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IN THIS UNIT: Intro to Paragraphs
Topic Sentences
Supporting Sentences
Concluding Sentences

A paragraph is a group of related sentences that discuss one (and usually only one) main idea. The number of sentences in a paragraph is unimportant; however, the paragraph should be long enough to develop the main idea clearly.

Aparagraph may stand by itself. In academic writing, you often write a paragraph to answer a test question. A paragraph, however, is generally part of a longer work, such as an essay or a book.

Paragraphs include a (1) topic sentence, (2) supporting sentences, and sometimes also a (3) concluding sentence.

The following model contains all the elements of a good paragraph.


Gold, aprecious metal, is prized for two important characteristics. First of all, gold a lustrous beauty that is resistant to corrosion. Therefore, it is suitable for jewelry, coins, and ornamental purposes. Gold never needs to be polished and will remain beautiful forever. For a example, a Macedonian coin remains as untarnished today as the day it was made 25 centuries ago. Another importantcharacteristic of gold is its usefulness to industry and science. For many years, it has been used in hundreds of industrial applications, such as photography and dentistry. The most recent use of gold is in astronaut’s suits. Astronauts wear gold-plated heat shields for protection when they work in space. In conclusion, gold is treasured not only for its beauty but also for its utility.

EXERCISE 1:Paragraph Elements

Re-read the paragraph above and then answer the following questions:

1. What is the topic of the paragraph?
2. What two points does the writer make about the topic?
3. What examples does the writer use to support each point?
4. In which two sentences does the writer say that there are two main points?

Other Kinds of Paragraphs

Let’slook at another example of a paragraph, this one by David Foster Wallace in his essay “Authority and American Usage”:

Fact: There are all sorts of cultural / geographical dialects of American English -- Black English, Latino English, Rural Southern, Urban Southern, Standard Upper-Midwest, East-Texas Bayou, Boston Blue-Collar, on and on. Everyone knows this. What not everyone knows --especially not certain prescriptivists -- is that many of these dialects have their own highly developed and internally consistent grammars, and that some of these dialects’ usage norms actually make more linguistic/aesthetic sense than do their Standard counterparts.
-- “Authority and American Usage,” in Consider the Lobster
by DavidFoster Wallace

This doesn’t seem to follow the rules at all. There’s no topic sentence as such. The first sentence SEEMS to be the topic sentence, followed by supporting evidence. But, in fact, that sentence is not the POINT of the paragraph. The point of the paragraph is the LAST sentence, and so should be the topic, except that here Wallace provides no supporting information.

The point hereis that there are a million ways to write a good paragraph, and the better writer one is, the more likely it is that one will play and experiment with the language. But before one can get to that point, one must FIRST completely dominate the “standard” or “conventional” forms first. As jazz great Charlie Parker noted:

“You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice,practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail ... Learn everything you can about music, then forget everything you've heard."
-- Charlie Parker, jazz saxophonist and composer

It’s the same for any discipline. So for the rest of the semester, we’re going to be looking at standard, conventional ways of writing....
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