1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email

paragraph

By

paragraph
Definition:

A group of closely related sentences that develop a central idea. Adjective: paragraphic.

A paragraph conventionally begins on a new line, which is sometimes indented.

See also:

Examples of Paragraphs:

Etymology:

From the Greek, "to write beside"

Observations:

  • "A new paragraph is a wonderful thing. It lets you quietly change the rhythm, and it can be like a flash of lightning that shows the same landscape from a different aspect."
    (Isaac Babel, interviewed by Konstantin Paustovsky in "Isaac Babel Talks About Writing." The Nation, March 31, 1969)


  • An Effective Paragraph Criteria Chart
    - has one topic.
    - has a topic sentence.
    - has supporting sentences that give details or facts about the topic.
    - has vivid words.
    - does not have run-on sentences.
    - has sentences that make sense and stick to the topic.
    - has sentences that are in an order that makes sense.
    - has sentences that begin in different ways.
    - is made up of sentences that flow.
    - is mechanically correct--spelling, punctuation, capitalization, indentation.
    (Lois Laase and Joan Clemmons, Helping Students Write . . . the Best Research Reports Ever. Scholastic, 1998)


  • Topic Sentences in Paragraphs
    "Although the topic sentence is often the first sentence of the paragraph, it does not have to be. Furthermore, the topic sentence is sometimes restated or echoed at the end of the paragraph, although again it does not have to be. However, a well-phrased concluding sentence can emphasize the central idea of the paragraph as well as provide a nice balance and ending.

    "A paragraph is not a constraining formula; in fact, it has variations. In some instances, for example, the topic sentence is not found in a single sentence. It may be the combination of two sentences, or it may be an easily understood but unwritten underlying idea that unifies the paragraph. Nevertheless, the paragraph in most college writing contains discussion supporting a stated topic sentence . . .."
    (Lee Brandon, At a Glance: Paragraphs, 5th ed. Wadsworth, 2012)


  • "Rules" of Paragraphing
    "As an advanced writer, you know that rules are made to be broken. But that is not to say that these rules are useless. Sometimes it is good to avoid a one-sentence paragraph--it can sound too brisk and implies a lack of penetration and analysis. Sometimes, or perhaps most of the time, it is good to have a topic sentence. But the awful fact is that when you look closely at a professional writer's work, you will see that the topic sentence is often missing. In that case, we sometimes say it is implied, and perhaps that is true. But whether we want to call it implied or not, it is obvious that good writers can get along without topic sentences most of the time. Likewise, it is not a bad idea to develop only one idea in a paragraph, but frankly, the chance of developing several ideas often arises and sometimes doing so even characterizes the writing of professionals."
    (Lee A. Jacobus, Substance, Style, and Strategy. Oxford Univ. Press, 1998)


  • Strunk and White on Paragraph Length
    "In general, remember that paragraphing calls for a good eye as well as a logical mind. Enormous blocks of print look formidable to readers, who are often reluctant to tackle them. Therefore, breaking long paragraphs in two, even if it is not necessary to do so for sense, meaning, or logical development, is often a visual help. But remember, too, that firing off many short paragraphs in quick succession can be distracting. Paragraph breaks used only for show read like the writing of commerce or of display advertising. Moderation and a sense of order should be the main considerations in paragraphing."
    (William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White, The Elements of Style, 3rd ed. Allyn & Bacon, 1995)


  • Paragraph Length in Business and Technical Writing
    "A paragraph should be just long enough to deal adequately with the subject of its topic sentence. A new paragraph should begin whenever the subject changes significantly. A series of short, undeveloped paragraphs can indicate poor organization and sacrifice unity by breaking an idea into several pieces. A series of long paragraphs, however, can fail to provide the reader with manageable subdivisions of thought. Paragraph length should aid the reader's understanding of ideas."
    (Gerald J. Alred, Charles T. Brusaw, and Walter E. Oliu, The Business Writer's Handbook, 10th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2012)


  • The Paragraph as a Device of Punctuation
    "The paragraph is a device of punctuation. The indentation by which it is marked implies no more than an additional breathing space. Like the other marks of punctuation . . . it may be determined by logical, physical, or rhythmical needs. Logically it may be said to denote the full development of a single idea, and this indeed is the common definition of the paragraph. It is, however, in no way an adequate or helpful definition."
    (Herbert Read, English Prose Style. Beacon, 1955)


  • Scott and Denny's Definition of a Paragraph (1909)
    "A paragraph is a unit of discourse developing a single idea. It consists of a group or series of sentences closely related to one another and to the thought expressed by the whole group or series. Devoted, like the sentence, to the development of one topic, a good paragraph is also, like a good essay, a complete treatment in itself."
    (Fred Newton Scott and Joseph Villiers Denny, Paragraph-Writing: A Rhetoric for Colleges, rev. ed. Allyn and Bacon, 1909)


  • Development of the Paragraph in English
    - "The paragraph as we know it comes into something like settled shape in Sir William Temple [1628-1699]. It was the product of perhaps five chief influences. First, the tradition, derived from the authors and scribes of the Middle Ages, that the paragraph-mark distinguishes a stadium of thought. Second, the Latin influence, which was rather towards disregarding the paragraph as the sign of anything but emphasis--the emphasis-tradition being also of medieval origin; the typical writers of the Latin influence are Hooker and Milton. Third, the natural genius of the Anglo-Saxon structure, favorable to the paragraph. Fourth, the beginnings of popular writing--of what may be called the oral style, or consideration for a relatively uncultivated audience. Fifth, the study of French prose, in this respect a late influence, allied in its results with the third and fourth influences."
    (Edwin Herbert Lewis, The History of the English Paragraph, 1894)


    - "19c writers reduced the lengths of their paragraphs, a process that has continued in the 20c, particularly in journalism, advertisements, and publicity materials."
    (Tom McArthur, "Paragraph." The Oxford Companion to the English Language, 1992)
Pronunciation: PAR-ah-graf
  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Grammar & Composition
  4. Grammar & Rhetoric Glossary
  5. Paired Construction - Quotative
  6. paragraph - definition and examples of paragraphs in English

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.