We learn the alphabet of a language and move towards making words and phrases. This leads us to understand that our thoughts are expressed via sentences. The first understanding that we should get is that A Sentence is the Expression of a Complete Thought.
Hence, when we start expressing our thoughts, we simultaneously start framing sentences. These sentences make the listener or reader understand the idea we propagate.
A Paragraph is representative of the collection of thoughts that we construct in the form of sentences to explain an idea. As the Idea Changes, so does the paragraph in writing. While speaking also, we shift from one idea to another with an inaudible pause/break which seems to represent the pressing of the ENTER Button on the keyboard.
'Paragraph' has long been studied and taught at all levels of school and in higher education as well. Students have seen this as a ritual to write a paragraph during their classes. It is important to understand that if something is present and so ritualistically followed, it must be learned and understood with the best possible practice and perfection.
When we teach Communication Process, we declare that Perfect Communication is Never Possible in Practice. Still, we do efforts to accomplish the best possible. The same has to be followed while writing paragraphs. The paragraph you write should look like a connected whole with lucidity and coherence. It should follow the objective of precision and should avoid redundancy. Long sentences or any kind of verbosity should also be avoided. All the sentences in the paragraphs must be united on the basis of a logical ordering or sequence.
Let’s understand what exactly PARA + GRAPH is?
The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary gives the following meanings of the terms:
PARA - prefix denotes beyond
Graph means a planned drawing, consisting of a line or lines, showing how two or more sets of numbers are related to each other
Together the two words mean
Paragraph: a section of a piece of writing, usually consisting of several sentences dealing with a single subject. The first sentence of a paragraph starts on a new line
We can understand from the word Paragraph that it relates to something presented the Objective- Ordered and Logically Connected. While the data here is the sentences and information, the fundamental rules of the graph are used as benchmarks.
As we ensure that the Graph must represent a larger context and is a précised version of something bigger in words.
The basic structure of a paragraph includes a topical sentence/topic statement followed by major supportive sentences and minor supportive sentences. One can also see an Inverted Pyramid of writing news reports where we put the heading sentence first and then insert the significant details and add less important details as well. However, the inverted pyramid is not applicable to every type of paragraph.
We should write a paragraph to make a point rather than trying to impress the reader with our verbosity. The minor supportive sentence can be removed, if we feel there is a need to shorten the paragraph. Major supportive sentences are essential to the making of a paragraph and the removal of even one sentence from the Sequence of Thoughts (Sentences) will actually kill the whole effort of writing a compact piece.
MECHANICS OF DEVELOPING A PARAGRAPH
1. WHAT IS A PARAGRAPH?
A paragraph is a group of sentences related to a single idea or topic. It may be a part of a larger unit, essay or an article. While an essay discusses various aspects of a topic or idea, a paragraph focuses on one idea.
There are no specific rules about the length of a paragraph. It varies depending on the topic or idea you want to describe or discuss. But it is better to avoid extremes.
2. STRUCTURE OF A PARAGRAPH
2.1 Topic sentence and its position
An ideal paragraph is one in which the central idea is stated in a single sentence. This sentence is called the topic sentence. The central idea is developed by a few supporting details. This topic sentence guides the reader in understanding the central idea of the paragraph. The topic sentence generally occurs at the beginning of a paragraph. But it may come in the middle of a paragraph or even at the end of a paragraph.
Note: Descriptive or narrative paragraphs do not usually require topic sentences.
The change from sailing ships to steamships was gradual. At first steam power was added to wind power, and for a hundred years, they were used together. In fact, the inventor of the steam engine, James Watt, doubted that steam should be used without sails, especially in rough water. But little by little, the steam engine improved, steamships completely replaced sailing vessels.
Now let us analyse the above paragraph.
The first sentence presents the central idea- change from sailing ships to steamships, which is gradual. The remaining sentences in the paragraph support the central idea.
3. FEATURES OF A PARAGRAPH
Unity and Coherence are two important features of any good paragraph.
3.1 Unity in a Sentence
“When we talk about effective writing, we often think first about elements like word choice, grammar and mechanics, and content or evidence. But a really important part of effective writing—and effective thinking, too—is a clear, logical organization.”
So far we have seen that each sentence generally contains one main idea. If other facts are introduced in a sentence, they must be subordinate to the main idea. Most importantly, they must be linked to the main idea.
For example, if we say ‘the man crossed the road,’ the sentence has one idea and so has unity. If we enlarge it and say ‘the old man crossed the road without any help,’ the sentence still has unity. But if we write ‘the old man crossed the road hurriedly without any help, he was sixty,’ then we break the unity of the sentence because the last statement has no relation with the main idea.
Study the sentences below and say if they have unity. If not, say why.
- The car he drove was purchased from Mr. Singh, a dealer in cars who stood first in the university.
- The driver drove the bus so rashly that it hit the sleepers on the pavement.
- She is a genius as she wrote poems at a very young age and loved watching TV.
- At the entry point into the airport, the police checked every passenger thoroughly without sparing anybody.
- She reached the party on time in her beautiful dress which was a popular one during the 80s.
3.2 Unity in a Paragraph
Now, let us understand what we mean by unity in a paragraph. Just as a sentence should contain one main idea (and other ideas if they are related to the main one), a paragraph should have sentences related to each other. This means that sentences linked together to form a paragraph should be related to each other. Let us look at the following paragraph and see if it has unity or not.
USES OF TELEVISION
Television has many uses. It provides us entertainment on the one hand and education on the other. One can watch a variety of programmes just with a click of a button. We have channels telecasting movies, songs, soap operas, news, discussions on various political issues, history and geography. Cartoon Network is my favourite channel. Television destroys the reading habits of children because they watch it for a long time. In addition to this, television has become a companion for housewives and older people.
Analysis of the Paragraph
The first sentence of the paragraph declares the idea or the topic: uses of television. The second sentence supports the idea by saying that it provides entertainment. The third sentence further elaborates on the idea that one can watch a number of programmes. The fourth sentence is an example of different kinds of programmes one can view. Are the fifth and the sixth sentences related to the main idea? No, they are not. They destroy the unity of the paragraph. The last sentence concludes the idea and adds that another use of the television is the companionship it provides to housewives and older people.
Read the following paragraphs carefully. Identify the topic sentence. Are all the sentences related to the topic sentence? If not, identify the sentence which is destroying the unity of the paragraph.
- Outside the examination hall, my father was waiting anxiously for me. After the final bell was rung, I came out. Many other students also came out with me. My father enquired if I had attempted all the questions well. I said I did. My father took my question paper and asked me in great detail about all the questions. The invigilators also came out after some time.
- Abhishek Bachchan is Sunil’s favourite actor. Sunil watches all the movies of his favourite star. He never likes to watch movies of any other star. He likes to watch football matches also. Recently, Abhishek Bachchan was in our city. Sunil didn’t miss this opportunity to have a glimpse of his movie idol.
- Rose is a beautiful flower. It is a symbol of love. Many poets have composed poems on the beauty of roses. My garden is full of roses. Roses come in various colours and sizes. A red rose symbolizes love. The white rose stands for purity and peace while a yellow one signifies friendship.
We have seen that sentences in a paragraph should be related to the central idea. Another important feature of developing a paragraph is coherence. The following are the factors that contribute to the coherence of a passage:
- Order in Presentation of Thought
- Choice of Words
- Cohesive Devices
- Order in Presentation of Thought
Coherence in a paragraph is achieved by placing facts in a sequential order in one of the following ways:
(a) Chronological Order: In this method, facts are presented in the order of occurrence — the earliest event first and the last event at the end. The order of importance can also be followed — the most important idea can be presented first and then the less important ones.
(b) Spatial Arrangement: It is the method of ordering facts as per their positions. It is needed to describe something with details. Without this arrangement and order, the meaning gets distorted.
For example, if you describe a machine, you begin from one extreme and gradually move on to the other extreme, either horizontally or vertically.
(c) Logical Order: A statement is made and supported by examples. Cause and effect reaction also comes under a logical order.
i. Choice of words
Coherence is affected by the choice of improper words. Writing is governed by the rules of appropriateness. Improper words may mislead the reader. A coherent message is easily understood by the reader and any improper use of words destroys the coherence.
My place of domicile is Chandigarh.
I live in Chandigarh.
ii. Cohesive Devices
A passage is not just a collection of sentences. The sentences are linked together to make a continuous passage. Writers use transitional devices to show the relationship between details. In a paragraph, there has to be a logical flow of thought. To achieve this, sentences are linked with each other by means of certain words and expressions. These are known as cohesive devices or transitional devices.
Examine the two sentences below.
My friend is coming now. I will complete my work.
The two sentences without the use of a transition word look disjointed and the meaning is not clear. Now combine them with suitable connectives and see how the meaning changes.
My friend is coming now. Meanwhile, I will complete my work.
My friend is coming now. However, I will complete my work.
My friend is coming now. Therefore, I will complete my work.
Transitional words are to be chosen according to the relationship to be established between ideas. Their function is to give a logical flow to our thoughts.
Here are some examples of transitional words.
Comparison: similarly, likewise, in the same way, like
Contrast: unlike, however, although, but, conversely, nevertheless, yet, still, on the other hand
Cause and effect: because, consequently, as a result, therefore, thus, so
Example: for example, for instance, especially, as an illustration
Addition: moreover, besides, in addition to, also, too
Time: later, after, before, now, meanwhile, then
Conjunction: and, but, yet, or still
Reference words and repetition for linkage: this, that, these, those
Underline the transitional devices in the following paragraphs.
- Kamal gets up early in the morning. As soon as he gets up, he milks the cows and collects it in huge cans. Then, he puts the milk cans on his bicycle and goes around the town to distribute milk. He reaches home before 7 am. By that time his mother prepares breakfast for him. He eats the breakfast, gets ready and goes to the school along with his friends. Kamal enjoys his work and study. What about you?
- This year Northern India experienced a severe summer. Most of the rivers and rivulets dried up. Wells and bore wells also dried up. People in villages had to walk long distances to fetch water. Moreover, the heat resulted in sunstrokes due to which many people lost their lives. To add to it, unscheduled power cuts tested everybody’s patience.
Besides, industries and agriculture sector also received a blow.
- Computers have many advantages over a handwritten document. Typing on a computer is easy. One can type for hours together without really getting tired. But, writing for a longer period of time will soon leave one tired. Also, the character of typed letters doesn’t change. On the other hand, script tends to get sloppy and varied after long periods of writing. Moreover, typing is legible with a minimum of effort. The biggest advantage, however, is the speed. A good typist can type 40-60 words per minute, while the same person can write only about 20-30 words per minute. Therefore, everyone should learn to use computers because it has many advantages over the handwritten script.
- The sentences below are not in a proper order. Can you put them together to make a coherent and unified paragraph?
- The teacher’s personality should be pleasing.
- Next, the teacher must be mentally alert.
- This does not exclude people who are physically plain or ugly.
- Finally, a teacher should be a constant learner.
- What personal qualities are desirable in a teacher?
During my visit to the village (in holidays) I always had a lot to do.
After that, I used to milk them.
Then, I would play in the backyard with my friends till lunch time.
Before the sunset we used to swim in the river.
I enjoy my stay in the village.
Early in the morning, I used to feed the cows.
After lunch, my grandmother used to tell us stories.
The piece of meat was actually poisoned.
‘I’m sure you will kill me after you finish my master.’
Once a thief came near a house to burgle it, but he was prevented by a dog which began
to bark loudly.
‘No’, said the dog, ‘I will not ditch my master for a bite of meat.’
The thief tried to silence him by offering him a piece of meat.
‘The piece of meat is very tempting, but I love my master more than it.’
ContentRef: EklavyaParv, HBTE Booklet 2007 Communicating Effectively in English for Diploma Students of Haryana
Principles of Organisation Wren and Martin Grammar Book