Drafting Body Paragraphs with Topic Sentences and Supporting Details

In order to draft strong paragraphs, you’ll need to develop both the major ideas and the supporting details you sketched in your outline.

Topic Sentences

Most paragraphs should focus on a main idea, which is usually stated in a topic sentence. A paragraph’s topic sentence tells us what the paragraph is about. Just as a thesis statement presents the main idea for a paper, a topic sentence presents the main idea for each paragraph in the body of your paper. Each of the main points from your outline can form the basis of a topic sentence for a paragraph. Although it is good to be flexible, following your general outline will help you to focus each paragraph on a single main topic. A paragraph that covers too many topics can ramble, which may confuse your readers.

As you draft, it is useful to write out a tentative topic sentence at the beginning of each body paragraph. Although you may choose to alter or move your topic sentences later, placing a topic sentence at the opening of a draft paragraph gives you something to refer to while developing your ideas, reminding you of the main point.

Topic sentences vary in how they convey the main idea of a paragraph. It helps to use a variety of approaches in an essay. If you use a question for every topic sentence in a paper, for example, your readers could find your paper predictable and boring. The examples shown here give you some ideas of different types of topic sentences.


The Direct Approach explicitly announces the purpose of the paragraph. (Be careful about being too direct when you write a topic sentence. Although useful for complex or highly formal papers, the direct approach may strike readers as dull and contrived. However, this approach can be useful in a draft to clarity what you should focus on. You could revise it later into something less direct.)

In this paragraph, I will explain why the school would lose money with a football team.

The purpose of this paragraph is to define a few important terms.

The Question indicates the paragraph’s purpose by posing a question it will answer.

Why should we debate this issue anyway?

Where does lava come from?

The Nutshell states the major idea-not the purpose-of the paragraph, usually in just one sentence. (This is probably the most common type of topic sentence in college writing.)

A second reason for impeaching the governor is that she received illegal contributions.

Before long, I realized my aunt was sick.

Addressing the Reader anticipates what readers might be wondering about or doubting. The paragraph provides a response.

You might be wondering why it is necessary to build a new stadium.

My opponents would reasonably question my statistics, but the figures are accurate.

Connecting to the Previous Paragraph makes a clear link with the preceding ideas.

In contrast, however, the African swallow flies at a much faster rate.

After you complete the third step, proceed to the next: applying the varnish.

Let me offer one example of this concept.

The Alert calls special attention to a point the paragraph will cover. Readers should understand the importance of the paragraph.

It would be a mistake to assume that students do not care about racism.

If our leaders do not change this law, there will be a terrible price to pay.

Nothing will ever make me forget what I felt when I heard about Juan’s death.

One exception to the important role of topic sentences is in a narration essay or personal narrative. When relating an experience, you might not use topic sentences often, though you would still divide the story into paragraphs. Instead of using topic sentences, you would rely on chronological order (telling events as they happened) and careful transitions.

With topic sentences anchoring each body paragraph and serving as guideposts for you and your readers, you can now provide the details needed to clarify, support, or expand each paragraph’s main idea.

Supporting Details

A paragraph’s topic sentence must be backed up with supporting details, which can consist of evidence, examples, illustrations, specific instances, and other kinds of information. Within each paragraph, provide specific details and support for the major idea. Avoid simply rewording your topic sentence; support it by adding new information, evidence, or ideas in each paragraph. If you don’t have enough information to do this, try prewriting strategiesIntroduction to Prewriting such as freewriting and clustering. Also, ask yourself questions about your purpose and audience to help generate ideas:




There is no specific number of sentences that each paragraph should have, but it helps to aim for three to five. Too few sentences might leave the main point underdeveloped, and too many sentences might indicate a paragraph that wanders off of the main point. The exception is transitional paragraphs, which might take just one or two sentences to help connect a previous paragraph to a subsequent one.

If you aren’t sure how many paragraphs your paper should have, look back at the assignment. See if your instructor provided any guidelines as to the number of pages, paragraphs, or words. Also consider how much you need to say to achieve your specific purpose. Unless the assignment calls for a very short paper, you need more than one paragraph in the body. Most essays require at least two or three body paragraphs, plus an introduction and conclusion, to be considered substantial.