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Writing effective paragraphs

A writer holding a pen

A writer holding a pen

Introduction

Paragraphing is fundamental to successful writing. Splitting text up into sections, in a logical, ordered manner not only helps to add a coherent thread to an argument, but also allows a writer to build and develop their ideas. In addition, good paragraphing helps the reader follow the writer's train of thought. Paragraphs can fulfil different functions, dependent on the objective the writer is trying to reach. For example, paragraphs can be persuasive or factual. They can cover one main point or they can list several. However, primary functions are: adding information, giving explanations and offering examples.

Objectives

1) to show you the importance of writing in structured paragraphs
2) to illustrate the various elements a good paragraph should contain
3) to guide you through a series of exercises which develop paragraph writing skills



Activity 1: The basics of a good paragraph

Paragraphs are usually made up of several sentences based upon a single theme. Most paragraphs begin with a topic sentence, a sentence which tells the reader what the paragraph is about. Topic sentences are usually followed by a supporting sentence which adds further information, helping to build your argument and develop your ideas.

Click on this link for more detail.

Instruction

Read the following student written paragraph carefully and decide if the student has followed the guidelines listed above.


Females in African-Caribbean families are the breadwinners and they set good examples for their female children (Brown, 2006). However, not all female African-Caribbean children do well at school (Moore et al, 2005). Africa-Caribbean women don't find it hard to find a job, but the males do (Brown, 2006). This is because of their education (ibid). Some teachers treat African-Caribeean children differently because they speak English with an accent which is sometimes difficult for a middle class English teacher to understand (Brown, 2006). This can lead to under-achievement in the classroom (Moore et al, 2005).

tick icon cross icon
Does this paragraph discuss one topic?
Does this paragraph discuss several topcis?
Is this paragraph clear and well organised?
Can the reader easily follow the argument presented in this paragraph?
Does the paragraph start with a topic sentence?
Is there a supporting sentence?
Is an example given?
Is any evidence provided?

It has been argued that ethnic groups are the victims of educational discrimination. This is often a result of economic and social circumstances. Browne (2006) points out that 'African-Caribbean communities have a high level of lone parenthood, and this may pose financial and practical problems in supporting their children's education'. This statement indicates that African-Caribbean children have an insufficient level of support in education. Such deficiencies could lead to low self-esteem and lack of confidence which could subsequently impact the way in which these children learn. In addition, according to Moore et al (2005), 'African-Caribbean underacheivement has been blamed on the high numbers of one parent families in African-Caribbean communities'. Therefore, based on the evidence provided by Brown and Moore, it can be argued that educational achievement is related to race and family background.

tick icon cross icon
Does this paragraph discuss one topic?
Does this paragraph discuss several topcis?
Is this paragraph clear and well organised?
Can the reader easily follow the argument presented in this paragraph?
Does the paragraph start with a topic sentence?
Is there a supporting sentence?
Is an example given?
Is any evidence provided?




Activity 2: Identify the components of a paragraph

In the following exercise you will learn how to identify the different functions within a paragraph.

Instruction

Read the following paragraph, then identify the functions of each individual sentence by choosing from the drop down menu.


Iceland’s small, isolated population constitutes perhaps the archetypal ‘good population’ for pharmacogenomics (modelling the relationships between patterns of inheritance, medical histories and genetics in order to identify new genetic sites for the analysis and treatment of disease). Iceland has exceptional medical and genealogical records which can be used to identify disease pedigrees (Cliff and Haggett 1984). Furthermore, it is assumed that the particular genetic traits which are linked to diseases will stand out more clearly in a population where reproductive isolation has reduced the number of alleles (genetic variations). As Cliff et al. (2000, 916) suggest:
From the genetic viewpoint, [… a] lack of immigration kept mixing to a minimum and Iceland provided a classic example of (i) the founder’s effect, inbreeding from a small initial population and (ii) the bottleneck effect, where sharp reductions in population size due to imported diseases and out-migration further reinforce the narrow genetic range.


Iceland’s small, isolated population constitutes perhaps the archetypal ‘good population’ for pharmacogenomics (modelling the relationships between patterns of inheritance, medical histories and genetics in order to identify new genetic sites for the analysis and treatment of disease).

Iceland has exceptional medical and genealogical records which can be used to identify disease pedigrees (Cliff and Haggett 1984).

Furthermore, it is assumed that the particular genetic traits which are linked to diseases will stand out more clearly in a population where reproductive isolation has reduced the number of alleles (genetic variations).

As Cliff et al. (2000, 916) suggest:
'From the genetic viewpoint, [… a] lack of immigration kept mixing to a minimum and Iceland provided a classic example of (i) the founder’s effect, inbreeding from a small initial population and (ii) the bottleneck effect, where sharp reductions in population size due to imported diseases and out-migration further reinforce the narrow genetic range'.


Activity 3: Identify the components of a paragraph #2

In this activity, you will analyse an example paragraph and identify the functions of each sentence within it. At the end you are given the opportunity to listen to some audio feedback about the paragraph.

Instruction

The sentences in the following paragraph perform different functions. Identify these functions. There is no drop down list for you to choose from. You should write your answer in the text entry box instead. When you have finished, check your answers with the feedback.




Globalization involves the diffusion of ideas, practices and technologies. It is something more than internationalization and universalization. It isn't simply modernization or westernization. It certainly isn't just the liberalization of markets. Anthony Giddens (1990: 64) has described globalization as 'the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa'. This involves a change in the way we understand geography and experience localness. As well as offering opportunity it brings with considerable risks linked, for example, to technological change. Globalization, thus, has powerful economic, political, cultural and social dimensions.


Globalization involves the diffusion of ideas, practices and technologies.

It is something more than internationalization and universalisation.

It isn't simply modernization or westernization.

It certainly isn't just the liberalization of markets.

Anthony Giddens (1990: 64) has described globalization as 'the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa'.

This involves a change in the way we understand geography and experience localness.

As well as offering opportunity it brings with considerable risks linked, for example, to technological change.

Globalization, thus, has powerful economic, political, cultural and social dimensions.

For an audio and visual overview of the different elements of the paragraph and the functions they perform follow this link




Activity 4: Reorder the paragraph

In the following activity you will use your recently acquired knowledge about paragraphing to make a comprehensive paragraph.

Instruction

Click on the following link and reorder the sentences by dragging and dropping then into the correct position.

Re-order the sentences to make a cohesive paragraph

Activity 5: Test your knowledge

In the following activity you can test your knowledge of paragraphing in a quiz.

Instruction

Click on the link, press start and then answer the questions by putting a mark in the correct check box.

try out the quiz



Would you like to review the main points?

References:

Browne, K. (2006) Ethnic group differences in education in K. Brown (Ed) Introducing Sociology (2nd edition), Cambridge: Polity Press

Cliff, A & P. Haggett. (1984). Island epidemics. Scientific American. 250(5). pp 110 - 117

Cliff, A & P. Haggett. (2000). Island epidemics. Oxford: OUP.

Giddens, A. (1990) The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Greenhough, B. (2005). A biotechnological settlement? Making space for ‘human nature’ at Iceland’s genomics frontier. Landabrefid. 21(1). pp 3 - 19.

Moore, S., Aiken, D & Chapman, S. (2005) Ethnicity and educational achievement in Moore et al (Eds) Sociology (2nd edition), London: Collins

Smith, M. K. & Doyle M. (2002) 'Globalization' the encyclopedia of informal education. Accessed Online at http://www.infed.org/biblio/globalization.htm on 19th April 2010

© Jessica Cooper / Queen Mary University of London /photo used under the terms of an attributive CC license: courtesy of matsuyuki