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Language Arts

Paragraph



The structure and makeup of a paragraph has changed somewhat with new technology and methods of communication. Read this article to learn more about how paragraph writing has changed in formal writing, dialogue, email, and instant messages.

In the days before electronic communication, writing paragraphs with a topic sentence and supporting sentences was necessary in essays, reports, and letters, making it an important skill used frequently. Today, with a variety of forms of communication that didn’t exist then, it is important to think of the paragraph more flexibly. This article places the paragraph in the context of modern communication.

General Information About Paragraphs in Essays and Other Formal Writing

In formal writing - whether essays, reports, or letters - paragraphs still often have a topic sentence which states the main idea of the paragraph and supporting sentences that add substance. Usually, though not always, the topic sentence is first, and the supporting paragraphs follow, though it is also possible to use supporting sentences to build up to the topic sentence and to arrange paragraphs in other ways.

In this type of writing, we can talk about at least three types of paragraphs. Introductory paragraphs are used to introduce a topic, they are usually the first (and sometimes second or more) paragraphs in a piece of writing and help familiarize the reader with the topic and the writer’s goals. The body paragraphs are the paragraphs in which the writer works through whatever task it is the goal of the piece of writing to accomplish. Finally, the author ends with a concluding paragraph.

Paragraphs are sometimes categorized in other ways. Sometimes they are distinguished as persuasive, descriptive, narrative, and expressive depending on their function. But there are times when paragraphs may combine more than one of these functions, depending on the writer’s purpose.

The supporting sentences may do different tasks:

  • offer examples to support the topic sentence
  • provide data that substantiate the topic sentence
  • explain the sequence of events that the topic sentence names
  • describe in detail the subject of the topic sentence

There are various styles for formatting a paragraph in these types of writing. One style uses an indented first line, with all the other lines flush left. Another style uses justified lines through out paragraphs, with double spacing in between paragraphs. The style you use is usually guided by the

Paragraphs in a News Story

The first paragraph is a news story has a special function and also a special name. It is called the lead or lede paragraph. Sometimes the lede is one sentence and sometimes it may be as many as three, but it is usually 25 words or less and captures the essence of the story. The job of the lede is to convey the essential facts in such a way as to keep the reader engaged, or - if the reader is only reading ledes, not having time to peruse entire stories - to give the reader the gist and heart of the story in a nutshell. However many sentences it is, the lede is formatted as a paragraph, and in many journalism settings nowadays, it is not unusual to see one-sentence paragraphs.

Dialogue

In written dialogue, the standard for paragraphs is different than in other writing. The speaker’s words, with or without an identifying tag, depending on whether it is needed in the context, is enough to make a paragraph. A new speaker always should be reflected by a new paragraph beginning, but how to format a longer speech - whether it should be one paragraph or several - is more a matter of taste and up to the writer.

Email

People treat email differently. Some write in it as they would in letters. Others craft much briefer communications with very short paragraphs. Because much email is read on the fly, if this is how it is likely to be read, you may want to keep your paragraphs down to 1-3 sentences. Watch your correspondent’s style for clues about what she or he may favor.

Instant Messages

The nature of this medium, and the very small writing space, tends to lead people to write more briefly and to treat sentences as paragraphs. It is worth considering whether this format is the best way to communicate about the topic you want to discuss before beginning a conversation, because exchanges are likely to be terse and frequently interrupted, unless you work very hard to make them otherwise.

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