Anatomy of paragraph writing

In her 1989 book The Writing Life, Annie Dillard describes a fellow writer who was asked by a student if she thought he might become a writer. “Well, do you like sentences?” the fellow writer said. The question surprises the student, but Dillard understands exactly what was intended. She clarifies that the student was informed that if he liked sentences, he could surely become a writer. She recalls having a similar discussion with a painter. She questioned him about how he got into painting. “I like the smell of paint,” he declared. Sentence is the structural and functional unit of the art of writing. “The practice of analyzing and imitating sentences is also the practice of learning how to read them with an informed appreciation. Here’s the formula: Sentence craft equals sentence comprehension equals sentence appreciation,” says Stanley Fish.

Moving on to paragraph writing, a paragraph is a metaphoric sandwich: two pieces of bread (the topic and concluding sentences) holding the key ingredients (the supporting sentences). We discussed the mechanics of a topic sentence in the previous article, and now we laser-focus on how we buttress a topic sentence with supporting sentences. We do this naturally when we speak, frequently by employing gestures and facial emotions, as well as by repeating ourselves in different phrases. As we cannot ply these visual and auditory cues when writing, we can develop and clarify a topic sentence in a variety of ways: 1) examples; 2) details; 3) anecdotes; 4) facts and figures. If we find that we have little to say after writing the topic sentence, we must ask ourselves what details or examples will make our reader believe that the topic sentence is true for us.

One way to write coherent supporting sentences is cause-and-effect technique which always brings about a causal development between the topic and the supporting sentences, or even between major supporting sentences and minor ones. This means that our supporting sentences will now consist of a list of either causes (the reasons or explanations for why something happened the way it did) or consequences (what a certain condition has led to or resulted in).

We may also fortify our topic sentence by arranging the props according to either similarities or the differences between the two things, or two aspects of one thing. It is called comparison (pointing out likeness) and contrast (pointing out differences) technique.

In formal writing, it is sometimes incumbent upon us to write a paragraph to define what a term means or how we are going to use it in a particular situation. This is called a paragraph of definition. A paragraph of definition may be either a formal definition, which explains the meaning as we might find it in the dictionary; or a contextualised definition, which explains how we are using a particular term within a specific context.

A formal definition consists of three parts: the term to be defined; the class or category to which tangible or intangible species belongs; and the characteristics that distinguish it from other things in that class. For instance, a pen is defined as a mechanical writing device that is used to write on paper. Here, the Term is pen; Class is device; and distinguishing features are mechanical, writing, write on paper.

A concluding sentence reminds the reader of the main point by restating the topic sentence in different words. Sometimes, the concluding sentence recaps the main points elaborated in the supporting sentences. However, the experienced writers strongly recommend that a new idea must never be introduced in the concluding sentence. It can nevertheless offer a suggestion, give an opinion, or make a prediction: all tethered to the topic sentence or supporting sentences. Often, we use a conclusional signal to show the readers that this is the end of the paragraph.

Tip: When you find yourself stuck, just start a new paragraph because it offers the possibility of a fresh start.

Published in Other View , December 2nd, 2023.

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