How to write a paragraph

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A paragraph is a series of related sentences developing a central idea, called the topic. Try to think about paragraphs in terms of thematic unity: a paragraph is a sentence or a group of sentences that supports one central, unified idea. Paragraphs add one idea at a time to your broader argument.

How do I make my ideas flow in a paragraph?

“Flow” is a word used to describe the way a paragraph moves from idea to idea. This movement occurs both within the paragraph and between paragraphs. The best overall strategy to enhance flow within a paragraph is to show connections. A variety of simple techniques can help you to clarify those connections and thereby communicate your intended logic. Deliberate repetition of key words helps. Reiterating the focus of your analysis by repeating key words or synonyms for key words enhances the overall flow of the paragraph. In the following example, the repetition of the key words “Canadian,” “nation,” and “communication” allows for clear flow throughout the paragraph.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Marshall McLuhan, the most influential communications expert of the twentieth century, was a Canadian. As a nation, we have been preoccupied with forging communication links among a sparse, widespread population. The old Canadian one-dollar bill, with its line of telephone poles receding to the distant horizon, illustrates this preoccupation. Year after year we strive to maintain a national radio and television broadcasting system in the face of foreign competition. We have been aggressive in entering the international high technology market with our telecommunications equipment.

—Margot Northey, Impact: A Guide to Business Communication

While the deliberate repetition of a key word is a useful tool, you generally want to avoid repeating an entire idea. In particular, avoid ending a paragraph by making the same point you made in the topic sentence. This type of reiteration stalls or disrupts the development of ideas as well as the logical progression to the next paragraph. Strategic use of pronouns such as it, they, and this keeps the focus on the ideas announced at the beginning of the paragraph—as long as they are clearly linked to specific nouns. In the following example the antecedent is underlined and its corresponding pronoun is in bold.

Minois concluded his overview by suggesting that old age was something “which the early Middle Ages were decidedly not concerned about” (1989: 155). This lack of concern was not because of the absence of old people, for Minois believed that “once they had survived to their 20th year, the men [sic] . . . could expect to live as long as we do” (1989: 149). Rather, he suggested, old people “played only a negligible social role and were dependent on the care of their families”—in effect they were marginalised by the society of the time (1989: 149).

—Chris Gilleard, “Old Age in the Dark Ages”

Specialized linking words can also be powerful tools for pulling ideas together. But don’t just sprinkle them into your sentences—use them to support your logic.

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To signal a reinforcement of ideas:

also in other words in addition
for example moreover more importantly

To signal a change in ideas:

but on the other hand however
instead yet in contrast
although nevertheless in spite of [something]

To signal a conclusion:

thus therefore ultimately
in conclusion finally so [informal]
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