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The Paragraph


What is a paragraph?

A paragraph is a group of related sentences which presents and develops one idea or one aspect of an idea. A good paragraph does not just state the idea; each sentence in it supports or extends the central idea, so that the whole paragraph is a short but complete composition (Roloff and Brosseit, Paragraphs)

 

How do I write a good paragraph?

Consider the following four points:

1. Length: Most modern paragraphs range from 50 to 100 words, or about 4 to 12 sentences. Keep in mind that "if a subject is worth being mentioned at all, it is certainly worth at least three sentences" (Grieder and Grieder). As a rule, all paragraphs in a paper should be roughly the same length. (An occasional paragraph of introduction, conclusion, or transition may be significantly shorter or longer.) If a paragraph looks too short, ask these questions: Have I developed my idea sufficiently? Could I add more details, facts or examples? Have I chopped my ideas into tiny pieces when I could combine them into one larger paragraph? If a paragraph looks too long, ask these questions: Do I have more than one main idea in this paragraph? Would these ideas be more effectively understood if they were separated?

2. Unity: A unified paragraph focuses on a single topic or controlling idea. Often, this controlling idea is stated in a topic sentence; the writer should make sure that all sentences in a paragraph relate to that topic sentence. The following paragraph (taken from Prentice Hall) lacks unity:

Club Tropic's beaches are beautiful, and the surrounding countryside is quite scenic. The quality of the food leaves a lot to be desired. Many vacationers enjoy the variety of outdoor activities and the instruction available in such sports as sailing and scuba diving. Unfortunately, security is poor; several vacationers' rooms have been broken into and their valuables stolen. Christmas in the Bahamas can make the thought of New Year's in Chicago bearable.

The above paragraph covers too many topics and is difficult to read and understand. The following paragraph is unified because it focuses on the topic of Club Tropic's best points:

For vacationers sick and tired of the frozen north, a week at Club Tropic can provide just the midwinter thaw they need. Club Tropic's beaches are beautiful, and the surrounding countryside is quite scenic. Many vacationers also enjoy the variety of outdoor activities and the instruction available in such sports as sailing and scuba diving. Christmas in the Bahamas can make the thought of New Year's in Chicago bearable.

3. Coherence: A coherent paragraph may address a single topic, but the ideas are not logically or smoothly connected. The following paragraph is incoherent:

     Club Tropic's isolation created dissatisfaction among some vacationers. The quality of the food was poor. People want a choice of entertainment in the evening. Most of us spent too much time together day after day. People expect to be able to go out for a meal if they feel like it.

This paragraph sticks to one topic--some of the drawbacks of Club Tropic--but the individual sentences do not relate to each other smoothly. The following paragraph is coherent:

    Club Tropic's isolation created dissatisfaction among some vacationers. Many people expect to be able to go out for a meal if they feel like it, but the club's location far from populated areas made that impossible. To make matters worse, the quality of the food was poor. The isolated location also forced people to spend all of their time together--day after day. By evening nearly everyone was ready for a choice of food, entertainment, and company.

4. Development: Finally, a well-developed paragraph gives readers plenty of examples, reasons, or details. For example, the following paragraph is not sufficiently developed:

A vacation at Club Tropic has its good points and bad points. The beaches are nice, but they may not be enough for some vacationers.

Here, the reader is left wondering about additional, more specific details.

For additional information on paragraphs see Chapter 42 of the Prentice Hall Handbook (11th ed.) or check out some of the other links on the OWL homepage.

 

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