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Perfecting paragraphs

There's a lot to learn about writing good paragraphs! You need to master different paragraph types and learn some techniques to make your paragraph flow smoothly. When you have grasped these ideas, you can work on the different types of paragraphs you may encounter in your subject-specific studies.

This workshop:

Key words: paragraph types, chronological order, description, argument & persuasion, compare & contrast, word repetition, transitional words & phrases, pronoun reference

About perfecting paragraphs

The topic sentence will let your reader know the purpose of the paragraph. This will vary according to the question you are exploring (e.g. describing, explaining, comparing, critically analysing). Paragraphs that have a specific job to do are called paragraph types.

Different paragraph types use sentence patterns and special linking words to get the message across (e.g. a comparison paragraph may need words like similar to, different from). If you learn these techniques for writing different paragraph types, it will help you to be flexible in your writing.

Different types of paragraphs

In a good paragraph, information is presented in a systematic way. There are many types of paragraphs that you will be required to develop in your essays. Following are five of the most common types that you need to recognise and master.

1. Chronological order (recounts in the order in which it happened)

2. Description (provides specific details, features)

3. Argument & persuasion (proves a point)

4. Explanation (tells step-by-step how to do something)

5. Compare (describes similarities) and contrast (describes differences).

Exercise 1: Paragraph types

Match the following paragraphs to one of the five types.

1.
The topic sentence is a feature of paragraph structure. It is the first and most general sentence in the paragraph. This sentence states the subject and the controlling idea for the rest of the paragraph. The sentences that follow the topic sentence provide relevant evidence to support the point that is made in the topic sentence. Topic sentences, then, must be brief and to the point. (6 sentences)
Chronological order
Description
Argument & persuasion
Explanation
Compare & contrast

2.
The development of an assignment essay follows a number of sequenced steps. Firstly, you must analyse the question very carefully so that your essay answers the set question. Next, you should brainstorm the topic of the essay and seek out some relevant sources of information. Once you have a good grasp of the scope of the question, you should construct an essay plan that details your approach to answering the question. This plan is then followed by the development of a draft answer. Lastly, and most importantly, your written work must be refined by careful editing and proofreading. (6 sentences)
Chronological order
Description
Argument & persuasion
Explanation
Compare & contrast

3.
Academic reports and essays are similar in some ways and are different in others. They are similar because both use a formal academic style incorporating references and are written in paragraphs. Also, the writing of each type requires a high level of analytical thought with a correct and neat final presentation. The report is different from the essay because it usually presents information whereas the essay focuses more on argument. They are stylistically different in that the report uses numbered headings and dot points. These features are not usually encouraged in essays. Reports usually conclude with set of recommendations which is different from an essay conclusion. (7 sentences)
Chronological order
Description
Argument & persuasion
Explanation
Compare & contrast

4.
For students to understand writing, it is essential that they have an explicit understanding of topic sentences. If a topic sentence is well written (i.e. it is doing its job of summarising the paragraph), then it helps the writer to write clear and acceptable paragraphs. Additionally, a reader can use topic sentences to scan paragraphs for an overview of the meaning of whole articles and chapters of writing. Therefore, a precise understanding of the function of topic sentences opens up the world of academic writing and reading for the learner. (4 sentences)
Chronological order
Description
Argument & persuasion
Explanation
Compare & contrast

5.
Assignment writing as a method of assessment is only a fairly recent academic activity. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, most higher education assessment was dominantly oral. At the turn of the century, academic research became a popular activity, thus creating a writing culture. Up to the mid 1960s, most essay writing for assessment was done under exam conditions and mainly in Arts subjects. Setting assignment tasks has been a feature of university coursework since the 1960s when the role of essays as assignments became recognised for its educational advantage. (5 sentences)
Chronological order
Description
Argument & persuasion
Explanation
Compare & contrast

Techniques to help your writing flow smoothly (text flow)

In a good paragraph, one sentence leads smoothly on to the next (text flow). There are three main techniques you can use to achieve this.

1. Repeat important words and phrases

2. Use pronoun reference (e.g the essay=it; the essays=they)

3. Using transitional words and phrases (information connectors e.g. firstly, however, as a result, although, finally).

Exercise 2: Text flow

Match the technique for text flow to the example.

1.
The topic sentence is a feature of paragraph structure. It is the first and most general sentence in the paragraph. This sentence states the subject and the controlling idea for the rest of the paragraph. The sentences that follow the topic sentence provide relevant evidence to support the point that is made in the topic sentence. Topic sentences, then, must be brief and relevant to the topic that is explored in the paragraph . (6 sentences)
Use transitional words and phrases
Use pronoun reference
Repeat important words and phrases

2a.
The topic sentence is a feature of paragraph structure. It is the first and most general sentence in the paragraph.
2b.
Academic reports and essays are similar in some ways. They both use a formal style incorporating references, and are written in paragraphs. These similarities mean that you can apply some of your essay writing style to your report writing.
Use transitional words and phrases
Use pronoun reference
Repeat important words and phrases

3.
The essay plan is then followed by the development of a draft answer. Lastly, and most importantly, your written work must be refined by careful editing and proofreading.
Use transitional words and phrases
Use pronoun reference
Repeat important words and phrases

There is some more very helpful information about Signposts (Transition sentences)(Monash University) to help you to understand the finer points of using transitions in your writing.

Examples of paragraph types

The ASO has a number of detailed fact sheets to help you with some of the paragraph types you will encounter in your study subjects.

ASO fact sheets: Writing different paragraph types

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