Writing Skills: The Paragraph

Writing Skills: The Paragraph

Hi, I’m Adam. Today’s lesson is about the paragraph. It’s a writing lesson, and I want to show people what a paragraph is and how to construct one, what to do, what not to do so you can write very clear, very tight paragraphs.

This is especially important for IELTS, TOEFL, SAT students but everybody has to follow the exact same rules. Now before I even begin, I must say that I’m talking mostly about academic writing or even business writing. Creative writing like novels or short stories, anything fiction, you can do anything you want. Only always remember: somebody has to read what you wrote so it has to be clear. But academic essays, for example, certain rules you have to follow; you have to be very careful about them.

So let’s begin. In terms of like the actual way a paragraph looks: you have to indent or skip a line. So let me just make sure you understand what an indent is. This is an indent, the first line a little bit pushed in or you can make sure you skip a line between paragraphs. But don’t do both.

If you skip a line, don’t indent. Okay? That’s the main thing. Now, that’s in terms of the way it looks.

In terms of content — and this, I can’t stress this enough — very, very, very important: one central idea in one paragraph. Okay? I’ve seen many people, I’ve seen many essays where you start a paragraph talking about one thing, and then you go off on a tangent and talk about something completely unrelated. So for example: if you start a paragraph and you’re talking about apples, continue to talk about apples. If you go to oranges, that’s maybe okay because you’re still talking about fruit. But if you start with apples, go to oranges, go to bananas, and then end up with monkeys in space there’s a bit of a problem; the reader has no idea what you’re talking about.

One paragraph, one central idea. Now, make sure that you tell the reader what this central idea is. This is your thesis statement. Okay? It’s a very general sentence. All it does is introduce the topic of the paragraph, nothing else.

All the details comes after. So speaking of details, we’ll talk about details in detail, but all other ideas, all the other sentences, all your sentences with the details must directly relate back to the main idea. So let’s say here is your thesis statement; very general, every sentence after must relate back to that thesis statement. Okay?

You can’t go off to another idea. Everything must support this, must talk about the same topic. Very important. Okay? How long should your paragraph be? Technically, a paragraph could be one sentence, but in an academic essay that rarely happens.

But it could be any length you want, as long as you’re still on that one topic, as long as you still have things to write and things to say about that topic, say it. If you have four sentences, fine; if you have 10 sentences, also okay. Again, for IELTS, TOEFL, SAT students: four, five sentences should be your limit.

You can’t be too long because you don’t have time and you’re going to start making mistakes. So now, the details. Very important to have lots of details. Why is this topic important to your overall idea of your essay? Not only tell me what is the topic, what is the thesis statement of the paragraph, make sure you explain to me why this is important to the general idea of the essay.

Give me your reasons. Now, why is it important? And then reasons, why you think what you’re saying supports this idea. Examples, always use examples because giving me the reasons is okay; examples make me see exactly what you’re trying to say. Very easy for me to understand what you’re trying to say. Now, in terms of flow, in terms of the way the reader can approach the paragraph, you have to have bridges.

What is, what do bridges mean? Basically, when you have one idea in this sentence, you must connect it to the next sentence, you must connect it to the next sentence. Every sentence must have a link to the next sentence. This creates flow, makes it much easier to read and understand, and it keeps you on the one topic. Now, key terms.

If you’re talking about something specific and you have to use a key term, use it as many times as you need to. Otherwise, avoid repetition. Try not to use the same word more than once in one paragraph. Okay?

For example: if you’re using the word “moreover” in the paragraph, don’t use it, don’t use “moreover” again — use “in addition to”, use “furthermore”, “another”, etc. Try to avoid using one word more than once, especially in the same paragraph. But sometimes you’ll get words, like for example you’re writing an essay about parents. Not many words you can replace for “parents” so if you have to say “parents”, “parents”, “parents”, “parents”, so be it, do that.

Once in a while: “mom and dad”, “mother and father” but you don’t want to add like “mother and father” three words, “parents” one word. Shorter is better, so keep that in mind. At the end of your paragraph when you’re coming to the end, if this is part of your body — means there’s another paragraph coming — leave me some sort of bridge to the next paragraph.

Or if you can’t do that, then just conclude the paragraph, make sure it’s a very clear statement that this idea is finished; I’m done talking about this idea and then start your next paragraph with some bridge to the previous one. So one paragraph connects to the next paragraph. Same idea with flow: sentence connects to sentence, paragraph connects to paragraph.

Okay? Now of course the easiest way to understand all this is to look at an actual paragraph and see all these points in it. Okay? So let’s do that. Okay, don’t be scared.

This is a paragraph. Okay? First, before we do anything, let me read it to you so in case you can’t see it clearly.

“Great changes require a powerful hand to guide them and push them forward. Governments have the power and influence of the law to support them. Moreover, they have access to means with which to enforce the law and punish offenders. Individuals and corporations that pollute our air and waters will not stop doing so as long as they can profit from this action and do not fear consequences.

A steel producer, for instance, will not cease dumping waste in a nearby river if it does not affect its bottom line. Taxing this company, on the other hand, might make it change its way of doing business. Yet, it is this very question of costs that limits anyone but the government to act against pollution.”

Okay, here’s my paragraph. First of all, let me back up a little bit. My essay, what is my essay about? General topic: pollution. What is the question?

Who is responsible to fix it? I say government is responsible to fix it. I suggested three reasons in my introduction: power, cost, credibility. Okay? This is my first body paragraph. I listed three reasons: power, cost, credibility.

My first paragraph will also be my first reason mentioned. I mentioned power in my introduction, I will talk about power in my first paragraph. Okay?

So first of all, I have my indent, okay? I prefer indent, some people prefer spacing. But to be honest, figure out what style guide your professor or your company or whoever is asking you to use. There is MLA, APA, Chicago Manual of Style, each of them will tell you how to do this; to indent or to leave a line, etc., capitalization. Style guides are actually very good sources of learning English.

Very boring books, but very useful books. Okay. Oh sorry, let me just mention also: OWL, OWL at Perdue is a very good website; lots of information to help you with writing. Okay, so I have my indent. Now, “Great changes require a powerful hand to guide them and push them forward.” Have I said anything here?

No. All I did was talk about change because that’s what my general topic of the essay is, and power because that’s my first focus, I’m going to talk about the power. Okay? Very, very general. “Governments have the power and influence of the law”, so now here we go, I had… Where’d I go?

“Powerful” and I’m still talking about power. I’m connecting the two sentences. Next, I introduce a new idea: “the law”. Much more specific. Where does their power come from?

It comes from the law. “…influence of the law to support them. Moreover,” now, I’m not going to a new idea; I’m adding to this idea that I just mentioned. “…they have access to means” – means ways of doing things – “with which to enforce the law”. So here, again, another idea.

Enforce means put into effect, make sure that it actually happens. “…enforce the law and punish offenders.” So they have the power of the law, with this power they can enforce and punish. Everything, I’m connecting everything to everything. Offenders, now here I’m talking about offenders. “Individuals and corporations that pollute”, these are the offenders.

So one sentence flows into the next sentence, into the next sentence. “…pollute our air and waters will not stop doing so as long as they can profit”. Okay? So here’s my next idea. They will not stop polluting because we’re still talking about pollution. Okay?

They will not, as long as they can profit, as long as they’re making money. Why do people pollute? Because it pays to pollute.

“…action and do not fear consequences.” So they don’t fear punishment and the law doesn’t scare them. Okay? And again, we’re still talking about pollution. “A steel producer, for instance,” I’m introducing an example.

Okay? If you can introduce a real example like the name of the steel company, even better. But I don’t want to offend anyone; I’m keeping it a little bit more general. “The steel producer will not cease”, now before… Here’s the word “stop”, I don’t want to use the word “stop” again.

Why? Because I have other words. I have the word “cease”, “cease” means “stop”.

Okay? Vocabulary variety very important. “…will not cease dumping” – it means throwing in or throwing away – “waste in a nearby river” – waste, pollution, I’m still on the same topic – “…if it does not affect its bottom line.” Now I’m not sure if everybody knows what “bottom line” is, but “bottom line” basically means “profit”. I’m still connecting the ideas using different words.

“Taxing this company”, so taxing is a form of punishment for companies especially. “Taxing this company, on the other hand,” – so now I’m giving the other side of the situation – “might make it change its way of doing business.” Again, what is business? Business is all about making money, costs.

“Yet, it is this very question of costs” – and I’m connecting it. Where? Sorry, to business – “that limits anyone but the government to act against pollution.” I bring it right back to government acting against pollution.

This is my overall thesis: governments must act to stop pollution. Right? So remember: the paragraph, everything must connect to itself, but the paragraph must connect to the essay, to the whole idea.

Now, what else did I do here? I introduced the topic of “costs”. What is my next paragraph going to be? Remember: I had three reasons for thinking government must act; power, costs, credibility.

My next paragraph is costs. I’ve already introduced this idea, I’ve started the bridge. In the next paragraph, I will end the bridge, get into my new topic. Costs and power are two different ideas.

One paragraph: power, one paragraph: cost, one paragraph: credibility, and then of course your conclusion. Okay? So you have all these things, everything connects, sentence variety.

Make sure that you’re sticking to one topic, make sure you’re preparing the reader for the next topic, and make sure that everything connects to the overall idea of the essay. Okay? If you need some more help with this and you have some more questions, go to www.engvid.com.

You can leave me a comment and I will get back to you. There will also be a little bit of a quiz there to make sure you understand all this. Excuse me.

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