Paragraph Development

Like an essay, a paragraph should have a discernible organization. Ideas can be arranged from general to specific, or vice versa. Chronological and spatial arrangements make sense for narrative and descriptive paragraphs. In a cause-and-effect paragraph, logic dictates that the cause precedes the effect, but the opposite may sometimes be preferable. As always, clarity and intent should govern the sequence of ideas.

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Develop your ideas with more than one sentence or single example.

In general, a paragraph of only one or two sentences may be too scanty. Most of the time, thorough development of an idea calls for several sentences. Journalists, however, often write paragraphs consisting of one or two sentences. But the bulk of contemporary nonfiction consists of paragraphs of four to eight sentences.

In a coherent paragraph each sentence has its place and purpose. Disjointed paragraphs, on the other hand, consist of sentences arranged in random order. Or they contain ideas vaguely related or irrelevant to the main idea. Meaning serves as the primary glue that holds a coherent paragraph together, but transitional words and phrases such as for example, also, but, and on the other hand also help. In the following paragraph, notice how the italicized words and phrases tie sentences to each other.

[1] Tom Joad, the protagonist of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, faces a dilemma after his release on parole from an Oklahoma state penitentiary. [2] Five years earlierhe had killed a man in a fight when the man accosted him with a knife. [3] Although he claimed self-defense at his trial, Tom was found guilty. [4] Upon his release, he intends to follow the provisions of his parole, including the requirement to remain inside the state of Oklahoma. [5] When he finally catches up with his family, however, they are en route to California. [6] Consequently, he must decide whether to obey the law or help his family start a new life in the West.

Sentence 1 expresses the paragraph’s most general idea and serves as the topic sentence. The pronoun he throughout the passage ties every other sentence to Tom Joad, the subject of the topic sentence. Five years earlier, in sentence 2, explains what had occurred before the events in the first sentence. In sentence 3, although signals that a new but contrasting idea is on the way. Upon his release, in sentence 4, adds still another link to the topic sentence. The word however in sentence 5 refers to the dilemma alluded to in sentence 1 and explained in sentences 2–5. And in sentence 6,Consequently introduces the precise nature of Tom’s dilemma. Because of these linking elements, the six sentences cannot be arranged in any other way without destroying the paragraph’s coherence.

Practice in Developing Paragraphs

Directions: The sentences in each of the following groups make up a coherent paragraph. They are not in order, however. Rearrange sentences logically. On separate pieces of paper, write the number that represents the position of each sentence in the paragraph.

1. ____ a. A particular worker, for example, may lack the skill to do a certain job.

____ b. Another important variable is inclement weather, which can set a project back for days on end.

____ c. In spite of the best laid plans and preparation, building projects sometimes work out badly.

____ d. The main reason is that the foreman can’t always predict what the workers will do.

____ e. Then, the project can’t proceed until another worker is found.

2. ____ a. They also tend toward an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a study of 374 college undergraduates at Carleton University.

____ b. Here is some bad news for students who put off studying.

____ c. In addition, student procrastinators are more likely to eat poorly, smoke more, and sleep less than students who keep up with their schoolwork.

____ d. Their overall college experience, as a result, is far less satisfying than the experience of students who do their homework promptly.

____ e. Procrastinators get more cold and flu symptoms and have more digestive problems than their punctual classmates.

3. ____ a. College students swipe IDs to open doors, buy tickets to athletic events, operate ATMs, do their laundry, and even indicate their presence in a lecture hall.

____ b. It also identified students when they took books from the library.

____ c. Most colleges issue ID cards to students.

____ d. But magnetic strips and wireless chips have converted this modest piece of plastic into an essential, multiuse appendage.

____ e. At one time, a student ID was just a laminated card good for gaining access to campus buildings.

4. ____ a. In addition, a college official can often tell from an essay whether the applicant is eligible for a particular kind of scholarship or other type of financial aid.

____ b. At some colleges the essay counts heavily in admissions decisions and is used to place students in the proper academic programs.

____ c. College admissions officials read application essays with great care.

____ d. One reason is that the essays help colleges see each applicant more clearly and personally.

____ e. For example, an essay may explain why a bright student earned mediocre grades in high school.

5. ____ a. Soon thereafter, some colleges began to ask applicants whether they received professional help in completing their application essays.

____ b. They also found that teachers, counselors, and other adults were giving more than casual lessons in essay writing.

____ c. Wondering what caused the change, admissions officials soon discovered that many high schools had made instruction in writing an application essay a part of the curriculum.

____ d. In recent years, students from certain parts of the country started sending in polished college application essays in large numbers.

____ e. For up to $250 an hour, some “consultants” were all but composing essays for anxious students.

For additional practice in arranging sentences, turn to Part V.

Practice in Identifying Paragraph Unity and Coherence

Directions: The following paragraphs may suffer from either lack of unity, lack of coherence, or both. Identify the problem in each, and write a comment that offers an effective remedy. Some paragraphs may not need revision.

1. [1] Lord of the Flies is about a group of English schoolboys stranded on a remote island after an airplane crash. [2] When they arrive, they divide into groups. [3] There are groups at this high school, too. [4] On the island, Piggy is the leader of the group consisting of the most intelligent and rational boys. [5] He is a thinker, but he gets killed by another group, the savages, led by Jack. [6] A third group on the island is led by Ralph, who wants law and order and a set of rules. [7] The different groups in the novel are amazingly similar to groups in this school, known as the nerds, the jocks, and the preps.


2. [1] Under the present law, doing illegal drugs can have serious consequences for young people. [2] They may find their education interrupted and the future put in doubt by having a police record. [3] An arrest or conviction for a felony can complicate their lives and plans. [4] A police record causes embarrassment to a person’s family. [5] Parents like to brag about their children’s accomplishments. [6] Can you imagine a mother who would be proud of her daughter’s experience in the courts and in prison?


3. [1] Today there is general agreement that we are experiencing unprecedented change. [2] Established institutions are crumbling. [3] The majority of people no longer live in traditional families that consist of two natural parents and their children. [4] Old moralities are being questioned. [5] The United States has an increasingly diverse population. [6] At an early age, ghetto children may learn the thrills offered by drugs, crime, and gang warfare. [7] Children at all social and economic levels learn to expect that lying, cheating, and stealing are rampant in business, politics, and almost every other endeavor. [8] Even churches are not exempt from corruption.


4. [1] Rival political parties make elections meaningful by allowing voters to choose among candidates with contrasting views and interests. [2] Most parties try to unite divided interests within their ranks in order to appeal to the widest number of voters. [3] In the United States and Great Britain, a two-party system has long been effective in uniting various interests. [4] In dictatorships, criticism of the party in power may be regarded as treason. [5] Often, only a single, controlling party is permitted to exist. [6] Elections mean little in such countries, for the people have no real choice among the candidates. [7] Nor do they have the freedom to openly criticize their government.


5. [1] Department stores, unless they are like general stores that still function in some small towns, usually hire employees by the hundreds for different jobs. [2] A large number of workers engage in buying, pricing, and selling merchandise. [3] A sales staff promotes sales by advertising and by designing attractive displays of goods to be sold. [4] In recent years, mail-order buying on the Internet has forced many department stores to go out of business. [5] In addition, the store’s comptroller handles financial affairs, such as billing, credit, and payroll. [6] The personnel department hires employees and deals with employment problems.


6. [1] The porpoise, or bottlenose dolphin, is one of the most intelligent animals. [2] It can imitate the sounds of human speech and communicate with its fellow porpoises using barks, clicks, and whistles. [3] Scientists rate their intelligence between that of the chimpanzee, long held as the most intelligent nonhuman animal, and the dog. [4] Porpoises can be trained to leap high in the air, jump through hoops, catch a ball, fetch a stick, and even to participate in underwater work by serving as messengers between divers and surface ships.


7. [1] Robinson Crusoe is a memorable adventure story about a man marooned on a desert island and was written by the British author Daniel Defoe. [2] Defoe was born in London in 1660 and started writing only after he went bankrupt in a business career. [3] He wrote about politics, religion, economics, and geography in addition to writing poetry and novels. [4] Today, he is best known for Robinson Crusoe, which is but a tiny fraction of his work.


8. [1] Aristotle made valuable contributions to the study of logic. [2] Plato, the teacher of Aristotle and Socrates’ star pupil, believed that understanding the nature of perfect forms such as the circle and the square leads to understanding of ideal forms in all areas of life. [3] Socrates fought the Sophists all his life because he believed in truth, and the Sophists denied the existence of truth. [4] They said that everything was relative, including knowledge and morality. [5] The period of ancient philosophy reached its climax in Greece in 600–500 B.C.


9. [1] The American pioneers made simple farm implements and household tools. [2] They made pitchforks, for example, by attaching long handles to deer antlers. [3] Brooms were made by fastening together ten or twenty small tree branches. [4] They whittled wooden spoons, bowls, platters, and used gourds and the horns of sheep and other animals for drinking cups. [5] They made graters by punching holes into a piece of sheet iron. [6] Then they would rub kernels of corn across the jagged surface to make cornmeal.


10. [1] You can’t find Potter’s Field on a map. [2] It is not a real place. [3] Rather, it is the name given to any plot of land reserved for the burial of unidentified and destitute people. [4] The name was first used in the New Testament of the Bible. [5] After Judas betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver, the priests used the money to buy “the potter’s field to bury strangers in.” [6] Today, in many urban areas, potter’s fields have disappeared. [7] Land is too valuable to use for burying unknown and unclaimed corpses. [8] For a fraction of the cost, bodies are cremated and ashes thrown into common graves.