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Learning Unit 6 – Paragraph Structure



Reading Material

Paragraphing is an essential component of your overall essay structure. Not only do paragraphs guide the reader through your essay, but they also allow you, as writer, to organize and clarify your ideas. Usually each paragraph announces an idea or shift in focus. When writing, you’ll find that most paragraph breaks suggest themselves naturally. If you feel that you are randomly placing paragraph breaks, it is often the case that your argument probably isn’t structured as well as it should be.

The overall structure of an essay--introduction, main body, and conclusion-- is also applicable to the internal structure of paragraphs. In the first part of a paragraph, you will usually introduce one of the main points supporting the central idea of your essay. In the main body of the paragraph, you will develop this initial point through analysis of textual evidence. Most of the time, you will then reach some kind of conclusion to this main point and/or indicate the main point you will develop in the following paragraph.

Obviously, this type of structure is only a guideline. As with the general structure of your argument, the structure of paragraphs is to some extent contingent on the topic or question you’re discussing. For many essays, you will probably have a group of paragraphs focusing on different aspects of a same main point. In these cases, each paragraph develops one key example, rather than introducing a new idea. If an essay question asks you to compare or contrast, it is quite likely that paragraphs alternate between the two texts and/or writers under discussion.

Most paragraphs contain a topic sentence indicating the main idea. Here’s an example of a short paragraph with a well-defined topic sentence (marked in red):

One of the symptoms of the ‘postmodern condition’ is a hypersensitivity to the ways in which words are strategically defined and polemically deployed. In the early years of this century, the poets of the age of high modernism seemed each to produce their own virtual thesaurus of the language. Now towards the end of the century sociologists and other theorists have been made aware of the constraints imposed by language and engage in related processes of linguistic gymnastics (or linguistic mud-wrestling).

(Lloyd Spencer, ‘Postmodernism, Modernity, and the Tradition of Dissent’)

As with the links between the various paragraphs, the sentences within a single paragraph need to be coherently linked. Linking (or transitional) phrases are important in connecting sentences and clarifying the relationships between them.

Open the below folder entitled ‘Linking Phrases’ for a list of linking phrases and a sample paragraph [not included in this resource].

It is crucial that you guide the reader through your argument. Coherence in paragraphs can also be achieved through the strategic repetition of key words. In the extract quoted above, Spencer repeatedly uses ‘language’ or related terms to remind the reader of the main topic of the paragraph. As far as structure is concerned, he sets up a clear opposition between an earlier state of affairs (‘in the early years of this century’) and a more current one (‘now towards the end of the century’). Structural markers like these signpost the argument to the reader.

Do note that the average length of a paragraph in your essays should be one double-spaced page (and all essays must be double-spaced). This will allow you the space in which to develop the point of that paragraph and to point towards the argument of the next paragraph.



Learning Outcomes

Having read the material and completed the assignments you should have:

• understood the importance of using paragraphs

• understood the basic structure a paragraph

• learned to identify and write topic sentences

• learned how to use linking phrases in structuring your argument



Paragraph Structure - Assignment 10 (for both Literature AND Language and/or Linguistics Students)

In the following paragraph many ideas get lost because the sentences are not coherently linked. It fails to signpost its argument to the reader. Improve this paragraph by introducing linking phrases and words. Where you feel necessary, you should link separate sentences. You must make more than five improvements.





Extract:

The world in A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a dream-like atmosphere. It seems to be a much more artificial world than the world of political tensions in Hamlet or Macbeth. It is only loosely anchored in reality by the rational world of Athens. The characterisation is rather weak in comparison to complex tragic heroes like Hamlet or Macbeth. There are hardly any soliloquies. A close psychological analysis of a single character becomes rather difficult. Being a comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, does not rely on this kind of introspection. The main characters seem a bit artificial and less close to reality. It underlines the theatrical aspects of the play. It is an artificial world, where lovers chase each other in the woods, where fairies are dancing and singing, and where men are turned into asses.



Paragraph Structure - Assignment 11 (for both Literature AND Language and/or Linguistics Students)

Identify the topic sentence in each of the following paragraphs. In 100 words, justify your choice. (Remember that a topic sentence is not necessarily the first sentence of a paragraph).



Extracts:

1. It is easy to see why people would think that this dandy, so full of irony and paradox, is supposed to be an alter-ego of Oscar Wilde. In a sense they are right, but they also fail to realise that ‘Wilde The Dandy’ is also an artificial character that Wilde has created for the public. In an American ‘Confession Album’ that Wilde filled out in 1877 in Oxford, he answers the following to the question of what his aim in life was: Success: fame or even notoriety. Wilde was still an undergraduate when he wrote this, and in hindsight his statement seems to have been prophetic. Wilde has indeed succeeded in gaining both fame and notoriety. Yet is it really so prophetic? It is also very likely that this is a glimpse at a self-conscious attempt to create a public persona. Wilde’s dandies are in fact alter-egos of the character he portrayed in public. Like Lord Henry, he played with ideas, ‘made [them] iridescent with fancy, and winged [them] with paradox’. Yet, rather than merely being Lord Henry Wotton, the real Wilde probably exists somewhere between Basil Hallward and Lord Henry. Wilde is actually the figure between the paradoxes.

2. The preoccupation with hidden cults within the civilised contemporary world and with a hereditary memory of pre-Aryan evil within all humans is a common feature of many of Lovecraft’s stories. In Pickman’s Model, folklore is given a concrete root in the existence of a nocturnal race of semi-human creatures. Just as Darwinian evolution takes on a corrupted twist in Lovecraft’s world, so the foundations of Jungian psychology can be given a demonic re-reading. Although Jung already discussed the possible existence of archetypes and a collective unconscious as early as 1909, the bulk of his writings on the subject was published in the 1950s. It is therefore highly unlikely that Lovecraft had come in contact with this aspect of Jungian thought. However, in tracing the outlines of the Lovecraftian cosmos and its anthropology of immemorial fear, a Jungian approach is very fertile. Lovecraft did indeed create his own form of collective unconscious within the framework of his stories.



English Subject Centre Departmental Projects

This report and the work it presents were funded by the English Subject Centre under a scheme which funds projects run by departments in Higher Education institutions (HEIs) in the UK. Some projects are run in collaboration between departments in different HEIs. Projects run under the scheme are concerned with developments in the teaching and learning of English Language, Literature and Creative Writing. They may involve the production of teaching materials, the piloting and evaluation of new methods or materials or the production of research into teaching and learning. Project outcomes are expected to be of benefit to the subject community as well as having a positive influence on teaching and learning in the host department(s). For this reason, project results are disseminated widely in print, electronic form and via events, or a combination of these.

Details of ongoing projects can be found on the English Subject Centre website at www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/deptprojects/index.htm . If you would like to enquire about support for a project, please contact the English Subject Centre:

The English Subject Centre Royal Holloway, University of London Egham, Surrey TW20 OEX T. 01784 443221 [email protected] www.english.heacademy.ac.uk

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