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Standards of Academic Writing: Effective Paragraphs

March 16, 2021| Category: Writing Tips

In the Standard English language, paragraphs as the blocks of research or intellectual arguments constitute all texts. According to academic writing rules, there is a package of related ideas focused on one thought presented by a set of sentences. A common sequence of the sentences in a typical paragraph is A Topic Sentence, the Body, Tokens, and the Final Wrap.

Paragraph Constituents

Topic sentence

The key mission of a topic’ sentence is to open the paragraph and inform readers about the key focus as well as a new subject covered in this particular section. A ‘signpost’ mode of writing lets the writer give a clue to readers without any linking backward to the previously covered material. Instead, you link ideas with the help of the final ‘wrap’ sentences. So, instead of looking back with such linking words as ‘moreover,’ ‘furthermore,’ ‘in addition,’ ‘however,’ ‘nevertheless,’ you should give a signal of a new key point.
You have to be careful with this topic aspect, as readers expect to see that the ideas flow fluently and smoothly. The thoughts should progress naturally with some prompts given to readers. What you should avoid is a full-size guide or preview of the next paragraph.

Body sentence

The purpose of ‘body’ sentences is to give the key argument of this particular paragraph. If you are working on a research paper, these sentences should cover the required reasoning, description of the obtained results, and development of the implications. Moreover, they should present elaboration of the themes, explanations of the theoretical aspects, and elucidating the formulae. The sentences of the body build the core in the stream of ideas.

Token sentence

Typically, writers insert tokens in the research to support the core arguments with valid back-ups. There is no specific location for the ‘token’ sentences in a paragraph. Usually, they are scattered among the body sentences where they are of the greatest value. Token sentences typically contain references, examples, supporting statistics, and quotations. Additionally, they may serve as ‘attention points’ in the form of diagrams, charts, tables, and exhibits with corresponding analysis. To a certain extent, these sentences are digressive in terms of inherent nature. The reason behind this is their capability to lead readers away from the key ideas of this particular paragraph. Therefore, it is essential to ensure due management of writing token sentences, particularly if you write several sentences in a sequence without body sentences in between.

Wrap sentence

The main objective of the final type of sentences, known as ‘wrap’ ones, is to unite the argument of the paragraph. These sentences should add significant value to the presented argument, being immensely constructive. There should be no repetitions, but the sentences should create links to the following paragraphs.

Readers’ Perception of a Paragraph

Rational readers view different paragraphs in a different way. Looking forward to the fastest possible understanding and appreciation of the obtained information, they always focus on the topic sentences and wrap sentences. Skimming readers are well aware of this speed reading technique. Afterward, getting back to the body sentences in the paragraph, they look at token sentences and only then proceed to the remaining parts. What they need is understanding of the paragraph, so they skip the exposition materials difficult for understanding. They do not try to decipher tough formulae either. Instead, they get an intuitive insight into the content and save their time.

Therefore, the paragraph will be effective if you write the sentences at the very beginning and end with the utmost care. One of the valuable pieces of advice for the writers is to single out those two sentences and match them. It follows that you should spend most of your time on writing effective beginnings and endings of paragraphs. Try to separate these two sentences and look at them together. You have to pay special attention to their substantiality, informative nature, overall flow, as well as potential improvements.

Six Typical Problems in Building an Effective Paragraph

What might go wrong when an inexperienced writer is working on the text paragraphs?

The sentences at the beginning of the paragraph do not give a fresh idea.

Instead, the writer provides a link to the already mentioned materials and ideas. It may happen that readers will skim the text and merely skip this section, as it will look as continuation of the previous one or its replication. Readers might be confused if they get down to reading this paragraph since they will not be able to figure out what the writer wants to tell them about. Thus, it will be tough for them to understand whether the first sentence of the paragraph is a topic one or it just continues the previous ideas from the preceding section.

The beginning of the paragraph is too formal, unsubstantial, non-informative, or it has a ‘throat-clearing’ nature.

For example, an average writer may start a new paragraph with a discussion of some problem, issue, or method which is related to the argument, but the connection is vague. The writer hides the actual topic sentence and readers have to get into the middle of the paragraph to realize what it is about. It is crucial to let readers gain an insight into the essence of the paragraph from a quick glance. If the first sentence is confusing, it will be natural for readers just to skip it and lose the focus. Even in case they keep reading, they may misinterpret the hidden topic sentence and then lose any relation with a wrap sentence that may appear as unjustified or irrelevant.

The first sentence of the paragraph contains the reference to another author.

If the paragraph starts like this, “Watson (2009) claims … (p. 567)” it means that the author lacks confidence and is not sure whether the main idea of the text is right. A typical mistake of postgrad students is to apply this manner of presenting ideas to several paragraphs in their research papers. As a result, writers devote a lot of pages in their original research to the contributions of other scholars.

Writers might start each paragraph with a reference to a researcher in a desire to convince readers that they have read a lot on the topic and their literature review is thorough. However, it is a completely wrong approach. Seeing the name of a different researcher at the very beginning of the section or paragraph, readers will conclude that the paragraph or even the whole section is a derivative work. Hence, a reaction of the critical audience will be to move on, having skipped repetitive paragraphs without any notice of the presented ideas.

It is easy to address this problem by making a focus not on the individual researchers but the approaches of schools of thought in terms of controversial issues. After composing a concise and clear topic sentence, you should provide the explanation of the key ideas of certain schools. Consequently, you should make references to the names of the corresponding authors at the end of the particular sentences of the body.

An abrupt stop of a paragraph typically happens as a writer suddenly realizes that the length of the section is excessive.

With multiplied token sentences, the exhibit analysis and example exposition planned to be brief get more and more extensive. Often, the emergency stop is made as a result of certain enforcement and the required wrap sentences appear at the beginning of the following paragraph. Thus, the initial paragraph has a Topic sentence, Body sentences, and Tokens in sequence, but the wrap sentences are missing. The following paragraph begins with the wrap sentence from the previous section with the topic sentence located in the wrong way. Thus, readers get confused and cannot differentiate between the end of paragraphs, tokens, and body sentences which lead to no wrap again.

The wrap sentence gives a hint about the ideas of the following sentence, although it is a wrong approach and paragraph two is completely misinterpreted. Readers get a certain puzzle which they cannot guess and they feel that the promises they have been given are wasted. It frequently happens that the whole paragraph is skipped, as readers may believe that they will only find repetitive ideas in the paragraph.

Excessively long paragraphs may extend even for more than 300 words, while the acceptable range for serious research papers is approximately twice shorter.

The multiplied tokens get out of the allowed limits. It is not complicated to address this issue, but as tokens are partly digressive, writers are not willing to work on new paragraphs that will reveal new ideas. While writers analyze complex exhibits or attention points, which they develop for easy understanding, it frequently happens that token sentences blur with the body to make up new text with a key argument that readers cannot easily distinguish.

It is essential to get a swift solution to excessively long paragraphs. As soon as the paragraph gets longer than 250 words, it is high time to divide it into two. Thus, each of the parts should have a structure of an effective paragraph with its topic sentence, body, tokens, and wrap sentences. In some cases, it may be problematic to resolve the problem of an excessive exhibit or token. That makes an author to opt for partial digression that will lead to smooth presentation of ideas. Provided that the number of words in a paragraph is in the range from 200 to 250 words, it is possible to approve this paragraph under the condition that the wrap sentence is able to ensure reconnection of readers to the topic sentence at the beginning.

Paragraphs can be excessively short. 

If a paragraph in research papers contains fewer than 100 words or comprises a single sentence, the paragraph is not effective. Typically, looking at short paragraphs on a printed research paper or journal page, readers will not consider them convincing or containing any argument. Such writers underestimate the value of building blocks for the argument in the form of paragraphs. Being not confident in the content, the author may shorten paragraphs. This approach demonstrates that the writer has not worked on presenting the points, fitting the ideas together, or proper sequencing.

The problem is that some writers do not acknowledge that there are certain miscellanies of ideas. Some of the short paragraphs could be efficient as a part of longer ones. In fact, merging is a great idea when it goes about the nearby paragraphs presenting some lists or sequences. Consequently, they will keep the idea and develop it better, being incorporated into another section.

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