Elements of Written Composition
The purpose of the writing assignment.
Writing can have many different purposes. Here are just a few examples:
- Summarizing: Presenting the main points or essence of another text in a condensed form
- Arguing/Persuading: Expressing a viewpoint on an issue or topic in an effort to convince others that your viewpoint is correct
- Narrating: Telling a story or giving an account of events
- Evaluating: Examining something in order to determine its value or worth based on a set of criteria.
- Analyzing: Breaking a topic down into its component parts in order to examine the relationships between the parts.
- Responding: Writing that is in a direct dialogue with another text.
- Examining/Investigating: Systematically questioning a topic to discover or uncover facts that are not widely known or accepted, in a way that strives to be as neutral and objective as possible.
- Observing: Helping the reader see and understand a person, place, object, image or event that you have directly watched or experienced through detailed sensory descriptions.
You could be observing your school cafeteria to see what types of food students are actually eating, you could be evaluating the quality of the food based on freshness and quantity, or you could be narrating a story about how you gained fifteen pounds in the off-season.
You may need to use several of these writing strategies within your paper. For example, you could summarize federal nutrition guidelines, evaluate whether the food being served at the school fits those guidelines, and then argue that changes should be made in the menus to better fit those guidelines.
What is a paragraph?
A paragraph is a collection of related sentences dealing with a single topic. Learning to write good paragraphs will help you as a writer stay on track during your drafting and revision stages. Good paragraphing also greatly assists your readers in following a piece of writing. You can have fantastic ideas, but if those ideas aren't presented in an organized fashion, you will lose your readers (and fail to achieve your goals in writing).
The Basic Rule: Keep One Idea to One Paragraph
The basic rule of thumb with paragraphing is to keep one idea to one paragraph. If you begin to transition into a new idea, it belongs in a new paragraph. There are some simple ways to tell if you are on the same topic or a new one. You can have one idea and several bits of supporting evidence within a single paragraph. You can also have several points in a single paragraph as long as they relate to the overall topic of the paragraph. If the single points start to get long, then perhaps elaborating on each of them and placing them in their own paragraphs is the route to go.
Elements of a Paragraph
To be as effective as possible, a paragraph should contain each of the following: Unity, Coherence, A Topic Sentence, and Adequate Development. As you will see, all of these traits overlap. Using and adapting them to your individual purposes will help you construct effective paragraphs.
The entire paragraph should concern itself with a single focus. If it begins with a one focus or major point of discussion, it should not end with another or wander within different ideas.
Coherence is the trait that makes the paragraph easily understandable to a reader. You can help create coherence in your paragraphs by creating logical bridges and verbal bridges.
- The same idea of a topic is carried over from sentence to sentence
- Successive sentences can be constructed in parallel form
- Key words can be repeated in several sentences
- Synonymous words can be repeated in several sentences
- Pronouns can refer to nouns in previous sentences
- Transition words can be used to link ideas from different sentences
A topic sentence
A topic sentence is a sentence that indicates in a general way what idea or thesis the paragraph is going to deal with. Although not all paragraphs have clear-cut topic sentences, and despite the fact that topic sentences can occur anywhere in the paragraph (as the first sentence, the last sentence, or somewhere in the middle), an easy way to make sure your reader understands the topic of the paragraph is to put your topic sentence near the beginning of the paragraph. (This is a good general rule for less experienced writers, although it is not the only way to do it). Regardless of whether you include an explicit topic sentence or not, you should be able to easily summarize what the paragraph is about.
The topic (which is introduced by the topic sentence) should be discussed fully and adequately. Again, this varies from paragraph to paragraph, depending on the author's purpose, but writers should beware of paragraphs that only have two or three sentences. It's a pretty good bet that the paragraph is not fully developed if it is that short. Each point made should be supported with sufficient evidence.
Some methods to make sure your paragraph is well-developed:
- Use examples and illustrations
- Cite data (facts, statistics, evidence, details, and others)
- Examine testimony (what other people say such as quotes and paraphrases)
- Use an anecdote or story
- Define terms in the paragraph
- Compare and contrast
- Evaluate causes and reasons
- Examine effects and consequences
- Analyze the topic
- Describe the topic
- Offer a chronology of an event (time segments)
How do I know when to start a new paragraph?
You should start a new paragraph when:
- When you begin a new idea or point. New ideas should always start in new paragraphs. If you have an extended idea that spans multiple paragraphs, each new point within that idea should have its own paragraph.
- To contrast information or ideas. Separate paragraphs can serve to contrast sides in a debate, different points in an argument, or any other difference.
- When your readers need a pause. Breaks in paragraphs function as a short "break" for your readers—adding these in will help your writing more readable. You would create a break if the paragraph becomes too long or the material is complex.
- When you are ending your introduction or starting your conclusion. Your introductory and concluding material should always be in a new paragraph. Many introductions and conclusions have multiple paragraphs depending on their content, length, and the writer's purpose.
Transitions and Signposts
Two very important elements of paragraphing are signposts and transitions. Signposts are internal aids to assist readers; they usually consist of several sentences or a paragraph outlining what the article has covered and where the article will be going.
Transitions are usually one or several sentences that "transition" from one idea to the next. Transitions can be used at the end of most paragraphs to help the paragraphs flow one into the next.
Summary: A discussion of transition strategies and specific transitional devices.
Contributors:Ryan Weber, Karl Stolley
Last Edited: 2011-02-02 03:46:17
Good transitions can connect paragraphs and turn disconnected writing into a unified whole. Instead of treating paragraphs as separate ideas, transitions can help readers understand how paragraphs work together, reference one another, and build to a larger point. The key to producing good transitions is highlighting connections between corresponding paragraphs. By referencing in one paragraph the relevant material from previous ones, writers can develop important points for their readers.
It is a good idea to continue one paragraph where another leaves off. (Instances where this is especially challenging may suggest that the paragraphs don't belong together at all.) Picking up key phrases from the previous paragraph and highlighting them in the next can create an obvious progression for readers. Many times, it only takes a few words to draw these connections. Instead of writing transitions that could connect any paragraph to any other paragraph, write a transition that could only connect one specific paragraph to another specific paragraph.
Example: Overall, Management Systems International has logged increased sales in every sector, leading to a significant rise in third-quarter profits.
Another important thing to note is that the corporation had expanded its international influence.
Revision: Overall, Management Systems International has logged increased sales in every sector, leading to a significant rise in third-quarter profits.
These impressive profits are largely due to the corporation's expanded international influence.
Example: Fearing for the loss of Danish lands, Christian IV signed the Treaty of Lubeck, effectively ending the Danish phase of the 30 Years War.
But then something else significant happened. The Swedish intervention began.
Revision: Fearing for the loss of more Danish lands, Christian IV signed the Treaty of Lubeck, effectively ending the Danish phase of the 30 Years War.
Shortly after Danish forces withdrew, the Swedish intervention began.
Example: Amy Tan became a famous author after her novel, The Joy Luck Club, skyrocketed up the bestseller list.
There are other things to note about Tan as well. Amy Tan also participates in the satirical garage band the Rock Bottom Remainders with Stephen King and Dave Barry.
Revision: Amy Tan became a famous author after her novel, The Joy Luck Club, skyrocketed up the bestseller list.
Though her fiction is well known, her work with the satirical garage band the Rock Bottom Remainders receives far less publicity.
Tips for Writing Your Thesis Statement
1.Determine what kind of paper you are writing:
- An analytical paper breaks down an issue or an idea into its component parts, evaluates the issue or idea, and presents this breakdown and evaluation to the audience.
- An expository (explanatory) paper explains something to the audience.
- An argumentative paper makes a claim about a topic and justifies this claim with specific evidence. The claim could be an opinion, a policy proposal, an evaluation, a cause-and-effect statement, or an interpretation. The goal of the argumentative paper is to convince the audience that the claim is true based on the evidence provided.
If you are writing a text which does not fall under these three categories (ex. a narrative), a thesis statement somewhere in the first paragraph could still be helpful to your reader.
2. Your thesis statement should be specific—it should cover only what you will discuss in your paper and should be supported with specific evidence.
3. The thesis statement usually appears at the end of the first paragraph of a paper.
4. Your topic may change as you write, so you may need to revise your thesis statement to reflect exactly what you have discussed in the paper.
Thesis Statement Examples
Example of an analytical thesis statement:
An analysis of the college admission process reveals one challenge facing counselors: accepting students with high test scores or students with strong extracurricular backgrounds.
The paper that follows should:
- explain the analysis of the college admission process
- explain the challenge facing admissions counselors
Example of an expository (explanatory) thesis statement:
The life of the typical college student is characterized by time spent studying, attending class, and socializing with peers.
The paper that follows should:
- explain how students spend their time studying, attending class, and socializing with peers
Example of an argumentative thesis statement:
High school graduates should be required to take a year off to pursue community service projects before entering college in order to increase their maturity and global awareness.
The paper that follows should:
- present an argument and give evidence to support the claim that students should pursue community projects before entering college
Summary: This resource will help you write clearly by eliminating unnecessary words and rearranging your phrases.
Contributors:Ryan Weber, Nick Hurm
Last Edited: 2010-09-30 01:13:08
The goal of concise writing is to use the most effective words. Concise writing does not always have the fewest words, but it always uses the strongest ones. Writers often fill sentences with weak or unnecessary words that can be deleted or replaced. Words and phrases should be deliberately chosen for the work they are doing. Like bad employees, words that don't accomplish enough should be fired. When only the most effective words remain, writing will be far more concise and readable.
This resource contains general conciseness tips followed by very specific strategies for pruning sentences.
1. Replace several vague words with more powerful and specific words.
Often, writers use several small and ambiguous words to express a concept, wasting energy expressing ideas better relayed through fewer specific words. As a general rule, more specific words lead to more concise writing. Because of the variety of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, most things have a closely corresponding description. Brainstorming or searching a thesaurus can lead to the word best suited for a specific instance. Notice that the examples below actually convey more as they drop in word count.
Wordy: The politician talked about several of the merits of after-school programs in his speech (14 words)
Concise: The politician touted after-school programs in his speech. (8 words)
Wordy: Suzie believed but could not confirm that Billy had feelings of affection for her. (14 words)
Concise: Suzie assumed that Billy adored her. (6 words)
Wordy: Our website has made available many of the things you can use for making a decision on the best dentist. (20 words)
Concise: Our website presents criteria for determining the best dentist. (9 words)
Wordy: Working as a pupil under someone who develops photos was an experience that really helped me learn a lot. (20 words)
Concise: Working as a photo technician's apprentice was an educational experience. (10 words)
2. Interrogate every word in a sentence
Check every word to make sure that it is providing something important and unique to a sentence. If words are dead weight, they can be deleted or replaced. Other sections in this handout cover this concept more specifically, but there are some general examples below containing sentences with words that could be cut.
Wordy: The teacher demonstrated some of the various ways and methods for cutting words from my essay that I had written for class. (22 words)
Concise: The teacher demonstrated methods for cutting words from my essay. (10 words)
Wordy: Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood formed a new band of musicians together in 1969, giving it the ironic name of Blind Faith because early speculation that was spreading everywhere about the band suggested that the new musical group would be good enough to rival the earlier bands that both men had been in, Cream and Traffic, which people had really liked and had been very popular. (66 words)
Concise: Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood formed a new band in 1969, ironically naming it Blind Faith because speculation suggested that the group would rival the musicians’ previous popular bands, Cream and Traffic. (32 words)
Wordy: Many have made the wise observation that when a stone is in motion rolling down a hill or incline that that moving stone is not as likely to be covered all over with the kind of thick green moss that grows on stationary unmoving things and becomes a nuisance and suggests that those things haven’t moved in a long time and probably won’t move any time soon. (67 words)
Concise: A rolling stone gathers no moss. (6 words)
3. Combine Sentences.
Some information does not require a full sentence, and can easily be inserted into another sentence without losing any of its value. To get more strategies for sentence combining, see the handout on Sentence Variety.
Wordy: Ludwig's castles are an astounding marriage of beauty and madness. By his death, he had commissioned three castles. (18 words)
Concise: Ludwig's three castles are an astounding marriage of beauty and madness. (11 words)
Wordy: The supposed crash of a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico aroused interest in extraterrestrial life. This crash is rumored to have occurred in 1947. (24 words)
Concise: The supposed 1947 crash of a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico aroused interest in extraterrestrial life. (16 words)
- THE TOPIC SENTENCE:
- The first sentence of the paragraph is the topic sentence. It introduces the main points to be discussed in the paragraph.
- An academic paragraph usually has 3 main points . . . although some may have 1 or 2 and some may have more.
- Often, 1 or 2 sentences defining unfamiliar terms in the paragraph may be inserted prior to the first point.
- THE FIRST MAIN POINT:
- The next sentence (after any definitions) presents the first point introduced in the topic sentence—topic selection.
- Preferably, the wording is similar to the topic sentence so that the reader recognizes the outline of the paragraph.
- SUPPORT FOR THE FIRST POINT:
- The following 1 or 2 sentences support this point, usually with quotations, examples, logic, explanations, or ideas:
- The support sentences directly apply to the previous point, but they do not necessarily use the same wording.
- THE SECOND MAIN POINT:
- The next sentence refers to the second point mentioned in the topic sentence— organization.
- SUPPORT FOR THE SECOND POINT:
- The following 1 or 2 sentences support the second point. The type of support used does not have to be identical:
- THE THIRD MAIN POINT:
- The next sentence refers to the third point mentioned in the topic sentence— mechanics.
- SUPPORT FOR THE THIRD POINT:
- The corresponding 1 or 2 sentences support the third point:
- THE CONCLUDING SENTENCE:
- The concluding sentence summarizes the points that were introduced in the topic sentence and were discussed or
- proven in the paragraph. Similar words are often used to show a direct relationship with the topic sentence.
- The concluding sentence does not introduce new information, but it may make an appeal for more research or study
Summary: This resource outlines the generally accepted structure for introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions in an academic argument paper. Keep in mind that this resource contains guidelines and not strict rules about organization. Your structure needs to be flexible enough to meet the requirements of your purpose and audience.
Last Edited: 2010-04-17 05:43:21
Conclusions wrap up what you have been discussing in your paper. After moving from general to specific information in the introduction and body paragraphs, your conclusion should begin pulling back into more general information that restates the main points of your argument. Conclusions may also call for action or overview future possible research. The following outline may help you conclude your paper:
In a general way,
- restate your topic and why it is important,
- restate your thesis/claim,
- address opposing viewpoints and explain why readers should align with your position,
- call for action or overview future research possibilities.
Remember that once you accomplish these tasks, unless otherwise directed by your instructor, you are finished. Done. Complete. Don't try to bring in new points or end with a whiz bang(!) conclusion or try to solve world hunger in the final sentence of your conclusion. Simplicity is best for a clear, convincing message.
The Purdue OWL. Purdue U Writing Lab, 2010. Web. 9 August, 2011.