What are the similarities and deferences that exist in a paragraph and an essay

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Besides the obvious difference of length, there are fewer disparities in the concept of writing a paragraph and an essay and more similarities.  In fact, there is a form that Edward P. Bailey and Philip A. Powell in The Practical Writer term a "One Paragraph Essay."  With such a paragraph, the writer creates a topic sentence that in its general statement contains an opinion.  This opinion, then, is supported with any of the following; a quick example, a narrative example, a statement by an authority, a statistic. As a conclusion, the writer rewords the topic sentence with what is called a clincher, a thought-provoking remark. Here is the outline for such a paragraph:

  • Topic sentence
  • Specific support
  • Specific support
  • Specific support
  • Reworded topic sentence with clincher 

Thus, the concept of a paragraph is to state to the readers what you are going to tell them, then tell it to them, and then, reiterate what you have just told them.

Essentially, an essay has the same purpose, just in greater depth and extent.  However, in a five paragraph essay, for instance, there is an introductory paragraph which is not included in the writing of a single paragraph.  In the introduction, the thesis is similar to the topic sentence, but it contains 3 opinions on the general statement, rather than just 1. 

Of course, the three body paragraphs are much the same as the one-paragraph except that they do not have a reworded topic sentence as their last sentence as they are mainly the supporting paragraphs.  Instead, the last sentence is usually a transition sentence that includes points from the paragraph that can lead to the next paragraph.  Thus, the writer connects an idea from the written paragraph that will launch the next paragraph.

Finally, the last paragraph is the concluding paragraph.  So, instead of one sentence that rewords the topic sentence as in a paragraph, the writer ties all the main ideas of the body paragraph together and then rewords the thesis.  Again, a clincher ends the essay just as it does the paragraph.

Here is an outline of a five-paragraph essay:

  • Introduction with motivator and thesis statement containing 3 opinions
  • First Central Paragraph with topic sentence, and specific supporting sentences (4-5) and transitional sentences. Transitional sentence to the next paragraph
  • Second Central Paragraph [same pattern as the first]
  • Third Central Paragraph [same pattern]
  • Conclusion with reworded thesis statement and clincher

So, the paragraph, in essence is a mini-essay.  They are similiar in that they have the same purpose of communicating an idea with support.  Here are the differences

  1. Whereas a paragraph has a single topic sentence with a single opinion, an essay has a thesis statement that contains three opinions. 
  2. Whereas a paragraph has a support as a single sentence, in an essay, a support is an entire paragraph. 
  3. And, whereas a paragraph has a single reworded topic sentence as its concluding sentence, the essay has a paragraph.

Source:  Bailey, Edward P. and Philip A. Powell, eds. The Practical Writer.  Boston:  Thomson Higher Education, 2008.