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Purposes of Paragraphs

Sometimes understanding a passage requires understanding not just the purpose of a particular sentence, but rather the purpose of an entire paragraph. To find the purpose of a paragraph, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What is the main topic of the paragraph?

2. What does the author say about that topic?

3. Why does the author write about that topic?

Consider the paragraph below.

Of all egotists, Montaigne, if not the greatest, was the most fascinating, because, perhaps, he was the least affected and most truthful. What he did, and what he had professed to do, was to dissect his mind, and show us, as best he could, how it was made, and what relation it bore to external objects. He investigated his mental structure as a schoolboy pulls his watch to pieces, to examine the mechanism of the works; and the result, accompanied by illustrations abounding with originality and force, he delivered to his fellow-men in a book.

1.   What is the main topic of the paragraph?

The main topic of the paragraph is Montaigne, an egotist.

2. What does the author say about this topic?

The author says that Montaigne was the most fascinating egotist because he was the not affected and he was truthful. Montaigne tried to explain how his mind worked.

3. Why does the author write about the topic?

Note what the author does: He explains that Montaigne was great, and then give reasons why Montaigne was great. Thus, the purpose of the paragraph must be to explain why Montaigne was great, and to convince you that Montaigne was great.