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Good in-class English Writing Exercise

Focused, unified body paragraphs

Introductory and concluding paragraphs are a different matter, but the paragraphs that make up the guts of your essays, the body paragraphs, need the following to be effective units of argument or analysis:

1) A topic sentence, a direct statement of the main point of the paragraph. In question-driven essays, topic sentences should answer the intro question directly (from the opposing viewpoint in “opposing views” paragraphs).

2) Unity and coherence: the paragraph should remain clearly focused on one primary point, stated in the topic sentence, throughout the paragraph, proving or backing up the major point the paragraph contributes to the larger thesis. Usually, “body paragraphs” should elaborate only one major point of argument or analysis—one main point per paragraph.

3) Development: the paragraph should offer effective and convincing support to prove or illustrate the primary point of the paragraph—a developed paragraph gives evidence, often through illustrative examples, and a detailed explanation of the topic sentence.

Topic Sentences:

Consider again the hypothetical paper from the second in-class exercise, addressing the question, “Why do so many people commit adultery?”

1st opposing view:

One theory as to why so many people commit adultery holds that human beings are not by nature monogamous, that lifelong fidelity to a single sexual partner is unnatural.

2nd opposing view:

Another theory would have us believe that the so-called “mid-life crisis” is the reason so many people commit adultery.

Author’s point 1:

It may be that many people engage in adultery from simple boredom—it is a sad but true fact that in many marriages sex becomes “old” within months of the honeymoon.

Author’s point 2:

People commit adultery, too, because some see cheating as method of escape or relief from other, deeper problems in their marriages.

Author’s point 3:

Perhaps the most pervasive underlying cause for the frequent occurrence of adultery is our society’s casual attitude towards both marriage and divorce in general.


Adultery is common mainly because people get bored with their partners, because they have deeper problems in the relationship and seek solace or relief in the arms of others, and because our society has a casual attitude towards both marriage and divorce in general.

Recall that essays maintain focus globally by having each topic sentence answer the question you are addressing directly, by repeating “key words” from the question in each topic sentence. Note how the “key words” from the topic sentence in the sample paragraph below are reiterated throughout the paragraph, sometimes through direct repetition of the most significant words in the topic sentence and sometimes through iteration of words closely related to those key words: i.e. synonyms, antonyms, different forms of the key words.

Sample Body Paragraph (Author’s point 3):

Perhaps the most pervasive underlying cause for the frequent occurrence of adultery is our society’s casual attitude towards both marriage and divorce in general. Since it is almost the norm today for people to be married two or more times, the social consequences of getting caught in adultery are not so grave as they once were. Our society has such a permissive attitude towards divorce that we have made marriage a far more casual institution than it was only three or four decades ago. It was only mildly inappropriate that a certain wiseacre at a wedding I recently attended commented to the happy bride and groom, “I hope you two have a good time on your honeymoon: you only get married two or three times in life.”

The couple had hardly sworn their sacred vows to remain faithful to one another until death, and this joker suggested that marriage is not a serious commitment that should last forever. “There’s always divorce if the marriage doesn’t work out,” this smart-aleck implied. As much as his comment was in poor taste, the fact is, the groom had indeed sworn the same sacred vows to a different woman five years before. This casual attitude that seems to anticipate marriages ending in divorce even before they are underway made adultery, the gravest of marital sins, almost acceptable in the eyes of our society. If adultery is not exactly “accepted” today, it has certainly come to be tolerated: hence the contradictory phrase, “a casual affair.” Our society tolerates people breaking their marriage vows by cheating on their spouses because we do not value marriage as an institution based on serious commitment as our grandparents did. We seem almost to value divorce more than we do marriage.


Your task:

1. On your copy of the sample paragraph above, underline the “key words,” the most significant words in the topic sentence, and then also underline them as they recur throughout the paragraph either directly or as they are reiterated through significant related words—i.e. synonyms, antonyms, different forms of the key words, etc.

Then, on separate paper, address one of the two options below:

2a. Write a focused, coherent, developed body paragraph elaborating any one of the five topic sentences given above in the hypothetical argument about the causes of adultery. You should use the topic sentence you select as it appears above verbatim, or “word for word.” Be sure to repeat the “key words” and closely related words throughout the paragraph.

2b. Develop a focused, coherent, developed body paragraph completing and using the following as your topic sentence:

What the song [choose one: “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” or “123rd Street Rap”] conveys to the listener is ____________________. You should probably fill in the blank with the primary thought, idea, or feeling you think the song communicates. With this option, too, be sure to reiterate the “keywords” and closely related words throughout the paragraph.