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AN INTRODUCTION TO PARAGRAPHING. Writing Motto…. There is no single way to write… Nor is there ONE way to craft a paragraph…. There are many types of Paragraphs. Describe Define Show results Analyse Describe AND analyse

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writing motto
Writing Motto…

There is no single way to write…

Nor is there ONE way to craft a paragraph….

there are many types of paragraphs
There are many types of Paragraphs
  • Describe
  • Define
  • Show results
  • Analyse
  • Describe AND analyse
  • Complicate the description – e.g. by presenting alternative viewpoints.
  • Compare and Contrast
  • For more info look at The UVic Writer's Guide:
editing improving your writing
Editing / Improving Your Writing
  • Be conscious of what you are doing when you edit your writing.
  • Everything has a structure – each line DOES something.
  • Learn to SEE the structures in writing
  • How?
  • By asking: what is each line doing?
being aware of the things that go on in paragraphs
Being Aware of the things that go on in Paragraphs…
  • Finish this list of the different things your sentences might do in paragraphs:
    • One line might mention the topic of the paragraph…
    • Another line might…
what things might you find in a paragraph
What things might you find in a Paragraph?
  • One line might:
  • Mention a topic
  • Claim something about the topic
  • Explain the claim
  • Describe something
  • Expandon the description
  • Analyse the description

Let’s consider these parts in depth…

The Classic Paragraph Structure

parts of the paragraph
Parts of the Paragraph
  • The job of the paragraph is to discuss ONE TOPIC so you’ll usually find
  • A Topic Sentence (often an assertion - an opinion about a topic)
the topic sentence
The Topic Sentence
  • States what the paragraph is about
  • May be a very general description of the topic


  • May make a point (state an opinion) about the topic
  • Often appears in 1st or 2nd line of the paragraph
task on handout
Task (on handout)
  • What is the topic of the paragraph on

‘Body Ideals before the 20th century’ ?

task what is the topic of this paragraph
Task: What is the topic of this paragraph?

There have been, of course, other periods when slenderness was admired. During the 15th century, paintings of long-limbed ladies reverberated with the vaulting reaches of Gothic cathedrals. Sixteenth century Mannerists in northern Europe painted elongated nudes, such as the nymphs in Cranach the Elder’s The Judgement of Paris. More recently, the Romantic vogue for slenderness in the 1830s-1850s encouraged young ladies to strive for the tiny waist favoured by fashion – an effort later immortalised in Gone with the Wind when Scarlett O’Hara’s stays are tightened to achieve a 17-inch waist. (Seid, R, (1994, 4-5).

general topic of paragraph
General topic of Paragraph

Line 1 introduces the topic:

Periods when slenderness has been

admired through history

topic statements as assertions
Topic Statements as Assertions
  • Essay Title ‘Discuss the Ways of Improving your Learning at University’
  • Task: Analyse the above topic. What general themes/issues might be discussed in the essay?
    • (Tip: You can structure your essay around issues)
issues which might be discussed in an essay on this topic
Issues which might be discussed in an essay on this topic
  • Lectures & Seminars
  • Reading
  • Structuring Independent Study
  • Consider your approaches to learning/learning styles
topic statements as assertions1
Topic Statements as Assertions
  • General Theme: Learning at University
  • Overall Argument/Thesis: Successful students are active, independent rather an passive, dependent learners and students should, therefore, develop accordingly.
  • Paragraph topic/theme: Lectures.
  • Topic statement - make an assertion (an opinion) about the general topic
  • ‘Students also need to consider how they learn in lectures’ is a clear topic statement, but could be more specific/assertive/biting by saying how?
from a general topic statement to an assertion
From a general topic statement to an assertion..
  • EG: ‘Students can improve their learning in lectures if they adopt an active rather than passive approach to them’.
classic paragraphs

Topic Sentence


(Explanation, Evidence, Comment)

the main body paragraph development
The Main Body: Paragraph Development
  • Develops the main idea.
  • Answers questions such as:

What does this mean?

Why do I think this?

What do I think of this?

the main body might
The main body might:


GIVE REASONSfor the assertion stated in the topic statement.

DESCRIBE the topic. EG:

  • Different arguments to support/oppose the topic sentence
  • Give examples and illustrations of the topic, offer a chronology of an event, cite data (facts, statistics, evidence, details, etc)
  • Refer to critics (quotations and paraphrases)
  • Describe a relevant case/ example
  • Define terms in the paragraph
then the main body might
Then the main body might:


  • Compare and contrast ideas on the main idea of the paragraph (using theories, geographical/ historical etc)
  • Debate the questions: WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? EG: Causes? Effects of the topic statement? Consequences? Implications?
development of topic sentence example
Development of Topic Sentence - Example

Students can improve their learning in lectures if they adopt an active rather than passive approach to them. Students who are active will take a critical stance to lecture material. To do so, they need to prepare themselves before the lecture (Cottrell 2003, 26). For example, having read on the subject of the lecture beforehand, they may come with a list of questions they hope the lecture will address. On the other hand, students who approach lectures passively will….

analysis of previous paragraph
Analysis of Previous Paragraph
  • The topic is developed via definitions of terms within the topic statement, explanation of what is meant by the terms ‘active’ and ‘passive’ and via examples.
however not all paragraphs are the same
However, not all paragraphs are the same…
  • Look at the paragraph from the student dissertation on the worksheet.
  • How is it structured?
another type of paragraph structure
Another Type of Paragraph Structure

Beverly Skeggs’ study has similar traits and strategies to my own study of women at University. Skeggs’ work focuses on the ways in which working class people have elected to go to University in order to move away from their working class environment. Skeggs notes that, for some women in her study, completing college courses was an attempt ‘to escape’ (Skeggs, 1997: 76) the working class predicament and its association with ‘low level skills’ (Walkerdine, 1993: 165). This desire to escape working class roots was particularly poignant in this case study. Hannah has always found University difficult and is unhappy with her degree course in primary school teaching. She has often stated that she would rather be doing hairdressing but, when questioned, says that being a primary school teacher is ‘better’.(…)

paragraph structure
Paragraph Structure

Theory (1 aspect)


Application of theory


paragraph conclusion
Paragraph Conclusion
  • Linking sentence which rounds off paragraph: it summarizes/evaluates, closes unit of thought/clinches observation
  • Might usher in the next paragraph
how does the author conclude the paragraph
How does the author conclude the paragraph?

Body Ideals before the 20th century

Nonetheless, it would be misleading to assume that these eras resembled our own. Gothic and mannerist nudes had not a bone or muscle showing; they were sweetly and fully fleshed. Women of the Romantic period may have wanted tiny waists, but they also wanted their shoulders, arms, calves, and bosoms ample, indicating an “amorous plenitude” (2). Indeed, thinness was considered ugly, a woman’s misfortune. (…) Nor did the Romantic lady equate slenderness with health and energy as we do today; health was not part of her aesthetic ideal. Rather, slenderness signified delicacy and fragility, the qualities she sought. (Seid, R, (1994, 5).

summary of lecture classic structure of analytical paragraph
Summary of Lecture: Classic Structure of Analytical Paragraph

Topic Sentence

(= often an assertion/opinion/judgement to be developed)


(Explanation, Definitions, Evidence, & Comment)

Linking Sentence

some dos
Some Dos…
  • Stick to ONE idea per paragraph
  • Make sure that you have a clear topic statement – often an assertion about the theme
  • Make it obvious as to how your paragraph relates to the title/ advances the argument
  • Use signposts. These show the internal structure of the paragraph/ to make sure each paragraph flows into the next.
some don ts
Some Don’ts
  • Write paragraphs with less than 4 sentences
  • Wander off the point
  • Write a list of unsupported claims on a topic
examples of the classic structure of a paragraph
Examples of the Classic Structure of a Paragraph
  • As we have been at pains to point out, women are not simply helpless victims of forces beyond their control. (…) Women are organising to resist the undermining of labour rights, to fight for better working conditions and, in so doing, draw attention to the problems they face as both paid and unpaid workers. Through political struggle, women can and do play a role in resisting dominant power relations and bringing about change (…).
  • Steans J. and Pettiford, L (2001) International Relations: Perspectives and Themes, p.168
final task paragraph analysis
Final Task: Paragraph Analysis

Capital punishment is not a deterrent to crime. Statistics show that in states with capital punishment, murder rates are the same or almost the same as in states without capital punishment. It is also true that it is more expensive to put a person on death row than in life imprisonment because of the costs of maximum security. Unfortunately,capital punishment has been used unjustly. Statistics show that every execution is of a man and that nine out of ten are black. So capital punishment is also subject to prejudice.

task 2
Task 2
  • Analyse the following paragraphs written for an essay inviting students to analyse Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.
  • Which of the paragraphs (if any) has a clear topic statement?
  • Which do you find the most analytical (ie presets a way of thinking about a topic, rather than just the story)?
descriptive vs analytical paragraphs
Descriptive vs Analytical paragraphs
  • When her old friend Kristine turns up unexpectedly in the city looking for a job, Nora confides in her that she has borrowed money illegally to save her husband’s life and that he does not know about it; when the moneylender starts to blackmail Nora, Kristine tries to save her, but ends up getting engaged to the moneylender and letting him denounce Nora to her husband. Nora is shocked when her husband reacts badly to this revelation about herpast actions, and she leaves him and her children to return to her hometown.
  • Kristine comes to the city to work and finds instead a family to devote herself to; Nora leaves her family in the city and returns to the country to work so that she may learn to understand a world she finds she has misinterpreted. (…)
  • Only when her husband fails her does Nora discover what Kristine has known all along: that there are not one but two systems of values in her world, and that the feminine belief in love and self-sacrifice is at odds with the masculine emphasis on work and punishment. (…)
  • From:
commentary on ibsen paragraphs
Commentary on Ibsen paragraphs
  • ‘The first version offers unorganised information about the story; the second conveys the same information in organised form, preparing the way for commentary; the third both organises information and offers critical commentary on its significance. The first example should be avoided; either the second or the third could be of use in an
  • essay’.
  • My own view is that the third paragraph is the most exciting/analytical as it opens with a clear opinion that would be developed in the rest of the paragraph. It gets straight to the point with no messing. (- Ed).
  • Writing is a Process
  • However, the information I present heredeals with the final product. So:
  • Don’t panic! You probably won’tproduce clear paragraphs immediately. The trick is to:
  • Keep playing! Keep tinkering! Keep asking your editing questions and you’ll get there…
final task
Final Task
  • Think of a theme you will be addressing in your next essay.
  • Tell your partner what the theme is.
  • Tell your partner what you think about this theme.
further reading
Further Reading
  • For a quick summary of paragraphing (it’ll take you a minute to read!) consult the OWL at Purdue University (1995-2003) at: and

further reading1
Further Reading
  • For exercises on paragraph components:

  • This site tells you about all the different types of paragraphs there are:

  • Reflect on the lecture and answer the question:

What can you do if you get the following tutor comment?

  • ‘Your comments mostly take the form of brief, general assertions as you pass rapidly from one point to the next’
possible solution look at your paragraphing
Possible Solution: Look at your Paragraphing.

Don’t write 1 sentence paragraphs.

The point of a paragraph is to develop a point.

One sentence can make a point.

It cannot develop one.

Develop your points with e.g. : examples, paraphrase,

Your comments, statistics, quotations (use the latter

sparingly unless specifically required).

finding topic statements
Finding topic statements.

Look at paragraphs 1-4 in Barbara Ehrenreich’s presentation on ‘The decline of patriarchy’ (beginning ‘I want to start with some illustrations of what I mean…’ and ending ‘no special comment was made by that’. In On a piece of paper sum up the topic of each paragraph in about 3-4 words each time.

write a topic sentence for the following paragraph
Write a topic sentence for the following paragraph:

_______________________ . In 1851 their average size was 4.7, roughly the same as it had been in the seventeenth century, but the 1½ million couples who married during the 1860s, which the historian G. M. Young described as the best decade in English history to have been brought up in, raised the figure to 6.2. Only one out of eight families had one or two children, while one in six had ten or more, so that the counsel 'little children should be seen and not heard' was prudent rather than simply authoritarian advice. (Asa Briggs, (1983). A social history of England, p. 244)

possible answer
Possible answer?

‘In general, Victorian families were very large’.

  • Exercises from:

here are 2 topic sentences how might you develop them make up some evidence which might fit
Here are 2 topic sentences. How might you develop them? Make up some evidence which might fit.
  • As we have been at pains to point out, women are not simply helpless victims of forces beyond their control.

(Steans and Pettiford 2001, 168).

  • The culture of slimming as we know it is really a post-World War II phenomenon. (Fallon et al. 1994, 6).
how did they develop theirs
How did they develop theirs..?

As we have been at pains to point out, women are not simply helpless victims of forces beyond their control. (…) Women are organising to resist the undermining of labour rights, to fight for better working conditions and, in so doing, draw attention to the problems they face as both paid and unpaid workers. Through political struggle, women can and do play a role in resisting domiant power relations and bringing about change. (…)

(Steans and Pettiford 2001, 168).

paragraph 3 from s hall et al the study of culture unit 6 open university press milton keynes 1977
Paragraph 3, from S.Hall The Study of Culture (Unit 6) Open University Press, Milton Keynes 1977.
  • (1) Ideology is yet another of those concepts developed and discussed within the social sciences which defy simple definitions. (2) Rather than being a simple conceptual tool in the hands of the sociologist or the political scientist, ideology rather provides a focal point for a series of intellectual tensions and arguments. (3) In public discussions, for example, the term 'ideology' is used in a fairly loose and unsystematic way. (4) When Keith Joseph calls another politician's speeches 'ideological', the implication would be that the politician was wrong, that he presented an inaccurate view of reality. (5) This pejorative use of the term 'ideology' to mean a distorted view of reality is used by people at both ends of the political spectrum to discredit the opposing view.
paragraphs summary
Paragraphs: Summary
  • a. Soap operas use diegetic sound in order to help establish a sense of realism.b. For example, the cafe in EastEnders often has a radio playing in the background playing up-to-date tracks.c. To generate realism, soaps use diegetic music consistent with our contemporary experience.d. We have to suspend our disbelief less when soap chronology and soap characters’ listening experiences are parallel with our own.