Is Your Essay’s Structure Clear? Try This First and Last Sentence Exercise.

One of the challenges writers face during the revision process is to make sure that an essay’s Structure is clear not only to themselves but also to their readers. An essay’s structure depends on the author clearly establishing the purpose of each paragraph as well as demonstrating how each paragraph logically connects to the one before and after it. When reviewing a draft to ensure that the purpose of each paragraph is clearly announced to readers, try doing a review of the first and last sentences of every paragraph. These are the sentences readers mostly rely upon to know what’s happening and why, and how one paragraph connects with another.

Step 1: First, make a copy of your draft, so you can’t possibly lose any of your work. In this copy, delete everything except the first and last sentence of each body paragraph. Leave paragraphs that belong to the introduction alone; this exercise is most useful when it comes to body paragraphs.

Step 2: Now that you only have the first and last sentences to look at, read through your draft and see what it’s like to have only your topic sentences and concluding sentences to rely on. Can you still tell what the main purpose of each paragraph is? Does each paragraph end on a sentence that’s reaching a conclusion that matches the purpose of the opening sentence?

Readers are incredibly reliant on opening and closing sentences. They assume that the main focus of each paragraph will be central to whatever you say in these framing moments. If you make your key point in the middle of a paragraph, readers are likely to miss it, especially if whatever you currently say in your topic sentence allows readers to misunderstand the intended purpose of the paragraph.

If you’re still having trouble aligning your topic sentences and the paragraph’s purpose try: “Do Your Topic Sentences and Paragraphs Align: Thinking Through the Vacuum” and “Disorganized first draft? Color-coding as a tool to reorganize and restructure.”