BASIC PARAGRAPH CONSTRUCTION
A paragraph is a series of sentences related to a single topic. The main point we must consider when writing an effective paragraph in English is Unity, the quality of sticking to one idea from start to finish, with every sentence contributing to the central purpose and main idea of that paragraph.
We can see the importance of unity in how the intrusion of irrelevant information can disturb our understanding of a paragraph. By moving irrelevant information to a new paragraph –or by omitting that information– we can improve the unity of our paragraphs when we revise them.
Another way of making sure that we maintain unity is grouping all the information about that idea in the same paragraph, not changing to a different line until that paragraph is finished. That unity of content is also shown in a graphic way by leaving some physical separation between paragraphs, starting a new paragraph on a new line. For example, it’s easy to see (especially if you click on “Vista preliminar”, barra de herramientas) that right now we are at the end of the third paragraph in this text that you are reading.
Poor organization is one of the most frustrating –and damaging-problems in student writing.
Here is an example that shows how we should combine various ideas into well formed sentences, and then how they are combined to produce one paragraph. You have to group the sentences based on the ideas that go together, omitting unnecessary words and using pronouns to avoid repetitions:
New York City
New York City is in the United States.
New York City is located in New York State.
It borders on the Atlantic Ocean.
It was founded in 1625 as "New Amsterdam".
It was first settled by the Dutch.
It is important for commerce.
Wall Street is located in New York City.
It has many national and international banks.
It has many important skyscrapers.
The Chrysler Building is located in New York City.
The Empire State Building is in New York City.
New York City is an important city for immigration.
Ellis Island used to be the entry point for many immigrants at the turn of the 20th century.
There is an interesting immigration museum on Ellis Island.
Answer: This is a possible paragraph resulting from the information above:
*New York, New York is located on the Atlantic Coast of the United States of America. It was first founded as "New Amsterdam" in 1625 by the Dutch. Today, New York City is an important commercial and banking centre which includes Wall Street. Among its many important skyscrapers are the Chrysler Building and The Empire State. One of the most interesting museums is on Ellis Island which was the entry point for many immigrants who passed through New York City at the turn of the 20th century.
* Note. New York, New York: This means that a city in the USA is in a certain state; they write the name of the city and then the state where it is separated by a comma.
[Example taken from: http://esl.about.com/library/lessons/blwriteparagraph.htm]
The conventions of paragraph structure in different cultures
We should know that there are different philosophies of form, and that different cultures view "good organization" differently. What is considered as good can be very different depending on where one comes from. Robert Kaplan, for example, suggests in "Cultural Thought Patterns in Inter-Cultural Education" that the following symbols best describe paragraph development in different cultures in the world:
We can see that the English paragraph tends to follow a direct line of development, while the Oriental paragraph tends to develop thought in a more circular pattern. Romance languages (Spanish is one of them) and Russian tend to value digressions, while Semitic paragraphs often prefer parallel lines in development.
[This point was adapted from: www.guilford.edu/.../organization/index.html]