Literary Terms

Start Free Trial

Editor's Choice

What's the difference between an essay and a paragraph?

Quick answer:

A paragraph focuses on one topic. This topic is introduced with the first sentence in the paragraph, and the following sentences provide supporting details about the topic. An essay is usually composed of multiple paragraphs and can focus on a much larger topic than an individual paragraph can. It will typically be structured similarly, though. For example, in a five-paragraph essay, the first paragraph introduces the broad topic of the essay. The next three body paragraphs all focus on individual, smaller topics within the broad topic. The final paragraph concludes the essay by summarizing the main arguments.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There is a significant difference between an essay and a paragraph. A paragraph is generally fairly short. It should have a specific topic or theme. The body of the paragraph should explain the main point or idea of the paragraph. In a paragraph, there is a topic sentence, followed by supporting details, and a conclusion.

An essay consists of several paragraphs covering the main idea or thesis of the essay. Writing an essay generally requires more time, thinking, and preparation. More research often needs to be done to develop the main idea of an essay.

Most students are familiar with a five-paragraph essay. The first paragraph introduces the main idea of the essay. The next three paragraphs are used to support the main idea. The last paragraph summarizes the main concept of the essay. It should support the main idea made throughout the essay.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

An essay is a formal writing sample of a given topic composed of multiple paragraphs.  The largest difference between the two types of writing is that the essay usually involves more preparation work.  Traditional essays involve five paragraphs, in which the first serves as an introduction and includes a thesis statement- a critical idea that defines the purpose of the paper.  The subsequent paragraphs develop and explore the thesis through the use of evidence and analysis in its explanation . The concluding paragraph summarizes the findings that have been presented in the essay and has proven the thesis statement in a lucid and reasonable manner.  There will be disagreements on the outline of it, but traditionally this is how an essay breaks down.

By contrast, a paragraph is shorter and by virtue of this does not have as many requirements.  There is a topic sentence to open the paragraph that defines its purpose and the remaining sentences in the paragraph serve to support and enhance that topic sentence.  If you want to think of it in a comparative way, the topic sentence is the thesis statement of a paragraph.  The development of a paragraph can lead to an essay, and normally, this is how good essays begin.  Different teachers have different belief systems on it, but roughly, I think this is what is meant by the difference between an "essay" and a "paragraph."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial