Single Controlling Idea that Ties Back to the Thesis Statement
The first thing a solid body paragraph needs to do is focus on one controlling idea, one that directly ties back to the thesis statement of the paper. While the basic paragraph only requires a controlling idea specific to that paragraph’s content, any body paragraph in an essay must always take into account what the thesis statement (or controlling idea of the essay) is. It must also take into account what role the controlling idea of that specific paragraph will play within its context.
To illustrate, let’s look at an example prompt question:
Based on that prompt, a potential thesis statement could be the following:
This thesis statement only mentions one thing the writer can do to overcome a specific thinking error (that of giving up). The writer suggests paying more attention to the circumstances in which the thinking error tends to occur. This means that the writer will only need one body paragraph to explain this step he or she intends to take. In other words, since the thesis statement, or controlling idea of the whole essay, only has one idea in it, the essay only needs one body paragraph to discuss that one idea.
Not all essay prompts are that simple though. In the future, it is very likely that you will be asked a prompt question that will require you to share two or even three ideas instead of just the one. This would mean you would need more than one body paragraph to answer the prompt question. Look at the following example:
Ponder and Record
How might the controlling idea of this body paragraph (or even the number of body paragraphs) be different if the thesis statement were the following instead:
Three things I could do to overcome the thinking error of giving up would be to pay more attention to the conditions in which the thinking error tends to occur, act to immediately change my physical and mental state so I can stop the thinking error, and then consistently reflect and evaluate how successful I was in stopping the thinking error.
- How many controlling ideas are outlined in this thesis example?
- How many body paragraphs would this essay need since each body paragraph should contain no more than one controlling idea?
In the Ponder and Record exercise above, you probably deduced that the thesis statement outlines three controlling ideas. They are the following:
- Pay more attention to the conditions in which the thinking error occurs.
- Act immediately to change physical and mental state to stop the thinking error.
- Reflect and evaluate how successful efforts to stop the thinking error were.
This means that, according to this thesis, this particular essay would have three body paragraphs—one focused on each of the three controlling ideas.
Moving forward, as you examine your prompt questions and create thesis statements, allow the number of controlling ideas you outline to be your guide. This will help you determine how many body paragraphs you will have and what each of those body paragraphs will focus on.
The basic paragraph lessons teach that the purpose of the topic sentence is to indicate what controlling idea that paragraph is going to explore. With the body paragraph, the purpose of the topic sentence is no different.
As mentioned in the section above, the only thing that changes in the body paragraph is the fact that its controlling idea (the idea shared in the topic sentence of that paragraph) must tie back to the thesis statement of the paper. All while still serving its purpose of showing what the controlling idea of that particular paragraph will be.
Let’s return to our example thesis statement to illustrate this idea:
With this as the thesis statement of the introductory paragraph, the topic sentence of the body paragraph might be something like the following:
Notice how the topic sentence strengthens the thesis statement while also creating the controlling idea and supporting details for that body paragraph? It is clear that increased awareness of the conditions in which thinking errors occur will be the controlling idea of this paragraph (as illustrated by the thesis). But it is also clear that this controlling idea will be supported by details centered on the expert testimony (if the first topic sentence example is used) or with personal experience (if the second topic sentence example is used).
Ponder and Record
- How does the topic sentence above support the thesis while also clearly creating the controlling idea of that specific paragraph?
- How does the topic sentence effectively outline the type of supporting details that will be shared in that body paragraph?
You’ll remember from your lessons on the basic paragraph that there are four basic types of supporting details you could use to support the controlling idea of your paragraph:
- Expert testimony
- Personal experiences
The body paragraph is no different. The same types of supporting details will work. Much like with your basic paragraph assignment, your Basic Essay assignment also requires you to use supporting details in your body paragraph that directly support your controlling idea. The only difference is instead of integrating two supporting details, you only need to integrate one. If you are unsure of what that might look like, let’s return to our example topic sentences:
The first topic sentence example (Example 1) indicates that an expert testimony will serve as the supporting detail for the body paragraph. So what might this look like in practice?
- Expert Testimony Supporting Detail
- Many experts in the field of psychology have highlighted the importance of not only correctly identifying the thinking errors we suffer from, but also the conditions in which they tend to occur most frequently in our lives. As Dr. John M. Grohol explained in his article “10 Proven Methods for Fixing Cognitive Distortions,” “Much like a judge overseeing a trial, [you] must remove yourself from the emotionality of the episode of irrational thinking in order to examine the evidence more objectively. A thorough examination of an experience allows you to identify the basis for your distorted thoughts.” In other words, before a thinking error can be successfully overcome, it must first be analyzed as objectively as possible so the cause of the thinking error (and the conditions that tend to cause it) can be identified and modified.
The second topic sentence example (Example 2) indicates that a personal experience will serve as the supporting detail for the body paragraph. What might that look like in practice?
- Personal Experience Supporting Detail
- Because one of my thinking errors is a tendency to want to give up and quit, I made the decision to actually keep a record of my thinking patterns over the course of a week. Anytime I had the thought to give up on a task, big or small, I would open up my notebook and write it down. I would describe what I was doing when the thought occurred and how it made me feel. By the end of the week, I realized that a lot of the time, my desire to give up happened during times of stress. In other words, I could handle a lot more (and avoid the thinking error of giving up) when I kept my stress level down. This discovery has helped me realize an important connection that I can now work toward resolving in order to lessen this thinking error’s impact on my life.
Ponder and Record
- How do the supporting detail examples above support the controlling idea established by the example topic sentence?
- What could your topic sentence and accompanying supporting details be for your own essay?
Don’t forget, if you choose to use a personal experience as a supporting detail, make sure it is based on a specific experience. It is not enough to reflect on a principle as it relates to your life in general.
The Concluding and the Transition Sentence
The final sentence of the body paragraph is the concluding and transition sentence. While similar to the simple concluding sentence of the basic paragraph, the concluding and transition sentence not only serves the purpose of providing closure for the controlling idea shared throughout the paragraph, but also the purpose of transitioning the reader to the next paragraph (whether it be another body paragraph or the concluding paragraph).
In the basic paragraph this sentence should not be a simple restatement of the topic sentence. Rather, it should be a brief summary of how the supporting details shared throughout the paragraph support the controlling idea of that paragraph. The same is true of the concluding and transition sentence in the body paragraph with this small addition—this sentence can also serve as a link back to the thesis statement (the controlling idea of the essay) as well.
Let’s return to our example to illustrate. Based on all of the example sentences shared in this lesson so far, the body paragraph for this particular essay prompt (with its topic sentence and supporting detail) might look like the following:
Based on the paragraph above, a possible concluding and transition sentence might be the following:
Notice how this sentence provides a sense of completion in terms of the controlling idea and supporting details shared throughout the paragraph? Do you also see how the sentence transitions the reader from the controlling idea of that paragraph back to the controlling idea—or thesis statement—of the entire essay?
Ponder and Record
- How could you avoid making your concluding and transition sentence a simple restatement of your topic sentence?
- What might your own concluding and transition sentence be based on the topic sentence and supporting details you plan to share?
Need More Help?
- Study other Writing Lessons in the Resource Center.
- Visit the Online Tutoring Resources in the Resource Center.
- Contact your Instructor.
- If you still need help, Schedule a Tutor.