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CHAPTER 2

l INTRODUCTION TO THE

PARAGRAPH

CHAPTER

Introduction to
the Paragraph

LE AR NI NG OUTCOMES
By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:
1.

Write a topic sentence;

2.

Describe the three stages of writing;

3.

Write an effective paragraph; and

4.

Revise your paragraph by checking for unity and coherence.

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CHAPTER 2

INTRODUCTION
Do you know the difference between a sentence and a paragraph? A sentence contains only one
main fact but a paragraph contains several sentences with one main topic (or one main theme).
In this chapter, you are going to learn about the techniques of writing a paragraph and will be
exposed to steps required to produce an effective paragraph.

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l INTRODUCTION TO THE

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The Topic of a Paragraph

A paragraph is a group of related sentences, which develop one main idea. The length of a
paragraph is flexible, but is often from four to 12 sentences long. In a longer piece of writing,
you will find several paragraphs forming an essay, a report, an article, etc.
The topic of your paragraph depends on whether it has been assigned by your instructor or it is
a topic that you yourself have decided to write on. You must be able to narrow down the topic
and choose an angle that interests you the most as you have learnt to do in Chapter 1.

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2.2

The Topic Sentence

A topic sentence usually comes at the beginning of a paragraph; it is usually the first sentence
in a formal academic paragraph but not necessarily. It may come after a transition sentence; it
may even come at the end of a paragraph.
The topic sentence tends to be a general rather than a specific idea. Not only is a topic sentence
the first sentence of a paragraph, but also the most general sentence in a paragraph. It means
that the sentence introduces an overall idea that you want to discuss later in the paragraph. The
main idea of the topic sentence controls the rest of the paragraph
You can think of the topic sentence as having two parts:
A topic
A controlling idea
Lets look at the following example.

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The controlling idea helps you to focus on one point.


In other words, topic sentences:
Are useful in paragraphs that analyse and argue.
Help writers who have trouble developing focused, unified paragraphs (i.e. writers
who tend to go on or write nonsense).
Guide these writers so they could develop a main idea for their paragraphs and most
importantly stay focused.
Help guide the reader through complex argument.
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Topic sentences are not the only way to organise a paragraph.


Not all paragraphs need a topic sentence. For example, paragraphs
that describe, narrate or detail the steps in an experiment do not
usually need topic sentences.
Your topic sentence should not be too broad or too narrow to be supported in a paragraph.

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Put a check beside each topic sentence that is limited enough to be the topic
sentence of a paragraph. If you think a topic sentence is too broad, limit the
topic, then write a new topic sentence.
No 1 has been done for you.
1. I am going to write about television.
Rewrite: There are three benefits of watching television.
2. The habit of saving money has its rewards.
Rewrite: ____________________________________________________
3. My university had three problem areas.
Rewrite: ____________________________________________________
4. Joining an aerobics class is good.
Rewrite: ____________________________________________________
5. Crime is a major concern of everyone in Malaysia.
Rewrite: ____________________________________________________
6. My uncle has three qualities I admire most.
Rewrite: ____________________________________________________

To help you further, look at the following example.


Suppose that you want to write a paragraph about the natural features of your hometown. It
may look like this:

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All paragraphs in English MUST begin with an indentation. The first


sentence is indented so it begins with My hometown... a few spaces
to the right of the paragraph edge.
The first sentence, My home state, Pahang, is famous for several
amazing natural features, is the most general statement. This sentence
is different from the two sentences that follow it, since the second and
third sentences mention specific details about the states geography,
and are not general statements.

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You can rewrite sentences number 1 and 2 in the following ways to make it better:

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2.3

l INTRODUCTION TO THE

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Support

The supporting sentences in a paragraph develop the main idea expressed in the topic sentence
and provide the details such as facts and examples.
When the topic sentence comes first, the supporting sentences answer the questions
the reader will develop in their minds after reading the topic sentence. In this case,
the last sentence (concluding sentence) can either return the reader to the topic at the
beginning of the paragraph or act as a connection to link the information with that
coming up in the next paragraph.
When the topic sentence comes last, the supporting sentences build up arguments and
examples to make a case for the main idea contained at the end.

No writer starts with a perfect paragraph. Well formed paragraphs are the
result of drafting and revising, aimed at giving the reader a coherent piece of
information. There is no set length to a paragraph, but in university essays it
is easier to work with paragraphs that are between five to seven sentences.

Consider the following paragraph:

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(a) Topic Sentence


When a reader reads a topic sentence, such as Our run-down city block was made special
by a once vacant lot called The Community Garden. - a question should usually appear
in the readers mind. In this case, the question should be like, What is special about The
Community Garden? The reader should then expect that the rest of the paragraph will give
an answer to this question.
Mouse over here to view the Topic Sentence.
(b) Supporting Sentence
Now look at the sentences after the topic sentence. We can see that the second sentence in
the paragraph, Im not sure who first had the idea, but the thin soil had been fertilized, raked
and planted with a surprising assortment of vegetables and flowers, indeed gives an answer
to this question. That is, the second sentence gives some explanation for the fact that The
Community garden had made the run-down block special. Similarly, we can see that the
third sentence also gives further explanation by giving another example of how special the
community garden is.
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The second and third sentences are called supporting sentences. They are called supporting
because they support or explain the idea expressed in the topic sentence. Of course,
paragraphs in English often have more than two supporting ideas.
Mouse over here to view the Supporting Sentences.
(c) Concluding Sentence
In formal paragraphs, you will sometimes see a sentence at the end of the paragraph which
summarises the information that has been presented. This is the concluding sentence. You can
think of a concluding sentence as a sort of topic sentence in reverse.
Lets see how a concluding sentence might look in our sample paragraph about the
Community Garden.
Notice how the concluding sentence, The beauty of the garden had added colour to our rundown block and would always remain special in our heart, summarises the information in the
paragraph. Notice also how the concluding sentence is similar to, but not exactly the same as,
the topic sentence.
Mouse over here to view the Concluding Sentence.

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Not all academic paragraphs contain concluding sentences, especially if


the paragraph is very short. However, if your paragraph is very long, it is a
good idea to use a concluding sentence.

1. Write your controlling idea, and a topic sentence for each of the
following topics:
Your hometown
Controlling Idea:_______________________________________
Topic sentence:________________________________________
_____________________________________________________
A place you would like to visit
Controlling idea:______________________________________
Topic sentence:_______________________________________
____________________________________________________
2. Choose one of the above topics and write ONE complete paragraph
about it. You should use a good topic sentence and adequately detailed
supporting sentences. You do not have to include a concluding sentence
if you do not wish to do so.

2.4

Unity

When you drift away from the topic under discussion, your paragraph lacks unity. Your entire
paragraph should concern itself with a single focus. If it begins with one focus or major point
of discussion, it should not end with another. You can unify your paragraphs by making every
sentence contribute to a controlling idea, which is usually stated in a topic sentence.
For example, the following paragraph lacks unity.

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You can go to this website http://rwc.hunter.cuny.edu/reading-writing/online/eva-b.html and check the following paragraphs for unity.
Find sentences that are irrelevant or unnecessary to the main point of the
paragraph. Cross out the irrelevant sentences and put the numbers of those
in the spaces provided. The number of spaces will tell you the number of
irrelevant sentences in each paragraph.

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Source: Adapted from: http://rwc.hunter.cuny.edu/reading-writing/on-line/


eva-b.html

2.5

Coherence

How do you feel when you read a text in which the sentences, ideas and details do not flow
smoothly? That must surely be frustrating as you do not sense any coherence in what you are
reading.
Coherence is the trait that makes the paragraph easily understandable to a reader. You can help
create coherence in your paragraphs by creating logical bridges and verbal bridges.
When sentences, ideas and details fit together clearly, readers can follow along easily and the
writing is coherent. The ideas tie together smoothly and clearly. To establish the links that
readers need, you can use the methods listed here.

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2.5.1

l INTRODUCTION TO THE

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Repetition of a Key Term or Nouns

Frequent repetition of key terms or nouns in your paragraph helps to focus your ideas and to
keep your reader on track.
(a) Example: Paragraph with Coherence (Repetition of Key Term)

(b) Example: Paragraph with Coherence (Repetition of Noun and Pronoun)

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From the paragraph, you can see that the noun gold appears seven times, the pronoun it twice,
and the pronoun its three times.
You need to know when to substitute the key noun with a pronoun since there is no fixed rule.
You cannot use a pronoun if the meaning is not clear.

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(c) Example: Paragraph Lacking Coherence


Now, see what happens when the word gold has been replaced by pronouns.

Do you notice the difference? The paragraph becomes less coherent.


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2.5.2

Synonyms

Synonyms are words that have essentially the same meaning and they provide some variety in
your word choices, helping the reader to stay focused on the idea being discussed.
Example:

2.5.3

Pronouns

This, that, these, those, he, she, it, they and we are useful pronouns for referring back to
something previously mentioned. Be sure, however, that what you are referring to is clear.
Example:

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l INTRODUCTION TO THE

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Transitional Words

There are many words in English that cue our readers to relationships between sentences,
joining sentences together. You will find lists of words such as however, therefore, in addition,
also, but, moreover, etc.
Example:

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2.5.5

Sentence Patterns

Sometimes, repeated or parallel sentence patterns can help the reader follow along and keep
ideas tied together.
Example:

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SUMMARY
When writing a paragraph, it is important that your topic sentence is well supported.
Check your paragraph to ensure that you have made it easy for your readers to understand
your paragraph. A lack of unity and coherence in your paragraph is sure to detract from
whatever message you are attempting to convey and it will surely annoy and frustrate
your readers.

GLOssary

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Terms

Definition

Introduction

The structured way to begin n essay; presents the problem,


purpose, and focus of the paper and summarizes the writers
position.

Paragraph

A unit of self-contained writing that has a topic sentence and


that explains one major idea in support of the thesis.

Coherence

Logically connected sense that holds parts of text together.

References
1. Fawcett, S. & Sandberg, A. (2000). Evergreen: A guide to writing. Houghton Mifflin.
2. Hogue, A. and Oshima, A. (2006). Introduction to academic writing. Pearson Education.
3. http://lrs.ed.uiuc.edu/students/fwalters/para.html
4. http://lrs.ed.uiuc.edu/students/fwalters/para.html
5. http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/general/gl_cohere.html