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analyzing paragraph structure
Analyzing Paragraph Structure

Sample Paragraph

The best method we have found for analyzing paragraph structure involves paying attention to levels of generality. That is, a well-structured paragraph will almost always have one sentence with more general subject matter than all the others. Other, more specific sentences will elaborate on this general statement, provide examples, qualify the general point, or draw a conclusion. In turn, even more specific sentences may provide further detail.

Whitmore/Stevenson: Strategies for Engineering Communication

analyzing paragraph structure2
Analyzing Paragraph Structure

Most General Statement

The best method we have found involves paying attention to levels of generality.

More Detailed Statements

That is, a well-structured paragraph will almost always have one

sentence with more general subject matter than all the others.

Other, more specific sentences will elaborate on this general

statement, provide examples, qualify the general point, or draw a

conclusion.

In turn, even more specific sentences may provide further detail.

Whitmore/Stevenson: Strategies for Engineering Communication

analyzing paragraph structure3
Analyzing Paragraph Structure

Sample Paragraph

A clearly structured paragraph provides readers with a logical progression of ideas or with information relating clearly to a single topic. Unfortunately, this notion of a single topic can extend to an entire document and, therefore, is not always helpful in determining where one paragraph should end and another should begin. Paragraph boundaries are fairly arbitrary, determined by length and format as much as by shifts in topic. One useful rule of thumb is that paragraphs should be no longer than they are wide. Following this guideline, you will note that format helps determine paragraph length because documents formatted in columns should contain shorter paragraphs than those presented in full-page formats. But how can you determine where paragraph breaks are possible?

Whitmore/Stevenson: Strategies for Engineering Communication

analyzing paragraph structure4
Analyzing Paragraph Structure

Level One: Most General

A clearly structured paragraph provides readers with a logical progression of ideas or with information relating clearly to a single topic.

Level Two: More Specific (qualifies a single topic)

Unfortunately, this notion of a single topic can extend to an entire document and, therefore, is not always helpful in determining where one paragraph should end and another should begin.

Level Two (more qualification of the topic)

Paragraph boundaries are fairly arbitrary, determined by length and format as much as by shifts in topic.

(Cont’d)

Whitmore/Stevenson: Strategies for Engineering Communication

analyzing paragraph structure5
Analyzing Paragraph Structure

(Cont’d)

Level Three: Still More Specific (example)

One useful rule of thumb is that paragraphs should be no longer than they are wide.

Level Four: Most Specific (further explanation)

Following this guideline, you will note that format helps determine paragraph length because documents formatted in columns should contain shorter paragraphs than those presented in full-page formats.

Level Two (return to more general statement)

But how do we determine where paragraph breaks are possible?

Whitmore/Stevenson: Strategies for Engineering Communication

directions for paragraph analysis
Directions for Paragraph Analysis

1. Number the sentences in each paragraph.

2. Locate the most general statement in each paragraph and mark it as level 1.

3. Mark the remaining sentences as level 2, 3, 4, and so on, and note how sentences relate to one another in terms of subordinate relationships (i.e., more specific) or coordinate relationships (i.e., at the same level of generality).

4. To further clarify the relationships among sentences, briefly paraphrase the main point of each sentence you have mapped in the previous step.

5. For a final check that the order and relationship of ideas is logical and clear to readers, list the subjects of the main clauses of all the sentences.

Whitmore/Stevenson: Strategies for Engineering Communication

example paragraph analysis
Example Paragraph Analysis
  • The computer currently in use by Mr. Boffo is an IBM clone and possesses several inherent limitations. (2) First, it is more than 15 years old and thus does not represent anywhere near state-of-the-art technology. (3) It uses an older-style cooling fan and as a consequence is noisier than more modern computers. (4) Second, the 8088 CPU (Central Processing Unit) used in the computer is severely limited in its processing speed. (5) The more modern 80486 and 80586 CPUs that have 32 bit I/O buses are much faster. (6) Third, the machine has a limited memory capacity—512 K. (7) Many current applications require a minimum of 640 K and some require several megabytes of RAM (Random Access Memory). (8) Given its memory limitations, the system will almost certainly fail when used with certain applications. (9) Fourth, the TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) programs that Mr. Boffo has installed in order to overcome the limitations of DOS 3.3 have the effect of further reducing available memory and thus increasing the likelihood of a system failure.

Whitmore/Stevenson: Strategies for Engineering Communication

mapping for levels of generality
Mapping for Levels of Generality

1. 1—limitations of computer

2.   2—old

3.      3—noisy fan

4.    2—limited processing speed

5.      3—new CPUs are faster

6.   2—limited memory

7.      3—too limited for some applications

8.      3—system will fail with those applications

9.   2—TSRs and DOS exacerbate these problems

Whitmore/Stevenson: Strategies for Engineering Communication

checking subjects
Checking Subjects

1. The computer

2. it [the computer]

3. It [the computer]

4. the 8088 CPU

5. The more modern 80486 and 80586 CPUs

6. the machine

7. Many current applications

8. the system

9. the TSR programs

Whitmore/Stevenson: Strategies for Engineering Communication

example paragraph analysis10
Example Paragraph Analysis

(1) Consequently, we recommend that he consider upgrading the machine. (2) The simplest way to upgrade the machine is to install additional memory chips. (3) Installing a graphics card and a math coprocessor is also advisable because they would enable more efficient use of the word processing and statistical programs on which he relies. (4) However, purchasing a newer and faster computer along with a better operating system such as Windows 2000 would probably be more cost effective. (5) On the other hand, given Mr. Boffo’s limited data entry speed, a faster system would likely be of little benefit. (6) Perhaps upgrading the operator is an option.

Whitmore/Stevenson: Strategies for Engineering Communication

mapping for levels of generality11
Mapping for Levels of Generality

1. 1—therefore, upgrade computer

2.    2—install more memory

3.   2—and add graphics card and coprocessor

4.   2—but a new computer and OS is a better solution

5.    2—however is more speed really needed?

6.    2—maybe the problem lies with the operator

Whitmore/Stevenson: Strategies for Engineering Communication

checking subjects12
Checking Subjects

1. we [recommend]

2. The simplest way to upgrade the machine

3. Installing a graphics card and a math coprocessor

4. purchasing a newer and faster computer [more cost efficient]

5. A faster system [of little benefit]

6. upgrading the operator

Whitmore/Stevenson: Strategies for Engineering Communication