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On Paragraphs
What is a paragraph?
A paragraph is a collection of related sentences dealing with a single topic. Learning to
write good paragraphs will help you as a writer stay on track during your drafting and
revision stages. Good paragraphing also greatly assists your readers in following a piece of
writing. You can have fantastic ideas, but if those ideas aren't presented in an organized fashion, you will lose
your readers (and fail to achieve your goals in writing).
The Basic Rule: Keep One Idea to One Paragraph
The basic rule of thumb with paragraphing is to keep one idea to one paragraph. If you begin to transition into
a new idea, it belongs in a new paragraph. There are some simple ways to tell if you are on the same topic or a
new one. You can have one idea and several bits of supporting evidence within a single paragraph. You can also
have several points in a single paragraph as long as they relate to the overall topic of the paragraph. If the single
points start to get long, then perhaps elaborating on each of them and placing them in their own paragraphs is the
route to go.
Elements of a Paragraph
Every paragraph in a paper should be
(1) UnifiedAll of the sentences in a single paragraph should be related to a single main
idea (often expressed in the topic sentence of the paragraph).
(2) Clearly related to the thesisThe sentences should all refer to the central idea, or
thesis, of the paper (Rosen and Behrens 119).
(3) CoherentThe sentences should be arranged in a logical manner and should follow a
definite plan for development (Rosen and Behrens 119). Coherence is the trait that
makes the paragraph easily understandable to a reader. You can help create coherence
in your paragraphs by creating logical bridges and verbal bridges.
Logical bridge
The same idea of a topic is carried over from sentence to sentence
Verbal bridges
Key words can be repeated in several sentences
Synonymous words can be repeated in several sentences
Pronouns can refer to nouns in previous sentences
Transition words can be used to link ideas from different sentences
Well-developedEvery idea discussed in the paragraph should be adequately explained
and supported through evidence and details that work together to explain the paragraph's
controlling idea (Rosen and Behrens 119). The topic (which is introduced by the topic
sentence) should be discussed fully and adequately. Again, this varies from paragraph to
paragraph, depending on the author's purpose, but writers should beware of paragraphs
that only have two or three sentences. It's a pretty good bet that the paragraph is not fully
developed if it is that short.
RWS I - Handout 2 12
A topic sentence
A topic sentence is a sentence that expresses the main idea of a paragraph. It tells the reader what to expect about
the information that will follow. Without the use of a topic sentence, developing a paragraph can be extremely
difficult. Topic sentences can appear at several points in a paragraph:
the beginning of the paragraph
the middle of the paragraph
the end of the paragraph
the beginning and the end of the paragraph
Although not all paragraphs have clear-cut topic sentences, and despite the fact that topic sentences can occur
anywhere in the paragraph (as the first sentence, the last sentence, or somewhere in the middle), an easy way to
make sure your reader understands the topic of the paragraph is to put your topic sentence near the beginning of
the paragraph. (This is a good general rule for less experienced writers, although it is not the only way to do it).
Regardless of whether you include an explicit topic sentence or not, you should be able to easily summarise what
the paragraph is about.

Find the topic sentence in the following paragraph.
(A) Homework is one of the necessary evils of college. (B)Many students tend to treat
homework as a chore, putting little or no thought into the routine work they turn in. (C)
However, like any task, homework is a reflection not only on you as a student, but also on you
as an individual. (D)When an employer has to decide whether or not to hire you, he or she has
to consider your ability to meet the demands of the working world. (E) For many employers,
the way that you handle your "homework" in college indicates how you will handle your
homework on the job. (F) For example, often your final grade in a class is greatly influenced
by the quality of the homework that you do. (G) Once you leave college and attempt to find a
job, those homework grades translate into final GPAs
for your major.(H) Those final GPAs
show up on rsums and job applications, and employers look to see if you have done your
homework in school as a key factor in determining whether you will do your "homework" on
the job.
1 GPA =Grade Point Average
Adequate development
The topic (which is introduced by the topic sentence) should be discussed fully and adequately. Again, this
varies from paragraph to paragraph, depending on the author's purpose. Length or appearance is not a factor in
determining whether a section in a paper is a paragraph. In fact, it is not the number of sentences that construct a
paragraph, but the unity and coherence of ideas among those sentences.

Some methods to make sure your paragraph is well-developed:
Use examples and illustrations
Cite data (facts, statistics, evidence, details, and others)
Examine testimony (what other people say such as quotes and paraphrases)
Use an anecdote or story
Define terms in the paragraph
Compare and contrast
Evaluate causes and reasons
Examine effects and consequences
Analyze the topic
Describe the topic
Offer a chronology of an event (time segments)
RWS I - Handout 2 13
How do I know when to start a new paragraph?
You should start a new paragraph when:
When you begin a new idea or point. New ideas should always start in new
paragraphs. If you have an extended idea that spans multiple paragraphs, each new
point within that idea should have its own paragraph.
To contrast information or ideas. Separate paragraphs can serve to contrast sides in
a debate, different points in an argument, or any other difference.
When your readers need a pause. Breaks in paragraphs function as a short "break"
for your readersadding these in will help your writing more readable. You would
create a break if the paragraph becomes too long or the material is complex.
When you are ending your introduction or starting your conclusion. Your
introductory and concluding material should always be in a new paragraph. Many
introductions and conclusions have multiple paragraphs depending on their content,
length, and the writer's purpose.
Writing Paragraphs
DO NOT FORGET! As a unit of thought, a paragraph contains a group of related sentences
developing one central idea. The topic is usually, but not necessarily, stated in a topic sentence
somewhere in the paragraph. The other sentences develop the idea expressed by the topic sentence.
Every sentence in a paragraph should be closely related to the topic.
The Development of a Paragraph

A paragraph may be developed by specific details facts, examples, incidents, etc.
which support the topic sentence.

Generalisations, however, do just the opposite. They often make dull reading.

Task 1. Compare the following two paragraphs that develop the same topic sentence.

(1) Whenever you buy a gift, you should always consider the interest of the
receiver. Whatever the occasion, you should remember what a person likes when you buy
him a present. That way you can buy an appropriate gift. If you select something that he can
enjoy or use, he will appreciate it. If you get a present that does not interest him, then your
choice of a gift is a poor one.

(2) Whenever you buy a gift, you should always consider the interest of the
receiver. For example, if you are buying a birthday present for a friend who likes to read
detective stories, you might select The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or The Case of the Red
Rooster. If, on the other hand, you are choosing a gift for your little cousin who likes to play
cowboys and Indians, you might decide upon a cap pistol, a toy sheriffs badge, or an
Indian suit. Similarly, if you must choose a gift for your mother on Mothers Day, you should
remember that she especially likes new things for her kitchen. You can please her by buying a
novelty cooky jar or a new gadget for slicing potatoes.

Which paragraph is general?
RWS I - Handout 2 14
Which paragraph is more interesting and convincing?

Use examples to develop a paragraph.
The method of developing a paragraph by giving specific examples is easy to learn. After you
have stated your topic sentence, you can support it with examples that are closely related to
your central idea.

Develop the following skeletons of paragraphs by completing the unfinished statements. As
you complete each statement, you will be developing the topic sentence with specific

When the projector broke down during the most exiting scene of the movie, the audience
grew restless. At first, everyone groaned in unison. Then several impatient people put on their
coats and left the theatre. Some older people .Many
children who suddenly became aware of the popcorn popper in the lobby
.A few noisy boys sitting
near the front. Of course, my friends
and I ..

Everything went wrong at the dress rehearsal of the junior play. To begin with, Ann Miles, the
heroine, arrived forty minutes late. J ust as soon as the rehearsal got under way, the
prompter. During the second
act, two of the actors forgotAt the end of the play,
the stagehand who was supposed to pull the curtain..
Finally, Miss Stephens, the director, announced

Choose one of the following topic sentences and develop it into a paragraph. By answering the
questions in brackets, you can make your paragraph interesting with specific details or examples. Use
the topic sentence as the first sentence of your paragraph.

1. Money cannot buy the best things in life. [What exactly are the best things in life?
Who can possess or enjoy these things? Where? When?]
2. There are several kinds of smiles. [Can you name three or four kinds of smiles? How
does each one differ from the other? Do your friends or acquaintances smile at
different things?]
3. Spring is the loveliest season of the year. [What happens in the spring? Why, exactly,
is it the loveliest of all seasons?]
4. Ninety-five per cent of the things we worry about never happen. [Can you apply this
common saying to your own experiences? Are you a chronic worrier? Can you point
RWS I - Handout 2 15

Use incidents from your experience to develop a paragraph.

Another way to develop a paragraph is to select an incident or two from your experiences that
will support and explain your topic sentence.

Answer any one of the following questions by writing a paragraph clearly expressing your
ideas. First write a clear topic sentence; then develop it by giving additional information
specific details, examples, or incidents from your experience.

1. What does a well-rounded personality mean?
2. What are two good ways to make friends?
3. Why do you fear something?
4. What do you like about your favourite course?
5. Why do you like holidays?
6. How can a person learn to swim?

Make a working plan for developing the topic sentence into a paragraph.

To organise your thoughts effectively, you should learn to make a working plan. Morleys
paragraph reveals a plan like this.

TOPIC: Friendship cant be hurried.
DETAILS: needs time to ripen
shared experiences and memories
exchanges of books
discussions, confidences

Emerson is right in saying that friendship cant be hurried. It takes time to ripen. It needs a background of
humorous, wearisome, or even tragic events shared together, a certain tract of memories shared in common, so
that you know that your own life and your companions have really moved for some time in the same channel. It
needs interchange of books, meals together, discussion of one anothers whims with mutual friends, to gain a
proper perspective. It is set in a rich haze of half-remembered occasions, sudden glimpses, ludicrous pranks,
unsuspected observations, midnight confidences when heart spoke to candid heart.
(From Pipefuls by Christopher Morley)

As you write your plan of a paragraph, keep your topic sentence firmly in mind so that every
detail will be closely related to your central idea.

Connectives in a paragraph
In writing paragraphs, you need to bridge the gaps between sentences so that your paragraphs
will read smoothly. To do this, you may use connectives such as these: first, second, third,
finally, next, at the same time, similarly, likewise, therefore, however, etc. Words like one,
other, another, that, and it are also useful for bridging the gaps between sentences because
they refer the reader to preceding ideas.

RWS I - Handout 2 16
After making a plan, write below it an interesting, well-unified paragraph based upon any of
the following topic sentences.

1. I like to watch people as they walk along a crowded street.
2. We were not expecting company.
3. My little brother is always pretending.
4. Everyone should develop his sense of humour.
5. I like my teachers.
6. Teenagers have their own ideas about good music.
7. I believe in miracles.
8. Sometimes I dont like myself.
9. Some promises are easy to make and hard to keep.
10. There are several reasons why I like Sundays.
11. My grandfather/grandmother is/was very easy/difficult to get on with.
12. Not all rituals are religious.
13. There are several ways to spoil a child.
14. There is a right way to put on make-up.
15. Conversation is an art.
16. I know three good icebreakers for a party.
17. I have trouble making decisions.

After you have written your paragraph, ask yourself these questions about it:

1. Does the topic sentence clearly state the central idea of the paragraph?
2. Have I given enough details to develop the topic fully?
3. Are these details interesting and specific?
4. Does every sentence in the paragraph relate closely to the topic sentence?
5. Do connective words help to clarify the explanation as they bridge the gap
between ideas?

Varying Sentences
In your compositions, monotony of style too many stringy sentences or too many subject-
first sentences can cause your reader to lose interest in what you have to say.

a. Vary the beginnings of your sentences. There are many ways to begin sentences. Instead
of putting the subject first in every sentence, you can vary your style by starting with a
modifying word(a), phrase(b), or clause(c).
(a) Destructive and dangerous, the tornado ripped through Dallas.
Whispering, Betty told me the secret.
Later they decided to try finger painting.
(b) Hypnotised by her radiant beauty, Homer sighed and surrendered to her charm.
At the edge of town is a skating rink.
(c) Although David wanted to go with us, he decided that he should stay home
and help his father.

RWS I - Handout 2 17
RWS I - Handout 2 18
b. Vary the kinds of sentences you write. Too many simple or compound sentences can
make your style just as monotonous as too many subject-first sentences. Write a variety of

c. Vary the length of your sentences. (1) Avoid too many short sentences. Although short
sentences are useful for describing exciting action, a composition consisting entirely of short
sentences gives the effect of being chopped up. (2) Avoid long, stringy sentences. An
occasional long sentence is good; it characterises a mature style, and it adds both smoothness
and variety to your compositions. The stringy sentence, however, in which main clauses are
strung together with and, but, for, or, nor, is bad.

STRINGY: J anet went to the board, and she drew a map, but her directions were
still not clear to the class.
BETTER: Although Janet went to the board and drew a map, her directions were
still not clear to the class.

Sometimes it is better to break a long, stringy sentence into two or more sentences.

STRINGY: I read the assignment, and then I began making notes on cards, for I wanted to
memorise the main points in the lesson, but the bell rang, and I was not through,
and so I had to carry my heavy book home.
BETTER: After reading the assignment, I began making notes on cards, so that I could
memorise the main points in the lesson. Since I was not through when the bell
rang, I had to carry my heavy book home.

(Source: Warriners English Grammar and Composition)