passed to preserve our planet, but without our help, few of them will make a difference. If we become aware of what needs to be done, and take the time to work at conservation, each one of us can make a huge difference.

4. Tell a story. Telling a story is often the best way to capture the readers’ attention because the audience is intrigued and will want to know what happens.

Splat! The Taco Shack bag hit my windshield. Fortunately it slipped off so I could see and didn’t have an accident. I knew garbage was really bad for the environment, but I didn’t realize how bad until it almost hit me in the face. I decided to learn more about what we could do to start eliminating it and cleaning it up.

With each of these introductory paragraphs, you’ve now successfully sig- naled to your reader what you will be writing about – the importance of individuals helping to make our planet greener, and cleaner. And you’ve offered examples of what you think people should do, and how individuals can help – through conservation and prevention.

Developmental Paragraphs

Following the introductory paragraph that ends with the thesis statement are the body or developmental paragraphs – three paragraphs that will elaborate on the three points you’ve chosen to discuss.

What You Need to Know

You develop the weight of your essay in these developmental paragraphs. To add details to your ideas, each paragraph sets up one topic and then develops it. Each paragraph for a standard class essay of 500 to 1,000 words should be 10 to 12 sentences long, including:

  • A topic sentence
  • Two to three sentences supporting each of your three points
  • A concluding sentence

The topic sentence starts a paragraph and, like the thesis statement, con- tains a subject and a controlling idea. The thesis statement sets up the whole essay; a topic sentence sets up a paragraph.

While the topic sentence is often the first or second one, this is not always the case. A topic sentence can also come at the end of a para- graph, acting as a summary.

What You Need to Do

Each developmental paragraph is like a short essay in its development and goal. You can use the 1-2-3 process for each paragraph – the first sentence introduces your topic, and then you cover the three points you plan to dis- cuss. An outline for a paragraph looks like this:

  • Topic sentence. Developmental point 1
  • Supporting details (2–3 sentences) Developmental point 2
  • Supporting details (2–3 sentences) Developmental point 3
  • Supporting details (2–3 sentences) Concluding sentence

Using the 1-2-3 process for a standard 500-word essay, here’s an example of a first developmental paragraph supporting the point “The mental benefits of PE in school.”

Topic sentence: I now know that PE provides positive mental benefits. Point 1: Critics say that when students take time out for PE, it detracts from their studies. Supporting details: However, research shows that this is not so. (You would plug in some research here to support this point.) When students concentrate too much on a subject, their minds almost freeze. Point 2: They need to back off and let the information rest for a while. Supporting details: If they go from one class to another without a break, ideas become jumbled. When they get back to class, after PE, their minds are clearer and ready for more information. Point 3: Another benefit is that a rested mind learns more. Supporting details: When a person tries too hard to grasp an idea,such as adding negative numbers, the information doesn’t sink in. A mental rest gives the mind time to retain the information before more is added. Concluding sentence: PE may seem to take time off from learning, but it actually provides time to let the mind absorb and bet- ter understand the material from class.

The 1-2-3 pattern works for all developmental paragraphs. In some instances, you may need four or five sentences to develop a point, but stick- ing to the three points keeps you on track.

Concluding Paragraph

Use this short paragraph to pull together all your ideas, leave your readers feeling satisfied, and move them to continue thinking about your writing. If you have a short essay, summarizing is not necessary. For the PE paper, we might say:

Although at first PE may seem a waste of time, when we examine the benefits we find that those benefits far outweigh any detriments. We want students who are alert and productive. The ancient Greeks praised a sound mind in a sound body. PE helps students achieve this ideal.Be careful not to merely repeat the thesis statement in your conclud- ing paragraph. Rephrasing it usually works well. This conclusion can be a summary, a restatement of your ideas, an opinion, or a call to action.

Practice Topic Sentences

As you’ve learned in this chapter, a topic sentence sets the tone for each developmental paragraph. Following are three thesis statements, with a brief 1-2-3 outline for each. Using these as clues to what each developmental paragraph will be about, write a topic sentence for each outline point you might use in your developmental paragraph to support the thesis statement. See the Answer Key at the end of this book for possible results.

Thesis statement 1: Superhero movies have a power of popularity that has lasted nearly since the beginning of film.

  • A. Original Superman movie, 1978, big box-office hit
  • B. Batman movies, 1943–2008, consistency in sales
  • C. Iron Man 2, 2010, more box-office success.

Thesis statement 2: While there are some major differences between the Harry Potter and Twilight series, one of the most important contri- butions they both have achieved is to encourage young adults to read.

  • A. Harry Potter, children and adults, wizardry.
  • B. Twilight, tweeners, vampire romance.
  • C. Harry Potter and Twilight, new generations of readers, technology generation.

Thesis statement 3: It is a common practice in the United States to go directly from high school to college; however, all students should be encouraged to take a year off before enrolling in college.

  • A. Travel, nonbook learning, personal growth.
  • B. Work, privilege of attending college, value of a dollar.
  • C. Volunteer work, new perspectives, future planning.

Next Steps

You’ve come a long way with your thoughts and your writing. Wasn’t it easier using the 1-2-3 process? You’re not through yet. If you want to turn this effort into an A paper, you’ll need to do some refining and rewriting. The following three chapters will equip you with the tools to make your first draft into a first-class essay.