How to... write more simply Part: 3

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How to... write more simply

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Using the paragraph effectively

The paragraph is one of the main building blocks of writing. Its effective use is key to good writing. If it is used badly – if paragraphs are either very long, or short, or if there is a sudden break in sense within or between paragraphs – then the meaning is obscured.

What makes a paragraph?

All the example paragraphs below are concerned with a particular topic or theme, which is developed using the structure of the paragraph. A key aspect of a good paragraph is this unity: there is one major point of discussion. All the sentences in this paragraph should be related to this one idea, and should flow from one another.

Examples

Observation can be used as both a quantitative and a qualitative research methodology. In the case described in this study, observation was mainly used qualitatively as the research was highly exploratory in nature. On the other hand, observation, if structured, can generate detailed quantitative findings. Data, for example, generated via EPoS tracking (a machine-based observational tool) is highly statistical in nature. Whether findings generated by observation are quantitative or qualitative in nature depends on whether the research is structured or unstructured – which, in turn, often depends on the stage of the research project.

"'Saying is one thing; doing is another': the role of observation in marketing research"
Jonathan Boote and Ann Mathews
Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, Vol. 2 No. 1


This section contains definitions of managerial roles and tasks. The informants described career management for managers as the identifying and developing of "high potentials". A "high potential" is an individual who possesses certain technical and personality requirements that will permit them to rise to the executive cadre within their organization. They are usually under 35 years old and have been with their company for two to five years. A new cohort group is formed every two to three years.

"Cultural assumptions in career management: practice implications from Germany"
Carol D. Hansen and Mary Kay Willcox
Career Development International, Vol. 2 No. 4

Topic sentences

A well-constructed paragraph should contain a sentence which states the theme of the paragraph, which subsequent sentences should develop and support.

The example paragraphs are repeated below with the topic sentences in bold in each case. Note that in these cases, the topic sentence occurs at the beginning of the paragraph, with the subsequent sentences developing the point made. While it is not an invariable grammatical rule that topic sentences should be at the beginning of paragraphs, it is nevertheless a good tip for those who are not very experienced in writing.

Example

Observation can be used as both a quantitative and a qualitative research methodology. In the case described in this study, observation was mainly used qualitatively as the research was highly exploratory in nature. On the other hand, observation, if structured, can generate detailed quantitative findings. Data, for example, generated via EPoS tracking (a machine-based observational tool) is highly statistical in nature. Whether findings generated by observation are quantitative or qualitative in nature depends on whether the research is structured or unstructured – which, in turn, often depends on the stage of the research project.

This section contains definitions of managerial roles and tasks. The informants described career management for managers as the identifying and developing of "high potentials". A "high potential" is an individual who possesses certain technical and personality requirements that will permit them to rise to the executive cadre within their organization. They are usually under 35 years old and have been with their company for two to five years. A new cohort group is formed every two to three years.

Ensuring coherence

A well-crafted paragraph should have a consistent and logical organization of ideas, with points flowing from one another in a natural sequence. There are two main ways of doing this: implicitly by making the ideas develop from one another and explicitly by building bridges.

Implicit links: making ideas develop

Develop the idea set out in the topic sentence by adding information, providing explanation, giving examples, providing data, defining terms, comparing and contrasting. The example below shows how one of the above paragraphs does this (with our comments in bold).

Example

Observation can be used as both a quantitative and a qualitative research methodology. EXAMPLE: In the case described in this study, observation was mainly used qualitatively as the research was highly exploratory in nature. COMPARISON: On the other hand, observation, if structured, can generate detailed quantitative findings. EXAMPLE: Data, for example, generated via EPoS tracking (a machine-based observational tool) is highly statistical in nature. EXPLANATION: Whether findings generated by observation are quantitative or qualitative in nature depends on whether the research is structured or unstructured – which, in turn, often depends on the stage of the research project.

Building bridges  

The handout on paragraphs created by the Purdue University Online Writing Lab has this to say:

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.

logical bridges:

  • The same idea of a topic is carried over from sentence to sentence
  • Successive sentences can be constructed in parallel form

verbal bridges:

  • Keywords 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

If you ensure that ideas develop along a main theme, as we discussed above, it should help in building logical bridges. Verbal bridges however are also very useful, and there are a number of ways of providing them:

  • Using linking words and phrases.
  • Referring back to key ideas, either repeating phrases or using pronouns.

Here's the example again, with our notes in square brackets.

Example

Observation can be used as both a quantitative and a qualitative research methodology. In the case described in this study [REFERRING BACK], observation was mainly used qualitatively as the research was highly exploratory in nature. On the other hand [QUALIFICATION], observation, if structured, can generate detailed quantitative findings. Data, for example [EXAMPLE], generated via EPoS tracking (a machine-based observational tool) is highly statistical in nature. Whether findings generated by observation are quantitative or qualitative in nature depends on whether the research is structured or unstructured – which, in turn, often depends on the stage of the research project.

A number of verbal link phrases feature on the previous page: How to make effective transitions.

Paragraph length

While in general it is best to avoid paragraphs that are too long, there is no hard and fast rule for their length other than to say that sense will dictate a new paragraph, when it is clear that you are dealing with another topic.