01 Are paragraphs really necessary? / Task 1
02 Identifying the central idea in paragraphs / Task 2
03 Topic sentences / Task 3
04 Developing cohesion between and within paragraphs / Task 4
05 Organising principles in English texts
- 01 Are paragraphs really necessary?
Imagine if there were no paragraphs in texts. Would this have any impact on you as a reader?
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- 02 Identifying the central idea in paragraphs
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- 03 Topic sentences
Most paragraphs have a key sentence which introduces the central focus of the paragraph. This is usually referred to as the topic sentence. Most, but not all topic sentences come at the beginning of a paragraph. The paragraph should then go on to provide evidence to support the central thesis/statement/claim/ belief contained in the topic sentence. Evidence can be provided by referring to others' work (see section on referencing for advice about how to do this), or by giving examples, key facts or statistics.
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- 04 Developing cohesion between and within paragraphs
In order to successfully complete Task 3 above, you need not only to determine which sentences belong to which paragraph by identifying the central idea running through the sentences, but you also need to be able to link the sentences together in the most logical way.
The quality of linking disparate sentences together to form a whole is called cohesion. How is this achieved in effective writing? Let's look again at the section of text used in Task 3.
Why some people fail
The most common reason why people fail in tertiary study is because they do not manage their own learning adequately. They do not appropriately allocate their time nor keep an adequate balance within their lives. It is essential that you plan your time in terms of meeting your course requirements and preparing for exams. However, it is also important that you keep a realistic balance between study, family life and relationships and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Without that balance your stress levels will increase and this can be a primary contributor to academic failure.
Another major contributor to failure, apart from a lack of planning and balance, is poorly managed expectations. Put simply, don't place unrealistic expectations upon yourself, such as the work you can do, the standard of perfection at which you can do it, or the results you can achieve, and definitely do not allow others to place unrealistic expectations upon you. You are not in this life to meet other people's expectations: you are here to be the best you can in terms that are relevant to you. If you have an overall plan and you manage your time and resources efficiently, then you should meet your goals and failure simply won't be an issue.
As you look through the text, you can see that the most obvious way in which ideas can be linked together is through repetition of key vocabulary or use of synonyms (words with a similar meaning, eg essential and vital). In the above text, for example, the first sentence clearly connects to the title by repeating the phrase why people fail.
A writer can further connect sentences together by referring to the same subject or object. In the text above, for example, sentence 2 starts with the same subject pronoun (a pronoun is a word used in place of a noun) used in sentence 1, they, which relates back to the first mention of people who fail in tertiary study. As with use of synonyms, using pronouns instead of repeating exactly the same words in the noun phrase avoids too much repetition, ie they instead of people who fail again.
The second sentence contains two ideas which develop the central argument that those who fail are not successful at managing their learning in an adequate way. The two ideas are, firstly: They do not appropriately allocate their time and secondly: they do not keep an adequate balance within their lives.
The third sentence relates to the first idea: It is essential that you plan your time, while the fourth sentence relates to the second idea: it is also important that you keep a realistic balance. Notice also the way in which the two different ideas are linked together through the use of the word however, at the beginning of sentence 4 which introduces a contrast. The phrase it is also important echoes the phrase at the beginning of sentence 3 It is essential (note again the use of synonyms - important and essential to avoid repetition).
The final sentence of paragraph 1 uses the phrase that balance where the use of that clearly indicates to us that the word balance has been used in the sentence immediately preceding it.
The introduction of a new paragraph is signalled by the expression Another major contributor to failure, but it still links up with the preceding paragraph by re-expressing the two central ideas already mentioned: apart from a lack of planning and balance.
The second sentence again expands on the main focus of the first sentence by offering concrete examples of what is meant by the phrase, poorly managed expectations and repeats the key word, expectations. The second sentence goes on to develop this idea by adding a further dimension to the problem: definitely do not allow others to place unrealistic expectations upon you.
Once again, the third sentence expands on the idea already expressed in sentence 2, with: You are not in this life to meet other people's expectations. The final sentence acts as a mini-summary of the key ideas expressed in both paragraphs which comprise a section in the book entitled: Why some people fail. The author sums up her ideas by stating that if the advice is followed in this section of text, then failure in tertiary education can be avoided.
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- 05 Organising principles in English texts
In English, texts are generally organised according to the principle of General to Specific. In other words, general facts are followed by specific examples. This principle applies to whole texts as well as to paragraphs. (If you are an international student in particular, this principle may be very different from your usual way of structuring arguments and key ideas in a text, so please try to familiarise yourselves with this convention.)
Another organising principle is that texts should follow a chronological pattern, ie over time from the past to present to future.
Finally, it is most common for writers to take their readers from the unknown to the known. There is little point in telling your readers the results of your research until you have told them what you set out to find in the first place. In the same way, the nature of a problem is usually outlined before suggestions are given about how to solve it.
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