The Internal View of Paragraphing

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Let’s consider the internal view of paragraphing. When experienced writers start writing, almost certainly they don’t stop to think how they’re going to organize their paragraphs. They’ve been using a variety of patterns for so long that they can use them without thinking how they work. But writers who are less experienced can profit by reviewing these common paragraph patterns and by considering how they might use them. We offer you several of those patterns in this section and give examples that may be helpful.

Experienced writers do think about how well their paragraphs stick together and whether they focus on one point. They also work to see that sentences follow each other in logical order, each one supporting or advancing the point of the previous sentence. They‘re always aware that a paragraph needs to be unified.

How can a writer achieve this unity? Most of us do it by employing some version of a common pattern. That is, we start with a statement or question and follow through with support for the statement or answers to the question.

Here are some typical Variations on that pattern.

• Generalization with Supporting Details :

Perhaps the most typical way to begin a paragraph is to make a general statement and follow it up with details that support it. Here each sentence after the first provides relevant details:

Every big plantation was fiefdom. The small hamlets that dot the map of the [Mississippi] Delta were mostly plantation headquarters rather than conventional towns. Sharecroppers traded at a plantation – owned commissary often in scrip rather than money. They prayed at plantation owned Baptist churches. Their children walked, sometimes miles, to plantation owned schools usually one – or two room building without heating or plumbing. Education ended with the eighth grade and was extremely casual until then […] the textbooks were hand - me – downs from the white schools. The planter could and did shut down schools whenever there was work to be done in the fields. […] many sharecroppers remember going to school only when it rained. (Nicholas Lemann : The Promised Land)

• Question and Answer :

Notice the use of questions in this next paragraph – first to start the whole topic off and then to move the discussion deeper.

What’s the difference between prison and college? They both prescribe your behavior for a given period of time. They both allow you to read books and develop your writing. They both give you time to think and time with your peers to talk about issues. But four years of prison doesn’t give you a passport to grater opportunities. Most likely that time only gives you greater knowledge of how to get back. Four years of college gives you an opportunity not only to lift yourself but to serve your people effectively. What’s the difference when you are called a nigger in college from when you are called a nigger in jail? In college you can, although I admit with effort, follow procedures to have those students who called you nigger kicked out or suspended. You can bring issues to public attention without risking your life. But mostly, college is and always has been the future. We, neither less nor more than other people, need knowledge. There are discomforts attached to attending predominantly white colleges, though no more so than living in a racist world. (Nikki Giovanni : Campus Racism 101)

• Statement and Illustration :

Often paragraph will begin with a general statement which is then illustrated by subsequent sentences. Here, all of the sentences after the first illustrate ways the author is hated by the Burmese:

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large number of people the only time in my life that I have ever been important enough for this to happen to me. I was subdivision police officer of the town and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti – European felling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went though the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so. When a nimble barman tripped me up on the foot ball field and the referee (Another barman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere. The insult hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. The young Buddhist monks were the worst of all. There were several thousands of them in the town and none seemed to have anything to do except to stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans. (George Orwell : Shooting and Elephant)

• Assertion and Explanation :

Another technique is for the first sentence to make an assertion and then for subsequent sentences to explain just what the assertion means:

“The book business was an elitist, standoffish institution,” [Barnes & Noble executive] Len Riggio told business weak in 1998. “I liberated it from that.” Riggio’s critics have mocked his populist pose, but it should be taken seriously. Before the appearance of the chains, a relatively highbrow, urban clientele shopped at the independents and a relatively lowbrow, largely regional one bought mass – Market titles at supermarkets, price clubs and drugstores. Now, thanks to the chains and to internet sales, the vast territory between the two extremes has been bridged. Elitists may carp, but the truth is they are no longer quite so elite. These days shoppers in Buford, Georgia and Rapid City, South Dakota, can pick up important titles such as Norman Cantor’s Inventing The Middle Ages, Eugene Genovese’s Roll, Jordan Roll and Andrew Motion’s Biography of John Keats – titles that are neither popular nor newly published at their local borders. (Brooke Allen : Two – Make That Three – Cheers – Cheers for The Chain Bookstores)

So writers can choose several different ways to follow the basic statement and follow-through pattern for creating paragraphs. Just remember that every sentence after the first must expand on or respond to the opening sentence. No detours.

• Other Common Paragraph Patterns :

You can also Use several other paragraph patterns:

1. Reasoning From Evidence

2. Assertion And Support

3. Cause And Effect

4. Comparison And Contrast

5. Classification

6. Narration

7. Process

In the sections that follow, you’ll find examples of each, along with brief commentaries.

• Reasoning From Evidence :

Reasoning from evidence is a particularly useful pattern when you’re writing an argument. It’s typical of the pattern trial lawyers use before juries.

For example:

[Tigers] are not idle predator. When they kill, they kill to eat. Even a well-fed tiger in a zoo keeps his vestigial repertory of hunting behaviors intact. […] in the zoo, tigers will stalk birds that land in their habitats and they grow more alert than most people would care to realize when children pass before their gaze. Though stories of man eating tigers have been extravagantly embellished over the centuries, the existence of such creatures is not legendary. In the Sunderbans, the vast delta region that spans the border of India and Bangladesh, more than four hundred people have been killed by tigers in the last decade. So many fishermen and honey collectors have been carried off that a few years ago officials at the Sunderbans tiger preserve began stationing electrified dummies around the part to encourage the tigers to seek other prey. One percent of all tigers according to a German biologist who studied them in the Sunderbans are dedicated man eaters. When they go hunting, they’re after people. Up to a third of all tigers will kill and eat a human if they come across one, but they don’t make a specials effort to do so. (Stephen Harrigan : The Tiger Is God)

• Assertion and Support :

Assertion and support is a useful pattern when you want readers to accept the reasoning upon which you base a claim. Here a feminist scholar explains in the introduction to a book about the six wives of Henry VIII why she has chosen to write about these women as representative of upper class women in Tudor England:

Any look at women in Tudor England invariably begins with the wives of Henry VIII. There are other equally engaging women – equally brave, equally tragic, equally intelligent, equally victimized, equally triumphant – but because of Henry’s glamorously bizarre behavior, those six women dominate our perception of the era’s women. They hover in our imagination around the king like faithful satellites orbiting a splendid sun and the fact that on scrutiny the sun reveals itself as a great, empty mass of hot air does little to lessen the fascination. Henry VIII’s monstrous egotism and dynastic misfortune, occurring at a time when Europe was ripe for religious revolution, drew into history six women who were dramatically different from the man who controlled their destinies and dramatically different from each other. Each became, for varying degrees of time, the most powerful woman in England. Each lost that position because she was at the mercy of the most powerful man in the land. (Karen Lindsey : Divorced, Beheaded, Survived)

• Cause and Effect :

A cause and effect paragraph illustrates one of people’s most common thought patterns. You can state the effect first and then follow through by giving the causes as the next paragraph does or you can list the causes first and conclude with the effect:

Many cultural circumstances worked against the likelihood of sexual satisfaction within Victorian marriages. The inflexible taboo on pre–marital sex for middle–class women meant among other things that it was impossible to determine sexual compatibility before marriage. The law then made the wife the absolute property of her husband and sexual performance one of her duties. Imagine a young woman married to a man she finds physically repulsive. She is in the position of being raped nightly and within the law’s consent. The legendary Victorian advice about sex, “Lie back and think of England,” may be seen as not entirely comical if we realize that in many cases distaste for sex developed from distaste for the first sexual partner and from sexual performance that was essentially forced. In addition, the absence of birth control made it impossible to separate sex from its reproductive function, so that to be sexually active meant also the discomforts of pregnancy, the pain of childbirth and the burden of children.(Phyllis Rose : Parallel Lives)

• Comparison and Contrast :

We all use comparison and contrast almost automatically to highlight the difference or likenesses between two things. You can draw the contrasts within one paragraph or make the comparison with alternating Paragraphs.

Here are two examples.

In the first, a movie critic and essayist compares values in our time with those of ancient Greek society. In the second, an Arab America woman compares her taste with her brother’s by describing their separate homes in separate paragraphs.

The America reader [of The Lliad] comes from a society that is nominally ethical. our legal and administrative system, our presidential utterances, our popular culture in which TV policemen rarely fail to care for the victims of Crime are swathed in concern. Since many Americans believe that our society is actually indifferent to hardship, it is no surprise that irony and cynicism barnacle our attitudes toward public life. By contrast, the Greek view was savage, but it was offered without hypocrisy. Accepting death in battle as inevitable, the Greek and Trojan aristocrats of the lliad experience the world not as pleasant or as good and evil, but as glorious or you are not good or bad. You are strong or weak, beautiful or ugly, conquering or vanquished, favored by the gods or cursed. (David Denby : Does Homer Have Legs?)

My brother’s house smells of fresh paint and packaging – those foam burbles and peanuts that come in big boxes. It smells like carpet no one has ever stepped on. I cannot imagine the bravado of white parapet. My brother prefers if you remove your shoes at his front door. So do, I but no one ever does it in our house.

We have dusty wooden floors and ragged little rugs from Turkey and Libya. We have throw rugs hank knotted in Appalachia in 1968. We have a worn oriental carpet that once belonged to my friend’s reclusive father, a famous science fiction writer. […] our house smells of incense and grandmother’ attics in Illinois in the 1950s and vaguely sweetened shelf paper pressed into drawers. (Naomi Shihab Nye : MY brother’s House)

• Classification :

You can craft paragraphs in which you classify your ideas by categories.

For Example :

Complaints about the treatment of women on-line fall into three categories that women are subject to excessive, unwanted sexual attention, that the prevailing style of on-line discussion turns women off and that women are singled out by all participants for exceptionally dismissive or hostile treatment. In making these assertions, the Newsweek article and other stories on the issue do echo grievances that some on – line women have made for years. And without a doubt, people have encountered sexual commons, aggressive debating tactics and add hominem attacks on the Net. However, individual users interpret such events in widely different ways and to generalize from those interpretations to describe the experiences of women and men as a whole is a rash leap indeed. (Laura Miller: Women and Children First : Gender and The Selling Of The Electronic Frontier)

• Narration :

Often you can use a narrative paragraph to illustrate a point that you’re making. Ii can also enliven your writing by adding a visual or personal element.

This little story about email does that;

I discovered just how portable my e – mail was when thief crept into my house and walked off with my computer. One day I had been happily communicating with the entire world, the next I was reduced to virtual silence. My anxiety at the loss of my equipment was exacerbated by my sense of all the messages I was missing. I had become dependent on my daily fix and the burglar, as if guessing at this aspect of my psychology had even cut the phone wire that led into the computer – a symbolic act easily remedied by the purchase of a new wire, but one that drove home for me my feeling of violent interruption “I feel as if I ‘m hemorrhaging in formation,” I told my husband. But the information was only the half of it. All the little pieces of me that I had been feeding into cyberspaces were loosed into the world, never to return. (Wendy Lesser : The Conversion)

• Process :

Paragraphs describing a process can make a piece of writing more concrete by describing how something is done.

Here a writer describes the process she goes through when she begins to write a story:

As much as I can break down process of writing stories, I would say that this is how it begins, I find a detail or image or character or incident or cluster of events. Certain luminosity surrounds them I find myself attracted. I come forward. I pick it up, turn it around begin to ask questions and spend hours and weeks and months and years trying to answer them.(Julia Alvarez : Grounds For Fiction)

Other Pages in This Section :

  • The External View of Paragraphing

  • Crafting Opening Paragraphs

  • Wrestling With Closing Paragraphs

  • Successful Writing Index

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