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Part 2: PARAGRAPHS & PARAGRAPH SEQUENCES

Remember that from our discussion of sentences, words and structure are the key elements which allow a writer to communicate with a reader. The paragraph writing tips that follow show how you can control structure at the paragraph level to enhance the clarity and force of your writing. Three main structural elements can be used in a paragraph to help the reader decipher the author's meaning:

  1. The order of the ideas in a paragraph is crucial to clear expression.
  1. You should learn to exploit the impact of beginnings and endings, since these are key places to communicate to your reader. The beginning of a paragraph usually announces the topic, and the ending either summarizes or provides a transition to the next paragraph, or both. Within a paragraph, careful use of the beginnings and endings of sentences also helps a reader to sort out old and new information, because the start of a sentence usually creates the context, while the end of the sentence is typically used to provide new information.
  1. Finally, there are many verbal techniques that help to link the ideas in a paragraph together, so the reader understands how the ideas relate to each other. These serve as "sign posts" or "trail markers" to lead a reader easily along the path of your discourse.

These, then, are the primary structural elements in a paragraph that are used to help the reader decipher your meaning. Our paragraph tips address each of these elements.

[The author is indebted to Joseph Williams (University of Chicago), George Gopen (Duke University), and Judith Swan (Princeton University), for important concepts that contributed to Part 2 of this module. A key resource was Joseph M. Williams. Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, 5th Edition. Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc., New York, 1997.]

Tips for Writing Good Paragraphs and Paragraph Sequences
  1. Think of each paragraph as a unit of thought. Focus it on a single main topic, and be sure that topic is clearly conveyed to the reader.
  1. Select a principle of order and make it evident to your reader. Make a brief outline of your main topics, and then organize the sequence of ideas within a paragraph or group of paragraphs.
  1. Sequence for understanding: Provide a context before introducing new ideas.
    • Paragraphs: Use first sentence to introduce topic and last sentence to summarize
    • Sentences in paragraphs: Begin with familiar information and end with new information
  1. Verbally link your ideas in a paragraph together, using summative references to preceding ideas, repetitions and parallel constructions, and transitional linkages.
  1. Analyze your paragraphs to test clarity, logic, focus, continuity, and sound. Reading them aloud can reveal a lot.
  1. In revision, be prepared to rethink, reprioritize, reorganize, and rephrase what you have written (usually in that order)