In this session we turn our attention to paragraphs. They’re the building blocks writers use to present information. A paragraph is a grouping of sentences that relate to an idea, theory, or argument. (Of course, you can have single sentence paragraphs, but here we’re focusing on multi-sentence paragraphs.)
The key to clear paragraphs is making sure each sentence relates to the theme or thesis you’re writing about. If a sentence does not directly support the theme, it doesn’t belong in the paragraph.
To figure out if each sentence supports the theme, first identify the paragraph’s topic sentence. If none of your sentences set out your main thesis, you’ll need to craft one that does. Once you have a topic sentence, make sure each sentence clearly relates to it.
When you find a sentence that doesn’t directly support the topic sentence, remove it from the paragraph. If you take a sentence out of a paragraph that doesn’t mean you must delete it from the document. You may find the sentence includes an idea worthy of being the topic sentence of a new paragraph. Or perhaps the removed sentence supports some other paragraph. If so, move it there.
Though content drives paragraph length, paragraphs with many sentences require special attention. Besides making sure each sentence supports the paragraph’s thesis – ask yourself whether the order of the sentences makes sense. You can order the sentences in a variety of ways: chronologically, by cause/effect, by argument/counter-argument, and so on. When choosing the sentence order, be sure the ordering will make sense to the reader.
And finally, like long sentences, long paragraphs are difficult for readers. Paragraphs should present information in digestible chunks. Most long paragraphs can be easily broken into two paragraphs. Of course, you may have to craft a new topic sentence for the second paragraph. You can usually do this by simply paraphrasing the original topic sentence. Then review the two paragraphs, making sure the order of the sentences in each paragraph makes sense.
Invest the time in critically analyzing every paragraph you write. Your writing will be clearer and your readers will be grateful.
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