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A powerful paragraph can pack a punch. A poor one can leave readers wondering where it all went wrong. Whether it’s fiction or non, formal or not, an effective paragraph will keep your writing organized, clear and readable. Mastering the skill of writing potent paragraphs pays.
A paragraph is a collection of one or more sentences pertaining to a single idea or theme. Paragraphs have two main interrelated functions: to keep the writer on track and organized and to make reading and understanding easier for the audience. The more formal the project, the more organized the paragraph should be.
Common types of paragraphs
Five main types of topics exist: narrative, descriptive, expository, persuasive and dialogue. Expository paragraphs explain or inform. Persuasive paragraphs aim to prove a point. Descriptive paragraphs describe a person, place or object; narrative paragraphs tell a story. Another common paragraph is the dialogue paragraph in which every new speaker gets a new paragraph. While descriptive and narrative graphs allow for more flexibility, generally speaking, most paragraphs read better with a beginning, middle and end.
The beginning of your paragraph lets readers know what the focus is using a topic sentence. This sentence introduces the main theme or point and typically offers an opinion or stance. In nonfiction writing, it often answers the questions what and why. For example, Over millennia, dogs have been bred to perform many duties, the most important of which is being man’s best friend. In descriptive, narrative or fiction writing, the topic sentence may just hint at what is to follow. For example, I remember the day I met my best friend. Additionally, you want your topic sentence to be general enough to allow for a few subtopics but not so broad that it dissolves into a rambling mess of ideas. The topic sentence guides the way for the rest of the paragraph – make it strong!
The middle of the paragraph further expands the idea presented in the topic sentence. Paragraph development may occur through examples, data, anecdotes, comparisons, descriptions, analysis, chronological sequencing of events and combinations thereof.
The end of the paragraph is the conclusion. Sometimes this can be a reworking of the topic statement, a summary of the evidence, a final piece of proof or even a new fact that sets up the next paragraph.
Too short or too long – While you can get away with a sentence or two in some circumstances, such as casual or fiction writing, if it’s a formal project, you want to ensure your idea is fully developed – but not too fully. Overly long paragraphs can become a burden for readers and cumbersome for writers. Especially as so many people now read from phones and tablets, long graphs can be off-putting.
Too many ideas – Only have one central idea per paragraph. More than that and madness will ensue, or at least focus will be lost.
Too few or too many transitions – Transitional words (e.g., however, moreover, additionally, furthermore) establish flow between points and examples within the paragraph and create connections between paragraphs. Too few can make things halting or awkward, too many can be annoying.
No topic or concluding sentence – Readers want to know what they’re reading about and then they want to know it’s over. Don’t leave them guessing or hanging.
As with any writing, you must proofread your final product before hitting send or sharing. Look to see that the paragraph is coherent and unified, flows well and has been sufficiently developed. Ensure you’ve used transitions appropriately. Check for consistent verb tenses and correct spelling and punctuation. While you’re at it, replace any passive voice with active verb construction and inject vigorous verbs if the opportunity presents itself.
Now get writing and wow your audience!