Basic academic paragraph_structure

750 views

Published on

Published in: Education
  • Be the first to comment

Basic academic paragraph_structure

  1. 1. ACADEMIC PARAGRAPHS & STYLE A PARAGRAPH consists of several sentences that are grouped together to discuss one main subject. In typical formal academic English, paragraphs have three principal parts. These three parts are: TOPIC SENTENCE BODY SENTENCES CONCLUDING SENTENCE The Topic Sentence A topic sentence usually comes at the beginning of a paragraph; that is, it is usually the first sentence in a formal academic paragraph. Not only is a topic sentence the first sentence of a paragraph, but, more importantly, it is the most general sentence in a paragraph. What does "most general" mean? It means that there are not many details in the sentence, but that the sentence introduces an overall idea that you want to discuss later in the paragraph. For example, suppose that you want to write a paragraph about the natural landmarks of the place where you grew up. The first part of your paragraph might look like this: The place where I grew up, Parramatta, is famous for several important and impressive natural features. First, it is noted for the Paramattta River, which is well known for its role in Sydney’s early transport. Also, in the surrounding hills there were many suitable pasture lands for livestock and sheep farms. (Question – do your paragraphs need to be indented? What formats are there for paragraphs?) Note how the first sentence, The place where I grew up, Parramatta, is famous for several important and impressive natural features is the most general statement. This sentence is different from the two sentences that follow it, since the second and third sentences mention specific details about the town's features, and are not general statements. Here are some examples of sentences that cannot be used as topic sentences. Can you figure out why they are inappropriate? #1: My town is famous because it is located along the Parramatta River, which is well known for its role in Sydney’s early transport. Also, in the surrounding hills there were many suitable pasture lands for livestock and sheep farms #2: There are two reasons why some people like to buy cars with automatic transmission and two reasons why others like cars with manual transmission.
  2. 2. #3: Clouds are white. The problem with sentence #1 is that it contains too many details. Topic sentences are general, and details should appear later in the paragraph. A better topic sentence would be like the one mentioned above, The place where I grew up, Parramatta, is famous for several important and impressive natural features. Sentence #2 is not appropriate as a topic sentence because it mentions two topics, not just one. Paragraphs are usually about one main thing and so their topic sentences should also be about only one main thing. The problem with sentence #3 is that it is too general. It is also very simple (bordering on boring …). Sentences #2 and #3 can be re-written in the following ways to make them better: 
 There are two reasons why some people like to buy cars with automatic transmission. OR (in a different paragraph): There are two reasons why some people like cars with manual transmission. The shapes of clouds are determined by various factors. Supporting Sentences Consider again the above-mentioned, short paragraph: 
 The place where I grew up, Parramatta, is famous for several important and impressive natural features. First, it is noted for the Paramattta River, which is well known for its role in Sydney’s early transport. Also, in the surrounding hills there were many suitable pasture lands for livestock and sheep farms. When a reader reads a topic sentence, such as The place where I grew up, Parramatta, is famous for several important and impressive natural features, a question should usually arise in the reader's mind. In this case, the question should be like, "What are the natural features that make Parramatta famous?" The reader should then expect that the rest of the paragraph will give an answer to this question. Now look at the sentences after the topic sentence. We can see that the second sentence in the paragraph, First, it is noted for the Parramatta River, which is well known for its role in Sydney’s early transport indeed
  3. 3. gives an answer to this question. That is, the second sentence gives some explanation for the fact that this town is a famous town. Similarly, we can see that the third sentence also gives some explanation for the fact that Parramatta is famous by giving another example of an " important and impressive natural features," in this case, “many suitable pasture lands”. The second and third sentences are called supporting sentences. They are called "supporting" because they "support," or explain, the idea expressed in the topic sentence. Of course, paragraphs in English often have more than two supporting ideas. The paragraph above is actually a very short paragraph. At minimum, you should have at least five to seven sentences in your paragraph. Here we can see our paragraph about Parramatta with a few more supporting sentences in bold font: The place where I grew up, Parramatta, is famous for several important and impressive natural features. First, it is noted for the Paramattta River, which is well known for its role in Sydney’s early transport. Also, in the surrounding hills there were many suitable pasture lands for livestock and sheep farms. Another feature is the fact that the weather patterns over the region are mild and stable, which means that crops can also be grown when the pastures are not used for sheep or cattle. The Concluding Sentence In formal paragraphs you will sometimes see a sentence at the end of the paragraph which summarizes the information that has been presented. This is the concluding sentence. You can think of a concluding sentence as a sort of topic sentence in reverse. You can see how a concluding sentence operates with this example. The place where I grew up, Parramatta, is famous for several important and impressive natural features. First, it is noted for the Paramattta River, which is well known for its role in Sydney’s early transport. Also, in the surrounding hills there were many suitable pasture lands for livestock and sheep farms. Another feature is the fact that the weather patterns over the region are mild and stable, which means that crops can also be grown when the pastures are not used for sheep or cattle. These three natural features have always been important for Parramatta and have made it famous in Sydney’s history. Notice how the concluding sentence, These three natural features have always been important for Parramatta and have made it famous in Sydney’s history, summarises the information in the paragraph. Notice also how the concluding sentence is similar to, but not exactly the same as, the topic sentence. Not all academic paragraphs contain concluding sentences, especially if the paragraph is very short. However, if your paragraph is very long, it is a good idea to use a concluding sentence, and to say something which might lead the reader on to the next section (using transition signals).
  4. 4. Details in Paragraphs The short, simple paragraph used here is a fairly complete paragraph, but it lacks details. Whenever possible, you should include enough details in your paragraphs to help your reader understand exactly what you are writing about. You need to develop the topic with more information. In the paragraph about Parramatta, three important natural features are mentioned, but we do not know very much about them. They haven’t been developed. For example, we could add a sentence or two about the Parramatta River concerning HOW it was used it is or WHY it is called by that name. Consider this revision (and note the additional details in bold): 
 
 The place where I grew up, Parramatta, is famous for several important and impressive natural features. First, it is noted for the Paramattta River, which is well known for its role in Sydney’s early transport. The river channel, though relatively narrow, was deep enough to allow the early ships to be able to transport the people and to bring supplies. It was also good for tourists who saw the many eels swimming along the river (“parramatta” means ‘river of eels’ in the local aboriginal tribe’s language). Also, in the surrounding hills there were many suitable pasture lands for livestock and sheep farms. These hills were of the rolling type and were often divided by small creeks which fed fresh water into the main river. Another feature is the fact that the weather patterns over the region are mild and stable, which means that crops can also be grown when the pastures are not used for sheep or cattle. As a result, Parramatta was one of the main sources of food for the early settlers in Sydney Town and for the surrounding Cumberland Plain. These three natural features have always been important for Parramatta and have made it famous in Sydney’s history. As you can see I also added more details to the paragraph to describe the other important and impressive natural features of the area. Why are details important? Without supporting details, your paragraph would not be very interesting. 
 A Note on Formality In addition to having a particular kind of structure, academic paragraphs (and multi- paragraph essays) are different from many other kinds of writing (such as letter writing, narratives, recipes, procedural instructions etc etc) in that certain kinds of expressions are not allowed. For example, in formal essays, you should not use contractions such as don't or aren't. Instead, you should write out the words in full, for example, do not and are not.
  5. 5. Also, in formal essays many believe that traditionally, you should try to avoid the first and second person (controversial). That is, do not use the pronouns I or you. The pronouns we and us are sometimes used in formal writing in some major fields, but in general you should not use these unless you are certain that they are customary in your field and/or your professor allows them. It is safer simply to use the third person. A Note on Reporting/Citation Verbs You should try to vary the reporting verbs that you use in introducing the words, ideas and findings of other writers. Some verbs indicate a neutral attitude on the part of the writer, while others indicate the writer’s attitude – positive or negative - to what is being reported. Some verbs indicate your own attitude towards the validity of the writer’s work. Consider the following examples: Alami (2002) reports that there are great cost savings to be derived from outsourcing. Wong (2003) claims that the negative impact of job losses incurred by outsourcing will outweigh the apparent economic benefits. Nguyen (2004) shows that the negative impact of job losses incurred by outsourcing outweigh the apparent economic benefits. Note that some reporting verbs need to be followed by a noun or a noun phrase. For example: Smith (1999) discusses the effects of outsourcing on fixed and variable costs. argues points out discusses defines asserts describes suggests indicates explains analyses remarks affirms states challenges maintains draws attention to notes implies concludes proves presents questions looks at refers to mentions observes
  6. 6. A Note on Tense and Citation Verbs Use the PRESENT TENSE to refer to the thoughts, ideas and statements of authors. The present tense here implies that these concepts recorded in a published text have a continued existence in the present. Phillips notes that…. Olancin indicates/reports/claims.….. etc. It is acknowledged that this data alone is not sufficient evidence (Browning, 1999). Use the SIMPLE PAST TENSE to refer to what an author did or found out. The simple past tense indicates that actions or events are located in a specific moment of time, and that these actions have been completed. Jennings (1998) conducted a large-scale survey into… Through her website, Davis (2002) created a resource for environmental activists. Miller (2003) examined the lives of IT students at work and at play. Use the PRESENT PERFECT to report on the work that has been done more generally in a particular field. The present perfect indicates that the research has been done by different people over a period of time, beginning in the past and extending up to the present: Net analyses have been carried out for eight trajectories… The research that has been carried out in this field by Wong (2004) and Jones (2003)… Several researchers have addressed the issue of internet privacy.
  7. 7. Chart of Transition Signals [Clause Connectors] Meaning/Function Sentence Connector Coordinates Subordinates Others To introduce an Additional idea also, too besides, furthermore moreover, in addition and another (+ noun) an additional (+noun) To introduce an Opposite idea on the other hand however, in contrast Instead, nevertheless nonetheless but yet although though even though whereas, while in spite of (+ noun) despite (+ noun) To introduce an Example for example for instance an example of (+ noun such as (+ noun) , e.g. To introduce a Restatement or Explanation indeed i.e. that is To introduce a Conclusion or Summary in conclusion in summary, to conclude to summarize To clarify Chronological Order first (second, third, etc.) next, last, finally first of all, meanwhile after that, since then before after while, until as soon as the first (+noun) the second (+noun) before the (+noun) in the year since the (+noun) To indicate Order of Importance more important(ly) most important(ly), above all the most important (+noun) To introduce an Alternative otherwise or if unless To introduce a Cause Reason for because since As because of, as a result of as a consequence of due to, to result from the result of the effect of X on Y the consequence of To introduce an Effect Or Result accordingly as a result, as a consequence therefore, thus consequently, hence so the cause of, the reason for to result in, to cause to have an effect on to affect To introduce a Comparison similarly likewise, also too and as just as like, just like, alike similar (to), the same as both…and, not only…but also, to compare to/with
  8. 8. To introduce a Concession however nonetheless but yet although, though even though despite + noun in spite of + noun To introduce a strong Contrast however in contrast In (by) comparison on the other hand on the contrary but different from, unlike dissimilar, to differ fro to compare to to compare with © 2002 Collaborative Academic Preparation Initiative. All rights reserved. Evaluation and cautious language It is usually wise to avoid forceful terms when expressing negative opinions about the work of others. It is best to use more cautious or tentative terms. For example: • This research tends to overlook certain features . . . • There is a tendency in this paper to overstate the case for . . . • This model is possibly not the most appropriate one . . . • It seems unlikely that these findings could be validated by means of empirical research, because . . . • It would be helpful if the terms were defined more clearly, so that . . . It is also better to use an impersonal rather than a personal approach where possible: • Whereas these authors claim that . . . it is now generally recognised that . . . • It is widely accepted that this kind of design can only provide . . . • On the other hand, it could be argued that . . . Where possible, provide reasons for your positive or negative judgements: • This case is valuable because . . . • These results are significant in that they . . . • The evidence provided appears to be somewhat one-sided, given that there is important evidence to the contrary, for example . . . • The apparent justification for . . . is . . . ; however, one could cite other sources (Jones, 1999; Wong, 2004) which would support the argument that . . . • While this research provides a detailed analysis of . . . in the context of . . . , it does not take into account the context of . . . Sources: IT Research Preparation (32144) Course Notes (UTS Autumn 2009) http://lrs.ed.uiuc.edu/students/fwalters/para.html (adapted) http://lynx.csusm.edu/capi/resources/docs/chart_transition_signals.htm (adapted)

×