What is a paragraph?

What is a paragraph? Good question! In order to answer the question let’s take a look at an example which I think shows what a good paragraph is in academic essay writing. Let me introduce the topic first so you are ready when you come to read the paragraph.

The topic is how to manage young criminals. Do you think it is a good idea to treat young criminals like adults? Do you think that if young criminals know they will be punished like adults then they will be deterred from committing crimes? This paragraph argues the case that young (juvenile) criminals should be treated like adults early on. Read on:

Sentencing teenage offenders as adults has a strong deterrent on other teenagers. Giving juvenile offenders who are guilty of violent crimes long sentences in adult facilities sends the clear message to other teens that crime does not pay. A 1998 study found that soon after local prosecutors introduced aggressive policies to prosecute and incarcerate serious juvenile offenders as adults, these young people ‘got the message’ (Levitt study 1998). Juvenile offenders who were interviewed said that they decided to reduce or stop offending as soon as they reached the age when they could be tried as adults. Clearly sentencing teenagers as adults is a policy that works. It deters impressionable teenagers from a life of crime.

(Taken from an exercise at http://web.jjay.cuny.edu/~esl-rc/HTML/writing/development/ex1fla.html)

Read the paragraph again carefully. It’s a well constructed paragraph. Can you see three different parts? I hope you can distinguish between these parts:

Part oneSentencing teenage offenders as adults has a strong deterrent on other teenagers. Giving juvenile offenders who are guilty of violent crimes long sentences in adult facilities sends the clear message to other teens that crime does not pay.

Part one gives you the topic of the paragraph. There is a clear simple idea: treat teenagers like adults and they will behave better.

Part two: A 1998 study found that soon after local prosecutors introduced aggressive policies to prosecute and incarcerate serious juvenile offenders as adults, these young people ‘got the message’ (Levitt study 1998). Juvenile offenders who were interviewed said that they decided to reduce or stop offending as soon as they reached the age when they could be tried as adults.

Part two gives the reader evidence from outside sources (references) to support the claim and the argument put forward at the start of the paragraph.

Part three: Clearly sentencing teenagers as adults is a policy that works. It deters impressionable teenagers from a life of crime.

Part three has some input from the writer. There is discussion or a conclusion drawn from the ideas and evidence put forward earlier in the paragraph.

So what is a paragraph? In an academic text a  paragraph is when you put forward an idea, you support it with evidence, and you come to a conclusion!

The paragraph above comes from an excellent website with interactive exercises on paragraph writing produced by John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York which you should access and work through following this link.

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