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There are four types of paragraphs that you need to know about:

descriptive, narrative, expository, and persuasive. A quick search around


the internet will yield other types, but to keep this simple, it's a good idea
to consider just these four.
the descriptive paragraph: This type of paragraph describes something
and shows the reader what a thing or a person is like. The words chosen
in the description often appeal to the five senses of touch, smell, sight,
sound, and taste. Descriptive paragraphs can be artistic and may deviate
from grammatical norms.
the narrative paragraph: This type of paragraph tells a story. There's a
sequence of action or there's a clear beginning, middle, and end to the
paragraph.
the expository paragraph: This type of paragraph explains something or
provides instruction. It could also describe a process and move the reader
step by step through a method. This type of paragraph often requires
research, but it's possible that the writer is able to rely on his or her own
knowledge and expertise.
the persuasive paragraph: This type of paragraph tries to get the reader
to accept a particular point of view or understand the writer's position.
This is the type of paragraph that many teachers focus on because it's
useful when building an argument. It often requires the collection of facts
and research.
It important to point out that many paragraphs are a combination of these
four types, but for the purpose of instruction, let's consider some
examples of each:

This is a descriptive paragraph:


The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun,
and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the
opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier minute by
minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word . The
groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and
form in the same breath; already there are wanderers, confident girls
who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable,
become from a sharp, joyous moment the center of a group, and
then, excited with triumph, glide on through the sea-change of faces
and voices and color under the constantly changing light.
This excerpt is taken from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In this
paragraph you can hear, see, and feel the setting in which the story takes
place. When you practice writing a descriptive paragraph yourself, you
should address all aspects of the physical world.

This is a narrative paragraph:


It's been almost ten years since I first ran for political office. I was
thirty-five at the time, four years out of law school, recently married,
and generally impatient with life. A seat in the Illinois legislature had
opened up, and several friends suggested that I run, thinking that
my work as a civil rights lawyer, and contacts from my days as a
community organizer, would make me a viable candidate. After
discussing it with my wife, I entered the race and proceeded to do
what every first-time candidate does: I talked to anyone who would
listen. I went to block club meetings and church socials, beauty
shops and barbershops. If two guys were standing on a corner, I
would cross the street to hand them campaign literature. And
everywhere I went, I'd get some version of the same two questions.
This opening paragraph from Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hopetell
and interesting story about how a man entered the arena of politics. It has

a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it raises the reader's curiosity


about what will happen next.

This is an expository paragraph:


All toilet flush tanks work about the same. When the toilet is
flushed, the trip handle lifts the tank ball, opening the outlet and
letting water flow into the bowl. When the tank is nearly empty, the
ball falls back in place over the outlet. The float falls with the water
level, opening the water-supply inlet valve just as the outlet is being
closed, and the tank is refilled through the filler tube. Water also
flows through the bowl refill tube into the overflow pipe to replenish
trap-sealing water. As the water level in the tank nears the top of the
overflow pipe, the float closes the inlet valve, completing the cycle.
This paragraph from Reader's Digest Complete Do-it-yourself
Manual gives detailed information about how how the water moves
through a toilet when it is flushed. It's instructive, and if you like this kind
of thing, it may even be interesting.

This is a persuasive paragraph:


Immigration contributes to the overall health of the American
economy. Despite recent concerns related to the costs created by
illegal and some legal immigration to the United States, this country
has largely benefited from the skills, talents, and ambition that
immigrants bring with them. American businesses gain from a good
source of affordable labor, while town and cities are revitalized by
immigrant families who strengthen communities through civic
participation the generation of new economic activity. The United
States must continue to welcome new arrivals and help those who
already here; otherwise, the country will lose the advantages it has
over other industrialized countries who compete against us in the

global marketplace and seek to recruit from a vast pool of unskilled


and skilled global workers.
This is the paragraph that appeared on the page describing what a
paragraph is. Your teacher wrote it. I have an opinion about a particular
topic, and in this paragraph I want the reader to accept or consider my
position. The persuasive paragraph is, perhaps, the most difficult to write
but there is a good method I can show you in order to be successful in
writing one.
descriptive paragraphs
A descriptive paragraph describes a thing, a person, or a place. Detailed
information allows the reader to form an image in his or her imagination.
The better the description, the clearer the image.
When teaching my students how to write a descriptive paragraph, I
usually have them consider the five senses of touch, smell, sound, taste,
and sight. Before writing the paragraph, make five columns and list words
or ideas for the subject of the paragraph based on these five senses. Like
this:
touch

smell

sound

taste

sight

The sense of sight is the one that most writers consider first, but try to
work on that one last. Let's take, for example, a description of a place.
What do you feel when you go there? What do you feel on your skin. Is it
hot or cold? Is it wet or dry? What do you smell? Is there food? Are the
smells good or bad? What do the smells remind you of? What do you
hear? Is it quiet or noisy? Are there cars moving about? Are people
talking? What about the sounds of nature? Are they present? Even a soft
wind makes a sound. Taste is a difficult sense to describe, and the

degree to which you pay this any attention depends on the subject matter.
Sight comes last. Here you can describe color, size, depth, height, width,
etc.
Here's an example. I want to write a paragraph that describes a lake:
touch

smell

sound

taste

sight

water

air

laughing

sand

the sun

sand

fish

splashing

lotion

sand

heat

hot dogs

music

children

food trucks

volleyball

lifeguard

sun block

toys
boats
canoes

Lake Calhoun is a great place to to swim and relax. In the summer,


the water is warm and clean, and the beaches are large enough to
accommodate groups of people seeking relief from a midsummer
scorcher. In addition to swimming, visitors to the lake can go
canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, or fishing. The blue water is a
refreshing, tempting sight. The sweet scent of sun block wafts
through the air from sunbathers lying on the beach. Children laugh
and splash in the water, and nearby volleyball games stir passionate
shouts in the heat of competition. Meanwhile lifeguards sit atop their
towers and make sure everyone is safe. In the distance, sail boats
catch the soft breezes that cross the lake and canoeists glide quietly
past. This is what summer is all about!
In this simple description, the reader should get a good sense of what it's
like to be in this place. The prewriting exercise of listing difference
aspects of the experience as it relates to the five sense is helpful when
coming up with something to write.

narrative paragraphs
A narrative paragraph tells a story. Something happens first, second,
third, etc. Of course, narrative paragraphs are used in fiction as a writer
describes the unfolding of events, but they are also found when
describing any actual sequence of activity.
Because narrative paragraphs resemble fiction (an untrue story), you
have a little more freedom to write the story in the style you prefer. This is
known as artistic freedom or artistic license. You can use the first person
narrative style and include words that clearly refer to you (I, me, my,
mine, etc.), or you can try to tell the story from a purely objective point of
view that is not personal, but gives a straight-forward, factual account of
what happened.
If your teacher asks you to write about a personal experience, try to tell it
by using the first person. This is the easiest style in which to write
something. You might choose something that you remember well, or
something that changed you life. Teachers who work with a large number
of foreign-born students often ask them to write about the time they first
arrived in the United States. That's a good assignment because it allows
you to write in the first person and the details in this kind of paragraph are
likely to be very vivid. Here's an example:
I remember when I first arrived in the United States. Even before
the plane landed, the little windows in the airplane revealed snow
and ice-covered houses and buildings. As I walked off the plane,
cold air crept though the corrugated ramp that led to the airport
terminal. Some people inside the airport were wearing big coats and
hats, which I had seen on television, but never up close. I felt a little
dizzy and needed to sit down, and then my cell phone rang. It was
my Aunt Sophia. She was waiting for me outside in the passenger
pick-up area, so I walked quickly to the exit, forgetting all about my
luggage. When the sliding glass door opened to the outside, there
was my aunt--a woman I hadn't seen in over ten years--wearing a
parka and waving her arms frantically in my direction.

The topic sentence in this paragraph is the first sentence, I remember


when I first arrived in the United States. The supporting sentences that
follow should be about this experience and how it is still remembered.
The concluding sentence in this kind of a paragraph would lead to the
action in the next paragraph--if there is one.
The sequence of activity can be implied or reassembled by the reader as
demonstrated in this paragraph:
Those of us who found out early that our teacher would be Mr.
Fine shuddered to think of having to spend an entire year in his
classroom, trapped and subjected to months of unending terror.
We'd heard stories. We knew. Then a month before school was to
begin, a list mysteriously surfaced showing the names of all the
sixth grade students at Fairmont Elementary, their teachers, and
their classrooms. Normally such information wasn't known until the
first week of classes, but John Patrick's mother was a secretary at
the school, and somehow this list appeared. It didn't matter how it
was found, or who exactly leaked the information. It was that cold
list of names that would cause a couple dozen eleven-year olds to
panic. But as it turns out, we were all wrong about Mr. Fine.
Or the activity can be clearly sequenced so that there's no mistake about
what happens first, second, third, and so on:
Theo's day began with a shock. As soon as he arrived at the
office that morning, he learned that his best friend was dead. Wasn't
it just twelve hours ago that they were eating chicken wings and
tipping back beer in front of a baseball game at the Cooper's Bar
and Grill? After a long day of crunching numbers at the office, they
stopped at a bar for a Thursday afternoon happy hour. They saw a
few coworkers there, and before they knew it, it was closing time.
Bill got in a car with someone he met just that evening and that was
the last time Theo saw him.
When you do the prewriting for a narrative paragraph, list the sequence of
activity. When you are ready to write, you can use this information in

plotting out the events. It is not necessary to always go directly in order.


An event that happens last can appear first in the paragraph. In fact, this
is a good way to arouse interest in the reader. As long as the paragraph
seems fairly logical, you have a lot of creative freedom in writing this kind
of a paragraph.
You could also just start writing the paragraph in a stream-ofconsciousness sort of way and let the ideas and action flow freely from
your mind as you remember them.
expository paragraphs
An expository paragraph informs the reader on a subject. It provides
information. Expository paragraphs are found in the books that you read
for school or the instructions that you read when trying to repair
something on your house.
There are many different kinds of paragraphs that provide information.
The three main types of expository paragraphs that we will explore here
are...

informative
cause and effect
comparison / contrast

No matter what form an expository paragraph takes, the writer focuses on


presenting factual information and being objective. This type of paragraph
is usually written from a third-person point of view; however, it you want to
use a first-person perspective, that might be okay; but check with your
teacher first, or consider the reason why you are writing the paragraph.
The use of the first-person can be a bit distracting from the subject at
hand, and it might reveal a bias.
The first example will be of a paragraph that is informative. This type of a
paragraph might explain a process, describe a category, or provide a long
definition of something that is complicated. The sample paragraph below
explains that Canada is a bilingual country.

English is the language spoken throughout most of Canada, but in


Quebec, the most populated province, and in areas near Quebec,
French is the first language. Because of this, Canadians recognize
French and English as official languages that are used in business
and government. Many people are bilingual and easily go from
French to English and vice versa when speaking with tourists. The
farther west you go, the more English you'll hear, but it is common
to meet people throughout the country who are familiar with both
languages.
This paragraph focuses on facts and avoids sounding judgmental.

A comparison-contrast paragraph compares two things. The differences


can be large or small, depending on the goals of the writer. This next
paragraph compares processed and unprocessed food, but unlike the
previous example, it does stake out a position:
There are many advantages to purchasing fresh fruit and
vegetables as an alternative to popular processed food items at your
local grocer store. While potato chips and donuts are tasty and
frozen food is convenient, a habit of eating food prepared in a
factory leads to overall poor nutrition and can cause bad health.
These ill effects result in increased visits to the dentist or the family
physician. A bag of apples might cost more than a bag of Cheetos,
but savings in health costs far outweigh the immediate savings at
the cash register. Besides, pound for pound, fresh food often turns
out to be cheaper than packaged food. Many people forget that when
they buy something that is packaged or frozen, they are also buying
the packaging which lures shoppers into buying the product.
Commercials on television successfully convince consumers that
the decisions to buy packaged food is logical, but facts about
nutrition and value prove otherwise.

This paragraph wants you to accept the idea that fresh food is better than
processed food, and it lists some examples of that. This could easily be
one paragraph in an essay.

A cause and effect paragraph explains why the action of one thing (the
cause) produces a result (the effect). In this example, the first-person is
used. The example below is by a student:
If I had listened to my teachers who encouraged me stay in
college, I would be in a much better financial position today. Instead,
when I was nineteen, I dropped out of college and drifted from one
job to another. At first, It felt good to have money while friends of
mine who remained in college were always broke, but soon I realized
my mistake. Friends of mine who graduated with degrees in
business and science were suddenly making three or four times
what I was making as a manager of a shoe store. In addition, I began
to feel as though my education was incomplete. Something was
missing from my life. Gradually, the consequences of my short-term
thinking became evident; therefore, At the age of twenty-five, I
returned to college to pursue a degree in business administration.

What is a persuasive paragraph?


A persuasive paragraph tries to convince the reader that a particular point
of view is worthy of consideration. It wants you to consider both sides of
an issue, but it reveals a bias in favor of one side over another. Facts may
be presented in support of a position, but the writer is not being objective.
The point of view is subjective.
objective: impartial; fair; balanced; factual
subjective: partial; in favor of an idea; biased
Here's an example of a persuasive paragraph:

Immigration contributes to the overall health of the American


economy. Despite recent concerns expressed about illegal and
some legal immigration to the United States, this country has largely
benefited from the skills, talents, and ambition that immigrants bring
with them. American businesses gain from a good source of
affordable labor, while towns and cities are revitalized by immigrant
families who strengthen communities through civic participation
and the generation of new economic activity. The United States must
continue to welcome new arrivals and help those who are already
here; otherwise, the country will lose the advantages it has over
other industrialized countries that compete against us in the global
marketplace and seek to recruit from a vast pool of unskilled and
skilled global workers.
You may recognize this from the lesson on paragraphs. The position is
supported by facts, but some of it is hearsay (what the writer has heard),
and some of the ideas are rooted in the writer's subjective viewpoint.
Opposing views are not directly recognized in this paragraph, however,
they may be hinted at. A paragraph or an essay that is persuasive
anticipates an argument.