Structuring a Body Paragraph

Once you get past your introductory paragraph, you can then begin with the body paragraphs that you will write to support and defend your thesis. If you are looking to structure these paragraphs, we suggest the following steps (Also known as PIE Paragraphing).

Topic Sentence

The first sentence of your body paragraph is your topic sentence. Treat this sentence like a mini thesis – a statement that tells what the rest of the paragraph will aim to prove. Like a thesis, a topic sentence has to be something debatable and provable, otherwise, your paragraph will not have any direction and will likely just point out plot points. Aim to have your topic sentence be one sentence long, and your topic sentence does not have to have a literary device in it, although that *is* a fine way of ensuring that your argument will be debatable and provable. If you are writing a WHAT/HOW/WHY essay, your first topic sentence will essentially be the WHAT&HOW part of your thesis, your second topic sentence will be the WHY portion.

For a much more in-depth discussion of what a topic sentence must do, CLICK HERE.

Point

The first step in proving your topic sentence is to raise a point from the text that you will explore and use as proof that your topic sentence is correct. Like with any argument, once you raise your main argument that you want to prove (in this case, your topic sentence), you then have to have smaller, more precise and more manageable points that you must prove to win the argument. The point part of a body paragraph is when you bring up those smaller arguments that you will use to prove your topic sentence, which in turn helps prove your thesis. At this step in the essay, you are finally able to begin to transition from the main argument to the evidence that you will use to prove that argument.

Illustrate

In this second step, you bring the text into your argument as proof that you are right – you need to illustrate your point. Whatever you just raised in your point needs to be proven with support from the book. Otherwise, it might feel like you are simply building an argument out of air. Most of the time, your illustration will be a quote from the text. If you are quoting the text, only include the essential part of the quote; don’t let your quote dominate your paragraph. Occasionally, though, you might be able to support your point by indicating something concrete from the story that isn’t a quote, but is still textual proof. For example, if you indicate that Jack first appears in Lord of the Flies wearing a choir boy robe and a black cap, but later has lost nearly all of his clothing, you don’t necessarily need a quote for that. We suggest that you use the non-quote illustration sparingly though.

Explain

The final step is to look into the specific quote or plot reference that you raised in your illustration and point out (or explain) the particular elements of it – your job is only partially done once you’ve found that strong quote, that interesting element of the text. If you don’t explain why that quote works so well, then you are abandoning your argument *right before the finish line*. For a reminder on the many, many ways you can extract meaning from a quote, CLICK HERE. With your explanations, be sure that you are not simply restating the original point, as in the following example: Lennie offers a small complaint about their situation in chapter one saying, “I like beans with ketchup” (Steinbeck 8). In saying that he wants ketchup that they do not have, Lennie brings up a complaint about their situation. This is not a PIE, it is a PIP. Your explanation has to bring up something NEW, something INTERESTING about the quote or plot point that you just introduced. If you cannot do that, you likely need a better quote or plot point. In this example, you could say, Lennie offers a small complaint about their situation in chapter one saying, “I like beans with ketchup” (Steinbeck 8). By expressing his desire as a statement instead of a request, Steinbeck reinforces the pattern of the everyday denial of pleasure for the migrant workers like Lennie. For more suggestions on how to use a strong quote, CLICK HERE.

Once you have fully explained your quote, introduce your next point. Depending on the assignment, you might have some variety in how many PIE arguments your paragraph needs, but you must have at least two in order to have a balanced argument, and we generally prefer that a paragraph has at least 3 PIE arguments. That way, if one of your arguments is sort of flat, you still have two other ones to boost your thesis. And if you know that one of your PIE arguments is weaker, bury it in the middle of the paragraph.

Concluding Sentence

This part is not included on the graphic organizer due to space, but after your final PIE argument, you should add a sentence that wraps up your point and either (A) transitions into your next paragraph or (B) winds down your argument in anticipation of your conclusion. At the very least, you can paraphrase your topic sentence or your thesis here, but don’t just bail out of your paragraph.

Final Note

What we suggest here is the minimum that you should aim for in order to have a completed argument. In other words, you might have two or three ways to explain a single quote, or your point might have two completely different illustrations to support it. You might be able to write a paragraph with more than three main points. But at the very least, each point should have an “illustration” to defend it, and each illustration should be explained.

As with any other skill, like artwork, or music, or athletics, once you master the basics, then you can stretch out and try to bend or break the rules. But it is much harder to gain proficiency without those basics. PIE paragraph structuring encourages you to measure whether or not you are fully defending your points. Once you have that down cold, then you can start to experiment with your structure more.

Please see THIS GRAPHIC ORGANIZER to map out a body paragraph using this format – this graphic organizer encourages you to have a thorough explanation of your argument.

Sample PIE Paragraph

More to come…

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