All About Paragraph Writing

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If you look at any printed prose book, you Will see that each chapter is divided up into sectons, the first line of each being indented slightly to the right. These sections are called Paragraphs. Chapters, essays and other prose compositions are broken up into paragraphs, to make the reading of them easier, for the beginning of a new paragraph marks a change of topic, or a step in the development of an argument or of a story. In writing essays or other compositions, it is important to know how to divide them properly into paragraphs; for an essay not so broken up, looks uninteresting and is not easy to read.

Definition.— A paragraph is a number of sentences grouped together and relating to one topic; or, a group of related sentences that develop a single point.

These definitions show that the paragraphs of a composition are not mere arbitrary divisions. The division of a chapter into paragraphs must be made according to the changes of ideas introduced.

There is, therefore, no rule as to the length of paragraphs. They may be short or long according to the necessity of the case. A paragraph may consist of a single sentence, or of many sentences.

Note —ln this respect, the paragraphs of a piece of prose differ from the stanzas or Verses of a poem. The stanzas of a poem are usually of the same length and pattern; but paragraphs are long or short according to the amount of matter to be expressed under each head.


1. UNITY—The first and most Important principle to be observed in constructing a paragraph is that of Unity. Just as each sentence deals With one thought, each paragraph must deal with one topic or idea— and With no more than one. In writing an essay, for example, every head, and every sub head, should have Its own paragraph to Itselt. And every sentence In the paragraph must be closely connected With the main topic of the paragraph. The paragraph and every part of it must be the expreSSIon of one theme or topic.

Note.—A good practice is to read a chapter In a book, and give a shortn heading or title to each paragraph, which will express in a word or brief phrase the subject of the paragraph.

The topic, theme or subject of a paragraph IS very often expressed In one sentence of the paragraph—generally the first. This sentence Is called the topical sentence (because it states the topic), or the key sentence (because It unlocks or opens the subject to be dealt With in the paragraph).

2. ORDER—The second princrple of paragraph construction is Order —that is, logical sequence of thought or development of the subiect. Events must be related in the order of their occurrence, and all ideas should be connected With the leading idea and arranged according to their importance or order.

Note —The two most important sentences in the paragraph are the first and the last. The first, which should as a rule be the topical sentence, should arouse the Interest of the reader; and the last should satisfy it. The first, or topical, sentence states the topic—a fact, a statement, or a proposition; the last should bring the whole paragraph on this topic to a conclusion, or summing up.

3. VARIETY— A third principle of paragraph construction is Variety ; by which is meant that, to avoid monotony, the paragraph of a composition should be of different lengths, and not always of the same sentence construction.

To sum up :—the essentials of good paragraph construction are
(1) Unity.
(2) A good topical sentence.
(3) Logical sequence of thought.
(4) Variety.
(5) A full and rounded.

final sentence in concluSion.


Now let us examine a few paragraphs by standard authors, in illustration of these principles of paragraph construction.

1. "Hence it is that it is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain. This description IS both refined and. as far as it goes, accurate He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him, and he concurs With their movements rather than takes the lnitiative himself His benefits may be considered as a parallel to what are called comforts or conveniences in arrangements of a personal nature, like an easy chair or a good fire, which do their part in dispelling cold and fatigue, though nature provides both means of rest and animal heat w thout them " —J E Newman

This is a paragraph from Cardinal Newman’s famous description of a “Gentleman" in his The Idea of a UniverSIty. Notice that the paragraph is confined to one point in the character of a gentleman, which is clearly stated in the first, or topical sentence viz., that “he is one who never inflicts pain." The rest of the paragraph is Simply a development and illustration of the topical sentence. And the concluding sentence drives home the statement of the subject With its SImiIleS of the easy chair and the good fire.

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