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How to use paragraphs in English

By Matthew, February 06 2014, 07:08
Paragraphendschungel 218/365 by Dennis Skley via Flickr
You must use paragraphs in English to make your writing clear. Learn how.

When you write, it is important to use paragraphs. Paragraphs make your writing easier to understand. A reader can follow your ideas when you divide them up into paragraphs. Your writing will be more organised and have better structure. If you do not use paragraphs, your writing seems unprofessional or immature.

What is a paragraph?

A paragraph is a group of sentences about one topic. It is a block of writing. Paragraphs should look like this:

Tokyo has many islands,  which extend as farasjdhsad asdjh  as 1850 km from central Tokyo.    Because of the islands' distance from the centre  The Izu Islands are a group of vosadkjhas dlcanic islands.  Tha Islands include, from o south,  Chichi-jima, Nishinoshima, Haha-jima,  jima, Nishinoshima, Hadsfjkhds flksdhf sdffkjhsd fsdf

Tokyo has masajkdhg asdsa dny islands,  which extend as m central Tokyo.    Because of the islands' distance from the centre  The Izu Islands are a group of vosadkjhas dlcanic islands.  Tha Islands include, from o south,  jima, Nishinoshima, Hadsfjkhds flksdhf sdffkjhsd fsdf

Do not write every sentence, or phrase, on a new line like this:

Tokyo has many islands,
which extend as far as 1850 km from central Tokyo.
Because of the islands' distan the centre

The Izu Islands are a group of volcanic islands.
The Ogasawara Islands include, from north to south,

Chichi-jima, Nishinoshima, Haha-jima,

Writing like this is not good, and very difficult to read smoothly. It is bad style and technique in English to write like this.

We show a paragraph in two different ways using space:

  1. with an indent (putting space at the beginning of the first line of the paragraph):

          Tokyo has many islands, which extend as far as 1850 km from central Tokyo. Because of the islands' distance from the centre of the city, local offices administer them.
          The Izu Islands are a group of volcanic islands and form part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. The islands in order from closest to Tokyo are Izu Oshima, Toshima, Niijima, Shikinejima, Kozushima, Miyakejima, Mikurajima, Hachijojima, and Aogashima.
          The Ogasawara Islands include, from north to south, Chichi-jima, Nishinoshima, Haha-jima, Kita Iwo Jima, Iwo Jima, and Minami Iwo Jima. Ogasawara also administers two tiny outlying islands: Minami Torishima, the easternmost point in Japan and at 1,850 km the most distant island from central Tokyo, and Okino Torishima, the southernmost point in Japan.
     

  2. with a line between paragraphs:

    Tokyo has many islands, which extend as far as 1850 km from central Tokyo. Because of the islands' distance from the centre of the city, local offices administer them.
                         
    The Izu Islands are a group of volcanic islands and form part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. The islands in order from closest to Tokyo are Izu Oshima, Toshima, Niijima, Shikinejima, Kozushima, Miyakejima, Mikurajima, Hachijojima, and Aogashima.
                         
    The Ogasawara Islands include, from north to south, Chichi-jima, Nishinoshima, Haha-jima, Kita Iwo Jima, Iwo Jima, and Minami Iwo Jima. Ogasawara also administers two tiny outlying islands: Minami Torishima, the easternmost point in Japan and at 1,850 km the most distant island from central Tokyo, and Okino Torishima, the southernmost point in Japan.

Remember that space is very important in English writing.

Paragraph structure

A paragraph should have this structure: topic; middle; and conclusion.

I love Kyoto in the spring. In the spring, it is beautiful there. It is the season that the sakura bloom, so the city turns pink. The pink flowers and old buildings make the city look magical. That is the reason Kyoto in the spring is unforgettable.

A paragraph is like a mini-essay. It should have an introduction, a middle and a conclusion. The introduction tells the reader the topic—this is called the "topic sentence". The middle supports the topic and explains your idea. The last part of the paragraph should conclude.

How to write a paragraph

There is one golden rule when you write a paragraph: each paragraph should have only one idea.

All together, a good paragraph should have five main features:

  1. Focus—the paragraph should have one main idea. You should not change the topic in a paragraph. For example, don't start a paragraph by talking about money and finish by talking about Kyoto in the spring. The focus comes from a good topic sentence;
  2. A topic sentence—you need to say in one sentence what the paragraph is about. Most of the time, the topic sentence comes first. It introduces the paragraph and says, "This paragraph is about this topic";
  3. Good development—a paragraph supports its topic. After you introduce the topic, you should explain your idea with examples, data and other information;
  4. Flow—inside the paragraph, each sentence should flow to the next. There should be a connections between the point of each sentence in meaning and in language. For example: "I love Kyoto in the spring. In the spring, it is beautiful there. It is the season that the sakura bloom, so the city turns pink. The pink flowers and old buildings make the city look magical. That is the reason Kyoto in the spring is unforgettable"; and
  5. An ending sentence—the last sentence in your paragraph should be a mini-conclusion. It tells people what you said in the paragraph, and helps you to flow into the next paragraph. These are also called "transitions".

Topic sentences

Good writing says everything very clearly. If you want to be a good writer, you need to make sure that your reader understands exactly what you want to say. A topic sentence helps you to be clear. They can be difficult to write. Make sure that your topic sentence says the main idea of the paragraph.

How to create connections in meaning and language

In point three above, we said that each sentence should flow to the next, using connections in meaning and in language. To do that you can use a few different ways:

  1. Use the same topic or idea for a few sentences (like above when we talk about Kyoto in the spring, then the colour pink);
  2. Use the same form of language (like when we repeat "Kyoto in the spring");
  3. Repeat key words;
  4. Using words like "it" or "that" that connect to something you said before;
  5. Using connecting words and phrases like "therefore", "so", "however", "in this way", "on the contrary", "in addition" and so on.

Developing your idea

You need to support the topic of your paragraph with more information and explanation. You can do that in some different ways:

  • analyse;
  • describe;
  • tell a story;
  • give some data;
  • use examples;
  • use quotes or what other people say;
  • compare and contrast your topic with other things; or
  • give the reasons and causes.

When to start a new paragraph

You should start a new paragraph in these cases:

  • when you introduce a new idea or topic;
  • when you introduce a different side or part of a topic; or
  • to create a pause in your idea if it is long and complicated.

You should understand how to write a good paragraph now. If you have any questions, please leave a comment.

  • Matthew
    About me
    I am from New Zealand. I lived in Japan for a long time, but now I live in Brazil. I am the founder of Poligo. I like to play guitar and video games and surf when I get the chance. I have a wife and two boys.
    Experience
    I specialize in teaching English to professionals and English teachers. I have taught English since 2001 in Japan, New Zealand and Brazil. I speak Japanese & Portuguese. I am the founder of Poligo and The English Farm (an online school for business English).

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