Whenever we write, we usually notice that the text is divided into several distinct parts: Paragraphs.
A paragraph is something that we can see physically. Paragraphs are always written away from the margins.
Paragraphs usually contain several sentences that develop one main idea, although it is possible, but very unusual, to have a one-sentence paragraph.
The fact that a text –or a composition for that matter- is divided into paragraphs helps us structure and convey our written message and helps the reader follow and understand it.
It is advisable to indent the first line of a new paragraph. That way, we make sure that the reader exactly knows that we have started a new paragraph. If we don’t indent a paragraph, we run the risk of the reader confusing the start of the new paragraph with the continuation of the previous one.
The philosophy is that each paragraph is about one main idea. This is generally accepted, and in general it is true. The main idea is usually written in the first sentence of the paragraph. The sentence –usually the first, I repeat- where the main idea is expressed is called topic sentence.
The rest of the sentences in the paragraph develop the main idea. They are called supporting sentences, and their function is support, expand the main idea. This is achieved through explanations, reasons, examples, a story or an anecdote.
To link sentences together within a paragraph and to relate one paragraph to the others we use connectors (or linkers or linking words), which we will be dealing with in another post entry.
The basic message here for us as composition writers is that whenever we feel we are moving on to a new point, we should start a new paragraph.
Here is a sample composition to illustrate the idea of paragraph division. In bold you will find the 'topic sentence' in each paragraph, and the underlined phrases and words are the connectors which link ideas together.
A career: image and reality
People imagine strange things about a ‘glamour career’. For example, of a business tycoon they think he is a lucky man as he can travel, he has a lot of money, a beautiful car, he lives in a villa with a swimming-pool. His life is busy with parties, galas, important anniversaries. Beautiful women fall at his feet, his friends are important people like movie and TV stars, politicians and men of the financial world. All he dreams can become reality.
This is very silly. In reality, a top business man has no private life. Reporters, journalists are always intruding on his life, the lights are always on his face. He has to work hard to maintain his power. He probably risks his wealth every day as he does business. Life is demanding: he has to be very intelligent to understand where the wind of affairs is blowing. Quite probably, the beautiful women he meets only want his money, jewels, furs, expensive holidays. He must have difficulties having normal relationships with people.
However, what constitutes the glamour of such a man is not only the reality, but the dream as well. Martinelli, in his book Portraits, says that the first money which Rizzoli managed to get for his firm was from a bank manager who believed more in the glamour of Rizzoli’s ideas than in the reality –because Rizolli had no money. So is a tycoon always tired of his glamour? I think not. I think the image of any powerful man is not simply false: it is also a part of his work and life.
Most of the ideas in this blog post are taken from Feedback, Cambridge University Press
Next week: chapter 6 of our writing workshop, 'Starting to write'.
You can read chapters 1 to 4 of our writing workshop by clicking on the Writing workshop tag on the right hand side.