Tag Archives: paragraph

Focus those paragraphs

by Marie Sherman

            Any form of academic writing contains many different ideas broken up into different parts called paragraphs. These paragraphs should be structured in a way that helps the reader follow the author’s argument. But how can you ensure that your paragraphs do this?

Well, I’d like share with you a little secret called paragraph unification.

            Paragraph unification is a fancy way of saying that you need to determine what you want your paragraph to say; that way, you can focus your paragraph around a central idea. Typically, this central idea is made clear in the first sentence of a paragraph. This beginning sentence is known as the “topic sentence” and will set the tone for where you intend to go with the rest of the paragraph.

            Once you’ve got your central idea and topic sentence, you’re ready to finish off the rest of your paragraph. Make sure that all of your following sentences move your main idea forward. Be aware of how they elaborate on this idea and connect to each other. Then you can finish your paragraph with a statement that concludes what you’ve stated over the course of your previous sentences, or find a way to connect your final sentence to what you’re going to say in the paragraphs to come.

            That brings me to my next point. Once you’ve got all unified paragraphs, you want to be sure they are structured in a way that moves your argument forward and brings all your ideas together. Ask yourself, What am I trying to say in this paragraph? How does that idea connect to my previous one? Are these ideas placed in the order that makes the most sense?

            Once you have identified the point of each paragraph, you’re able to identify the overall structure of your paper. A trick I often use is to write the main idea of each of my paragraphs in the margin of my papers! Then I can look at how I have arranged my paragraphs and make sure they have been placed in the most logical order.

Creating unified paragraphs makes your writing much clearer and allows your reader to understand the order of your ideas. So find your focus and write on!


Marie Sherman is a sophomore at Principia College studying education and global studies. When not writing, she is probably running around campus or dancing!

Organizational issues? Rip it up!

by Haley Schabes

Have you ever been so frustrated with a paper that you just want to rip it up? It turns out that you can—and have it be helpful.

When writing, sometimes I struggle with the direction and the clarity of my paper, or I struggle to keep all the information straight. For example, there might be paragraphs that have overlapping material or points that I feel like I can’t connect well. In cases like these, when I revise my paper, it feels like the paper is either repetitive or not cohesive. It can be frustrating as a writer to have all your evidence there, but seemingly jumbled on the page. But there is a fun and easy solution to this!

  1. Take some scissors (yes, scissors!) and “rip up” a hard copy of your paper by cutting between paragraphs.
  2. From there, find a big open space (like a table or the floor) and place your introduction and conclusion on opposite ends of the area.
  3. Begin experimenting with the remaining paragraphs’ order by placing them between the two. This will help you see what information connects and flows together.
  4. If there is a part of a paragraph that does not fit and should be moved, just take the scissors, carefully cut away the sentences, and slide them to a better position. In some cases, you may find that you need to create a new paragraph.
  5. When you are satisfied with the flow and order of your paragraphs, make the changes in your digital copy.
  6. Double check to make sure your thesis and topic sentences still hold despite having rearranged information. You may need to place additional transition sentences or make small edits to topic sentences to solidify connections between your thesis and other paragraphs.
  7. Read through your paper to make any further changes, finalize it, and celebrate!

This hands-on exercise allows you to visualize your paper’s direction more easily. By seeing all the components side-by-side (instead of just on the computer screen), you can see your thought process throughout the entire paper. This exercise can help you rearrange your evidence from a new angle, understand which material should be taken out, unveil where more transitions are needed, and improve the clarity and flow of your paper.

But remember: changes do not need to be revolutionary! Sometimes just changing the order of your paragraphs can make a big difference. By the end of this exercise, your seemingly jumbled information should be presented in a clean and logical order. For another take on this strategy, click here!

Happy organizing!

Haley Schabes is a junior majoring in business administration with minors in economics, Asian studies, and education.

Purposeful paragraphs

by Bailey Bischoff

To keep papers from seeming like an endless stream of words, we break them up into bite-size chunks through the use of paragraphs. Without paragraphs, readers would get lost in a sea of black and white. However, by using paragraphs, writers can help readers focus on the main ideas of the paper so that readers come away with an understanding of the writer’s organization, structure, and intent.

In order for readers to follow a paper’s ideas through the structure of paragraphs, each paragraph break must be purposeful. Inserting a paragraph break because you think there should be a break on every page or because it feels like there should be a break? Not the best strategy. Instead, you should focus on communicating one idea within each paragraph. This means that when you introduce a new idea, you should probably start a new paragraph.

Another way to think about paragraphs is to determine how the main idea in each paragraph relates to your thesis. The paragraph can support, negate, concur, analyze, or expand upon your thesis for the paper. One reason paragraph breaks are there is to make sure that you aren’t doing all of those things at the same time.

So here are some tips for improving paragraphs:

  1. Know what you are trying to communicate.

If you are unsure of what you’re trying to say, then you’ll have trouble saying it. Take a moment to think about your paper (or free write!) in order to gain a better understanding of the purpose of your paper as a whole.

  1. Know what’s happening within each paragraph to serve your paper’s purpose.

Is the purpose of the paragraph to support? Negate? Concur? Analyze? Expand? Make sure your paragraph has one purpose and contains one main idea.

  1. Let the introduction sentence lead.

The first sentence of the paragraph should give the reader an idea of where the paragraph is headed. Strengthening the first sentence will strengthen the paragraph.

  1. Read your paragraph and write down what you think is the main idea.

When you read the paragraph, does the main idea that’s actually there match up with the main idea you had in mind when you were writing it? If not, try restructuring your paragraph.

Purposeful paragraphs make for powerful papers.

Bailey Bischoff is a junior majoring in political science and is serving as student body president.

Crafting a conclusion

by Meg Andersen

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed when trying to wrap up your paper, you aren’t alone. It isn’t always easy to know what to include in your conclusion paragraph. Perhaps it feels repetitive, or you feel that you’ve exhausted all of your points and have nothing left to write. To make this process easier, here’s a simplified guide to writing effective conclusions:

Purpose: The conclusion helps readers know what to take away from the paper. They should reach the final word and have a clear idea of what you’ve told them and why.

The structure:

  • Restate your topic and thesis (your claim), but in a new way
  • Highlight the major points you made in your body paragraphs
  • Show us how those points fit together
    • The sum of the paper can be greater than the parts
    • You are synthesizing ideas, not just summarizing
  • Close with a statement that shows the reader the importance of your claim

How to make it happen:

  • Echo your introduction
    • Close the paper by incorporating a theme, quote, claim, or style from your introduction paragraph
  • Think big
    • Papers tend to start general (intro) and get specific (body paragraphs)
    • In your conclusion, you can go from specific to general
      • Start with the specific ideas from your paper and then zoom out to show the larger importance of the topic/idea
    • Look to the future
      • Looking to the future is another way of thinking big—it gives the reader something to chew on after putting the paper down
    • Defend your case
      • Close with a strong statement that supports your big idea—the “so what?”—without simply restating the thesis

Conclusions can be very helpful when wrapping up your thoughts at the end of a paper. I often find that my ideas become clearest when I get to the conclusion, because it forces me to ask the “so what?” question. Why did I make that point in paragraph three? What am I really saying in this essay, and why is it important that others read it?

For this reason and many others, conclusions really can be quite helpful, both to you and to the reader. Enjoy the process, and remember that you can always come see your trusty writing tutors in the library if you’re feeling stuck!

Meg Andersen is a junior and a Business Administration major. She loves travel, art, and breakfast food, and lives in San Francisco. 


Chop off an arm, save a life

by Bailey Bischoff

You know it’s the right thing to do, but that doesn’t make it any easier… you stare straight ahead, wishing things could be different… mentally forcing yourself to take control… repressing the urge to run away… you can do this… you CAN do this…. You can DO this… you take a deep breath… and… and…. Delete an entire paragraph.

It can be a difficult task to revise a paper. It takes a willingness on the part of the author to critique his or her own writing. Oftentimes, we put so much thought and effort into the act of writing that we can’t bear to see our paper torn apart by red slashes and arrows or see our precious words deleted. Sometimes, we don’t think that we’ll be able to come up with anything else to replace the words that are already on the page. However, there comes a time when we must realize that revising is necessary and that to truly improve our writing we must look at it with impartial eyes.

One of the most important pieces in the revision process is time. It can be extremely challenging to give yourself enough time to not only write the paper but also revise it. However, it is even more challenging to properly revise when your deadline is hanging over your head, as there is more pressure to just be done with it.

It is also important to take time in between writing and revising your paper. Take a walk, take a nap, do other homework, eat dinner: just give yourself time before looking at your paper again. You will be less attached to the words on the page if you are looking at it with new eyes and a refreshed mind. Your ability to refine your paper stems from your ability to distance yourself from your paper when you revise. Sometimes you have to chop off an arm to save a life.

Tips for revision:

  • Give yourself time to both write AND revise your paper.
  • After writing, take a break (walk, nap, eat dinner, etc.).
  • Revise your paper knowing that you can always improve and that you will have the creativity and inspiration necessary to replace what you cut out.
  • Have a friend/peer look at your paper for an even more objective critique.
  • If you can, look at your paper again for any final revisions or edits.

Bailey Bischoff is a sophomore majoring in political science.


Put it in reverse

by Haley Morton

So the last word is written on your paper. How do you feel? Satisfied? Tired? Ready for some chocolate? If you’re at all like me, you probably a combination of all of those. But sometimes…you still think your paper is a complete mess. Ok, I’ll admit it—that’s me all the time. The good news is I have an answer for all of your first draft messy writing problems: reverse outlines! Get a blank sheet of paper, grab a hard copy of your paper, and let’s get started!

Here’s what you do:

  1. Read your paper all the way through with your intended thesis in mind.  Ask yourself: Does my intended thesis match the big idea I’m finding in my paper?
  2. Go back to the introduction. Have a friend read your introduction and ask him what he thinks your thesis is. If it matches yours, jot it down at the top of the blank sheet of paper.
  3. Move on to the next paragraph. Write down the big idea of this paragraph under your paraphrased thesis. Be honest with yourself, if the paragraph has two main ideas instead of one, write them both down. If you can’t figure out the main idea, you’ll need revise the paragraph to have one, or perhaps you’ll find that the ideas belong in other paragraphs and have just been misplaced.
  4. Repeat step three for the rest of your body paragraphs.
  5. When you get to the conclusion, watch out for ideas you haven’t introduced in the rest of your paper. You don’t want these. Also, do you find anything in your conclusion that might make a better thesis for your paper than the one you already have? If so, take note.
  6. Now take a step back. Look at what your reverse outline (everything you wrote on that blank piece of paper) is telling you. Does anything need to be moved around for logical reasoning’s sake? Do you need more evidence for some of your ideas? Should you refine your thesis to match the development of your ideas (rather than how you thought they would develop before you got to the conclusion)?
  7. Make the necessary changes according to your outline. Your paper will make a lot more sense to your reader now that you’ve approached your revision this way.

Reverse outlines shouldn’t be frustrating, so be sure to be patient with yourself. Revising takes a little extra time, but it’s worth it’s worth the better grade. Plus, you’ll feel even more accomplished! Happy revising!

Haley is a senior at Principia College and a political science and history double major. She has spent the last four years writing, studying, and running cross country and track. Currently, she is working on her capstone about Title IX and women in athletics. 

Revision strategy: cut your paper to pieces (seriously!)

by Liza Hagerman

So you’ve been told to revise a paper. What does that actually mean? Beyond making minor grammatical corrections, you need to make some significant changes to what you’ve written, considering your professor’s feedback. Often the toughest question that plagues anyone is: where to begin?

First off, don’t fret! Revising a paper isn’t so bad once you get started, and there are practical first steps you can take. I’ll tell you about my favorite strategy.

Print out a copy of your paper (without your professor’s comments) and find a large open floor or table space. Cut your paragraphs apart and spread them out so that they are each in different spots on the floor (or table) and won’t mingle. Then, cut your sentences apart in each paragraph, still keeping them in your separate groupings.

You’re off to a good start! Time to make some major improvements.

Focus on one paragraph at a time. Reorganize your sentences by moving them around. Try a variety of scenarios, and see what order makes the most logical sense. Each sentence should lead to the next, building upon one another. Physically moving them around will likely open you up to a new organization you haven’t thought of before but makes so much more sense!

See a sentence that’s irrelevant? Move it off to the side. Later you can see if it belongs in a different paragraph, should be the starting point for a new paragraph, or should just be removed.

Repeat the previous steps for each paragraph.

Once you finish reorganizing each paragraph, treat them like you did your sentences and make sure that they are presented in logical order too.

After taking these steps, you will likely have found sentences or phrases that you know you should rewrite. You also might have found logical gaps that need to be filled to clarify your argument for the audience. Rewrite these portions and fill the gaps, and don’t forget to proofread (multiple times)!

If you follow all these steps, chances are that you’ve written a solid revision!

Liza Hagerman graduated in May 2013 with a major in English; she served as a writing tutor for a year and a half, and was editor-in-chief of The Pilot as a senior. She is the English Department post-graduate teaching intern for 2013-14.

For another take on this strategy, check out Organizational issues? Rip it up!