All paragraphs consist of topic sentences, which convey the
paragraph’s main idea and supporting details, which illustrate those
However, paragraphs are written according to “modes” and the mode
(or type) indicates what pattern of organization a writer would use.
Let’s review a few.
In this pattern, the details are presented in the order in which they happened.
This pattern may also be called time order or sequence of events.
On April 23, 1564, William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon in
England. He attended a local grammar school in the town. At the age of
eighteen he married Ann Hathaway. Several years later he traveled to London.
By the time he was twenty-eight he had established his reputation by acting
and writing plays. Other than these facts, little is known of Shakespeare's early
You will expect that whatever appears next in the paragraph occurs next within
the time sequence. You will begin to notice how one idea is connected to or
depends on another in time.
In this form the main idea is stated and the rest of the paragraph explains or
Many people rationalize, or explain away, the difficulties in a fashion that
protects their view of themselves. That is, they rationalize their mistakes and
weaknesses by inventing excuses for them. For example, if a student failed an
exam, he or she might say the exam was unfair or that the instructor did not
teach what was on the test. Or, if your friend got a speeding ticket, he would
rationalize that the police stopped the wrong car, that the speed was not
posted, or that the speedometer was not working accurately.
The comparison-contrast pattern is used when the similarities or differences
of two or more actions, ideas, or events are being discussed. A paragraph
may discuss only similarities or only differences.
Most beginning college students quickly realize that college is very different
from high school. They can build their own time schedules, choose their own
instructors, and decide whether to attend classes. In high school, however,
freedom is more restricted. Most high school operate within a controlled time
frame; teachers and schedules are assigned, not selected by the student, and
class attendance is required.
The next paragraph contains both comparison and contrast.
Both red raspberries and black raspberries grow wild in the United States. Both
grow on canes approximately five feel tall and have compound leaves. Both
berries are much more plentiful, and they are easier to find than red
raspberries. Black raspberries grow easier to find than red raspberries. Black
raspberries grow easily in forests and wooded areas, whereas red raspberries
require more light and space.
The classification pattern organizes information about a topic by dividing it into
parts. These parts are selected on the basis of things they have in common.
Most people do not realize that they have more than one vocabulary level. In
fact, everyone has four different vocabularies- a reading vocabulary, a listening
vocabulary, a writing vocabulary, and a speaking vocabulary. There are words
that you understand when you hear them, but you may not use them in your
daily speech. And there are words that you recognize when you read that you
may not normally use in your own writing. Similarly, there are words and
expressions that you use in your speech but not in writing.
Cause and Effect
When an event or action is caused by another event or action, the cause-
effect pattern is used. The primary characteristic of cause-effect paragraphs
is explanation by telling why or how something happened. The cause-effect
pattern describes how two or more events are related or connected.
In the past century, government has expanded and become more involved in
many new fields and aspects of life. One reason for this change is that
government has more to because the population has increased by 600 percent
over the past 100 years. More rules and regulations are needed to keep larger
numbers of people living and working together peacefully. Another reason for
government expansion is the growth of cities. The government has been forced
to accept responsibility for the water supply, transportation, fire and police
protection, and waste disposal in urban areas.
A writer who introduces or used a term that he or she feels the reader won't
understand often includes a definition and explanation of the term. The term
being defined is often printed in italics or darkened(bold) print, underlined, or
otherwise made stand out.
Family therapy is a method of helping troubled families work out their problems
and conflicts. Therapy involves discussion sessions directed by a trained
therapist. All members of the family are encouraged to come to the sessions.
The goal of each session is to work out possible solutions to a particular
The topic sentences of a paragraph that uses definition usually provides a
general meaning of the term. The rest of the paragraph narrows the meaning of
the term to the specific situation intended. To move from general to specific,
form a literal definition to a situational meaning.
A writer who wants to create a word picture of an event, person, object, idea, or
theory, often uses the descriptive pattern. This type of paragraph often consists
of a list of descriptive facts or characteristics. These particular pieces of the
description may not seem to have an easily identifiable order, but writers do not
arrange their descriptive details randomly. They usually arrange them in some
My most valuable possession is an old, slightly warped blond guitar--the first
instrument I taught myself how to play. It's nothing fancy, just a Madeira folk guitar, all
scuffed and scratched and finger-printed. At the top is a bramble of copper-wound
strings, each one hooked through the eye of a silver tuning key. The strings are
stretched down a long, slim neck, its frets tarnished, the wood worn by years of
fingers pressing chords and picking notes. The body of the Madeira is shaped like an
enormous yellow pear, one that was slightly damaged in shipping. No, it's not a
beautiful instrument, but it still lets me make music, and for that I will always treasure