Paragraph Writing

<span style=”color: #000000;”>By Pea Green

Most people don’t know it, but printers invented the paragraph. Before the printing press (circa 1450), all books were handwritten. The scribes who drew the books embellished them with colorful hand-painted illuminations and wrote in different styles of calligraphy so the reader’s eye was drawn on from one line to the next and everyone was relatively happy with the reading arrangement. However, when Johannes Gutenburg invented movable type, and offset printing became possible, there were no longer any variations in the typeface and every letter in a word looked exactly the same each time it was printed. The absence of the scribes’ paintings and numerous unique calligraphic handwriting style made the text harder to read. Printed writing before the paragraph and other conventions were invented looked so:





With no change in font style (calligraphy letter style) nor scribes’ illuminations, text was just printed in blocks like the one above. Finally, printers began to decorate their pages with signs and symbols like #, &, and *, many of which are still in use. One symbol, the pilkrow, or what we know as the paragraph symbol, was often strewn throughout these passages to break up the solid blocks of type:





Since it was also possible for printers to indent the text, it eventually became the custom to indent where the paragraph sign was, and the modern day paragraph, that so vexes writers unto today, was born. Writers soon began using the paragraph spacing convention, so handy and already present in the text, to introduce new subjects.

Nowadays, we don’t always indent because we might be using block style, so we signal the paragraph’s end with a space between paragraphs which means the same thing as an indention does. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that American rhetoricians developed the idea of the topic sentence, and with that idea, the paragraph was fully realized as a formal writing unit. Next scholars developed the idea of the introductory, developmental, transitional, dialogue, concluding, and narrative paragraphs as these types of paragraphs also were developed into fully functional units of composition. Despite all of this parsing and renaming, paragraphs are defined simply as a group of sentences used to develop one main idea.

Use this funnel to help write an introductory paragraph.

The introductory, transitional, developmental, and summary or conclusion paragraphs are the workhorses of the standard essay. Paragraphs may be developed by example, contrast, comparison, analogy, statistics, definition, and through analysis of structure, function, process, classification, and cause/effect. All well–written paragraphs, the only kind anyone wants really, must have unity, order, coherence, completeness, and appropriate style. Perfectly good paragraphs are both long and longer. The best guideline for getting the length right in your paragraphs is that each paragraph should contain exactly as many sentences and words as you needed to clearly express your ideas, and not one word longer or shorter.

To successfully write a well-developed paragraph, begin with a topic sentence. The topic sentence is like the road map of the paragraph because it names or implies the direction the paragraph will take and the information it will contain. Take as long as necessary to write a good topic sentence.

After your topic sentence is written, use this multi-use, generic paragraph template suitable for all paragraph writing. Note that the number of sentences and length of the paragraph are optional. Deeper subjects usually require more developing sentences, more supporting detail and evidence, and this results in longer paragraphs. Unless you are told otherwise, don’t worry about length. Fill your writing with necessary appropriately organized content. Complete the following paragraph writing exercise by replacing the sentences written in black ink with sentences of your own that follow the directions printed in green ink.

  1. Topic sentence naming or implying the subtopics in the paragraph’s content: I love my husband because he catches fish, cooks fish, and cleans the kitchen. 2.Transitional sentence that leads in to the first developing/supporting sentence or a sentence that simply states the first subtopic of catching fish: My husband catches fish at the nearby lake. 3. One or two sentences that further develop or support the topic sentence’s point/subtopic: The fish my husband catches are large and fresh. 4. Another one or two optional sentences that develop or support the subtopic with detail or evidence: My husband’s fish are crappie or bass most of the time with an occasional catfish. 5. An optional transitional sentence that leads the reader from one subtopic to the next: After catching the fish, my husband cleans them. 6. Transitional sentence that leads in to the second developing/supporting sentence or that simply states the second subtopic of cooking fish: My husband knows how to clean fresh fish because he is a great cook. 7. One or two sentences that further develop or support the topic sentence’s next point/subtopic: He has been cleaning and cooking food since the turn of the century. 8. Another one or two optional sentences that develop or support the subtopic with detail or evidence: My husband’s mother was a restaurant cook who taught him about cooking fish. 9. An optional transitional sentence that leads the reader from one subtopic to the next: In addition to cooking fish, my husband is also a diligent housekeeper in his spare time. 10. Transitional sentence that leads in to the third developing/supporting sentence or that simply states the third subtopic of cleaning the kitchen: After we eat the fresh fish he cleans and cooks for us, he also cleans the kitchen like he was Mr. Clean himself. 11. One or two sentences that further develop or support the topic sentence’s points/subtopics: He washes all the dishes. He sweeps the kitchen floor and buses the dining table after dinner. 12. Another one or two optional sentences that develop or support the subtopic with detail or evidence: He also carries the fish guts down to the holler and dumps them so our yard doesn’t stink or attract night creatures. 13. An optional transitional sentence that leads the reader into the concluding sentence: My husband has many practical housekeeping skills that he learned from his mother. 14. A beautiful concluding sentence that both reminds and summarizes the point of this paragraph, and in the case of essay writing, that prepares the reader for the next paragraph: I will always love my husband for many reasons, not the least of which are the care he gives me when he works around the house to make our lives better.

Please note that the paragraphing in novels and other pieces of writing demonstrates the range of paragraph length. Be mindful of how much you may learn just looking at books. When you are casting about for information on how to do any kind of writing, nothing has more answers than a book or an article written about a topic similar to your topic.  You can use other people’s writing as a model to pattern our own work. There is nothing wrong with looking at other people’s examples to get ideas of your own.  It is actually a time-honored practice.  However, you may not copy anything into your own writing unless you give credit to the author, and that is another article entirely.

Here is an exercise more appropriate for beginning learners.

This visual can be combined with the paragraph writing prompts that follow to create a writing assignment.
This visual can be combined with the paragraph writing prompts that follow to create a writing assignment.
Copy and hand out this worksheet.
Copy and hand out this worksheet.

Paragraph writing prompts

  1. My grandma/grandpa
  2. My favorite activity
  3. The best day of my life was when. . . .
  4. The worst day of my life was when I. . . .
  5. I am sure glad I helped out when. . . .
  6. What I am proudest of is my. . . .
  7. For fun, I like to. . . .

As always, Beloved Readers, live long and prosper.


For a complete list of prompts, click here.

Books to buy to learn paragraph development:






Essential Knowledge Elements for English Composition

[caption id=”attachment_165align=”alignleftwidth=”58″]Seshet, Egyptian goddess of wisdom, knowledge and writing, click picture to buy Seshet, Egyptian goddess of writing, click picture to buy[/caption]

If you can master this brief list of the essential knowledge elements of English composition.  It is trickier than it may look. This list was developed by Dr. Oliver D. Hensley and I some years past.  I was interested in its application as an education aid for college-level composition courses, while Hensley was interested in using it as a piece of his taxonomy of the essential knowledge elements of each field of study.  Dr, Hensley posits that all fields of knowledge could be categorized, organized and stored in cyberspace most efficiently if those fields are distilled into their essential elements.  Long before Google, Dr. Hensley believed that all knowledge stored in cyberspace should be accessible with no more than 12 keystrokes.

Now, what are these knowledge elements good for?  All writing, from the word level to the most lofty academic treatise, can be efficaciously produced if the writer knows the meaning of each of these terms.  Writers with an interest in writing contests, scientific writing, writing blogs, or even just journal writing or creative writing, just about any writer writing anything, can get the job done well and efficiently if s/he first masters this list!

Essential Knowledge Elements (EKE’s) for Efficacy in English Composition

  1. Abstract and abstract
  2. Acronym
  3. Alliteration
  4. Anagram
  5. Antonym
  6. Audience/purpose
  7. Bibliography
  8. Cadence/Rhythm
  9. Cause and Effect Analysis
  10. Citation
  11. Clarity
  12. Classification/Division
  13. Cliché
  14. Coherence
  15. Colon
  16. Comma
  17. Comma Splice
  18. Comparison/Contrast
  19. Complex Sentence
  20. Composition
  21. Composition Theory
  22. Compound Complex Sentence
  23. Compound Sentence
  24. Confused Words
  25. Connotation
  26. Content
  27. Continuity
  28. Contrast
  29. Controversial
  30. Coordination
  31. Dangling Modifier
  32. Definition
  33. Development
  34. Declarative
  35. Definition
  36. Denotation
  37. Dependent Clause
  38. Description
  39. Documentation
  40. Editing
  41. Email
  42. Emotional Appeal
  43. Emphasis
  44. Essay
  45. Ethos
  46. Exclamation Mark
  47. Exclamatory
  48. Exemplification
  49. Five Paragraph Essay Structure
  50. Fluency
  51. Format
  52. Humor
  53. Hyperbole
  54. IKWID
  55. Imperative
  56. Independent Clause
  57. Interrogative
  58. Introduction
  59. Italics
  60. Journal
  61. Language manipulation
  62. Logic
  63. Logos
  64. Misplaced Modifier
  65. Mood
  66. Narration
  67. Noun
  68. Organization
  69. Parallelism
  70. Parenthesis
  71. Paraphrase
  72. Pathos
  73. Period
  74. Persuasion
  75. Phrase
  76. Plagiarism
  77. Process Analysis Essay
  78. Pronoun
  79. Pronoun Agreement
  80. Pronoun Antecedent
  81. Pronoun Reference
  82. Proofreading
  83. Propaganda
  84. Quotation
  85. Redundancy/Deadwood
  86. Reliability
  87. Revision
  88. Re-Writing
  89. Rhetoric
  90. Rhetorical Modes
  91. Runtogether Sentence
  92. Sarcasm
  93. Semi-colon
  94. Sentence Categories
  95. Sentence Fragment
  96. Sentence Structure
  97. Sentence Types
  98. Sentence Variety
  99. Sexist Language
  100. Simple Sentence
  101. Structure
  102. Style
  103. Subject
  104. Subject/theme
  105. Subject-Verb Agreement
  106. Subordination
  107. Subtlety
  108. Synonym
  109. Theme/subject
  110. Thesis
  111. Text
  112. Textual support
  113. Timeliness
  114. Title
  115. Tone
  116. Topic Sentence
  117. Transition
  118. Transitional Words
  119. Trite
  120. Understatement
  121. Verb
  122. Voice/tone
  123. Word Choice
  124. Word Economy

We suggest that you keep a writing notebook with all of these terms written in with their definitions (handwriting a fact makes you many more times more likely to recall it later).