The paragraph is an essential aspect of writing, and comprehensive knowledge of its features and functions is essential for written communication.
Put simply, a paragraph is a unit of writing above a sentence. It is a group of sentences that elaborates a single idea. The purpose of paragraphing is to help the writer communicate his/her message more clearly and to make a piece of writing easier for the readership to comprehend.
A paragraph may seldom consist of a single sentence but, for the most part, it comprises a collection of sentences which are related to one another and address the same subject matter, topic, or an aspect of a broader topic being discussed. Along those lines, each paragraph is expected to deal with only one idea and, as such, all the sentences should say something about the idea being discussed in the paragraph. Once an idea is sufficiently discussed, a new paragraph should be introduced to expound on another idea. Mark you, there are no fixed rules regarding the number of sentences that should constitute a paragraph, but an ideal paragraph should contain between three and seven sentences.
Furthermore, a good paragraph must exemplify some essential qualities, which this piece will shed light on. First, a paragraph must reflect unity, which means that the paragraph should only deal with one idea or topic. Every sentence in the paragraph should bear upon this topic. The dedication of a paragraph to a single topic makes it easy for the reader to follow the writer’s thought in meaningful bits. By implication, any sentence that does not contribute to the central idea of a paragraph should be removed. Aside from that, a paragraph must be complete in itself; it must show evidence of the reasonable development of a central point. If a writer focuses on an idea that cannot be fully developed, the paragraph will become incomplete. Thus, the reader will find such a paragraph incomprehensible.
Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose: The Paragraph
The next paramount feature of a paragraph is the topic sentence. The central idea of a paragraph is summed up in the topic sentence. It bears mentioning that the function of the other sentences is to emphasise the point that is disclosed in the topic sentence. Meanwhile, the topic sentence serves as a signpost to the meaning of the whole paragraph. It usually occurs either at the beginning or at the end of the paragraph. The topic sentence can either make a paragraph a loose paragraph or a periodic paragraph. In the loose paragraph, the preferred position of the topic sentence, especially in business letters, is at the beginning of the paragraph. This has the double advantage of being prominent and also capable of natural and logical development through the remainder of the paragraph. To identify a topic sentence, you have to keep a lookout for the sentences that introduce new topics. These represent the changes in the thoughts of the writer, as s/he develops the general theme. The periodic paragraph, on the other hand, usually positions the topic sentence at the end of the sentence. This is achieved when the paragraph begins by clearing up some preliminary matters. It is likewise used when the aim of the paragraph is to gather evidence leading to a conclusion or to build up an effective climax.
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Another salient attribute of a paragraph is the emphasis. The central idea of a paragraph must be emphasised. In other words, ample space should be devoted to discussing it. The idea must be repeated, including summing it up in the conclusion. Expressions such as ‘chiefly’, ‘of course’, ‘importantly’ and ‘mainly’ can also be enlisted to emphasise the central idea. Another vital feature of a paragraph is coherence. It is not sufficient in itself that all the sentences forming a paragraph should relate to the same point; they must develop the point naturally and logically. Put in another sense, the paragraph should be so constructed that one sentence leads naturally to the next, otherwise, the paragraph may fail to make its point clear and leave the readers with uncertainty as to the focus of the paragraph. This is what coherence is about.
One last essential property of a paragraph is transitional markers. Otherwise designated as linkers or discourse markers, transitional markers help to link sentences together within a paragraph and also help to achieve cohesion within paragraphs. They indicate the function of a particular sentence or paragraph in relation to the preceding and succeeding ones. Prominent examples include those that are used to introduce additional information like ‘furthermore’, ‘additionally ’, ‘on top of that’, ‘moreover’, et cetera. Some linkers like ‘consequently’, ‘therefore’, ‘in effect’ and ‘hence’ are used to indicate cause and effect. For the sake of dissenting or contrasting views, one could use ‘on the one hand’, ‘on the other hand’, ‘nonetheless’, ‘however’, ‘by contrast’, ‘contrariwise’ and so forth.
Concerning time, order or chronology, the use of ‘first/firstly’, ‘lastly’, ‘meanwhile’, ‘in the meantime’ and ‘next’ will come in handy. Also, one could draw comparisons by deploying ‘likewise’, ‘similarly’, ‘relatively speaking’, ‘in a similar vein’, ‘by comparison’ and whatnot.
The ability to write a good paragraph is a necessary condition for a clear representation of one’s thought in written words. Everyone who gets engaged in the business of writing must, therefore, possess a mastery of the nature and features of a paragraph.
© 2020 Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose (Dr GAB)