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Paragraphs

Over the years, I’ve heard from many students that their high school English teachers told them that each paragraph must have 4 sentences.  (Some say 3; some say 5.)  Those students are usually dismayed when I inform them that this is simply not true.

There’s no such thing as a paragraph that is too long or too short.  The most important thing about paragraphs is NOT how many sentences each contains; no, the important thing to stay aware of is that each paragraph has only ONE TOPIC.

When you start a new topic, start a new paragraph.

Each paragraph is like a small essay and as such has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  It begins (like an essay) by letting the reader know what it’s about.

So the first or second sentence of your paragraph is its TOPIC sentence.  Here’s an example:

“I feel that our cohort group functions quite well already, even though we have only known each other for about three months.”

As readers, we know what the paragraph will be about.  The main idea of the paragraph is how the cohort functions well as a group.

The “middle” section of the paragraph should provide explanation via definitions, details, clarification, or examples, to add dimension to what the writer is communicating.

So, she continues:

“We get along with each other, are comfortable with each other, work well together and function effectively as a group.  To my knowledge, there are no personal or group conflicts within our group.”

The “end” of the paragraph lets us know that the discussion of this topic is finished.  In this example, though, the writer uses the final sentence to present another angle on her topic, one that does help conclude the discussion:

“Our experiment with game theory during our last class was very divisive, but I hope that was a temporary condition and part of our overall learning experience.”

And here’s the whole paragraph:

“I feel that our cohort group functions quite well already, even though we have only known each other for about three months.  We get along with each other, are comfortable with each other, work well together and function effectively as a group.  To my knowledge, there are no personal or group conflicts within our group.  Our experiment with game theory during our last class was very divisive, but I hope that was a temporary condition and part of our overall learning experience.”

The writer next talks about what she anticipates will develop as her cohort moves through the program.  But that’s a new topic, and so she does it in a new paragraph.

About Gary Boyer

Gary Boyer is currently Director of the Writing Support Center at the Keuka College Center for Professional Studies, Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP). He is also the Acting Director of Admissions for the college and a faculty member, serving as an Instructor of English in the Humanities Division.

View all posts by Gary Boyer →

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