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What Is the Schaffer Paragraph?

By A. Gamm
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Schaffer paragraph is a method of creating a highly structured five-sentence paragraph for essay and document writing. It contains a topic sentence, which is followed by a concrete detail sentence and two commentary sentences. The paragraph then ends with a concluding sentence. It is taught in most schools across America to students on almost all writing levels as a foundation for essay writing.

A topic sentence states the main point of the paragraph. It acts as a mini thesis statement with a clear opinion and subject. While It is not necessarily an argumentative paragraph, an air of disagreement or argument should be present.

Concrete detail sentences (CD), validates the topic sentence with clear fact and evidence, and should contain some detail. Quotations, citations and other reputable sources are often encouraged. When writing on something based on fiction, an expert from the book is acceptable. It is not unusual for the CD to begin with an appropriate transition phrase like, “for example.”

There are always two commentary sentences (CM), which are based upon the writer’s own thoughts and opinions. They serve to make inferences, analysis, insight or interpretation of the concrete detail. These sentences may also aid in elaborating on what was said in the CD, as long as it continues to support what was said. Most people think of these as an opportunity to add color to the paragraph.

The final sentence is the concluding sentence or closing commentary. It sums up everything that was said and may demonstrate briefly how the point was proven. A good closing sentence also transitions one paragraph into the next by giving a clue about the subject of the next paragraph.

A Schaffer paragraph also has other guidelines a writer must follow. The paragraph must always be written in the third person. Unlike many other writing styles that require paragraphs to be in the past tense, the Schaffer paragraph is written in the present tense. Furthermore, while this type of paragraph is usually only five sentences, on rare occasions they may contain more as long as the additional sentences are one more concrete detail and two additional commentary sentences.

This method of writing was created by San Diego English teacher, Jane Schaffer. She developed the Schaffer paragraph as a way of helping teachers show students of varying writing skill levels how to structure paragraphs within an essay and the basics of essay writing. Many schools in America now teach the Schaffer paragraph to middle school children. Students in their final years of school, however, are not usually required to use the method due to the limitations of the technique.

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