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Paragraphs

What is a paragraph?

Academic writing is always divided into paragraphs in order to make it readable. The aim is to make one point in each paragraph (the topic of the paragraph) and have the end of one paragraph lead logically to the beginning of the next. In practice this is not always possible; sometimes your topic will need several paragraphs to explain it fully and at other times you will need to make several points in one paragraph. However, as a general rule, try to keep to the one topic, one paragraph rule - aim to have each of your paragraphs tell a story.

1

Where are the paragraphs?

In the following text, from the Stolen Smiles report (Zimmerman, C., Hossain, M., Yun, K., Roche, B., Morison, L., & Watts, C. (2006) Stolen Smiles: a Summary Report on the Physical and Psychological Health Consequences of Women and Adolescents Trafficked into Europe. Report produced in conjunction with Animus Assoc. Foundation, International Organization for Migration, La Strada, On The Road, and the Poppy Project.) all the paragraph breaks have been removed. Read the text and then decide whether you think a) b) c) or d) has the most logical paragraph structure.

'It is common for women who have been trafficked to report a history of violence or abuse. For many, abuse by family members or authority figures, assaults related to civil unrest or armed conflict, or witnessing violence not only affects their health and well-being, but is the driving force that propels them into the hands of traffickers. Of the 20 women responding to the question, "Did anyone ever hurt you while you were living in your home country," seven responded affirmatively. Two women reported being abused by their spouse, four by their father, or "parents," and one by classmates. For these women, this was among the most sensitive subjects and the one they least wanted to discuss. Although only two of seven women reporting abuse said it was the primary reason for leaving, for all seven it was a contributing factor in their decision to leave. In these cases poverty may have been the primary motivation, but it is likely that experiences of violence tipped the balance. Hotline workers at La Strada in Ukraine quoted callers saying, "Well, better to be a prostitute abroad than to be raped and abused by my husband." Ten of the twenty-eight respondents were under the age of 18 when they were recruited or abducted by traffickers. Although this study did not collect case histories of childhood abuse, other research suggests that sexual abuse among pre-adolescent girls is associated with low self-esteem, feelings of shame, vulnerability, and unworthiness, and that young girls who come from poor, dysfunctional or abusive families are extremely vulnerable to traffickers' offers. Client data collected by Animus Association Foundation of Bulgaria, a non-governmental organisation operating a Rehabilitation Center for victims of trafficking, also indicate that the groups most at risk of being trafficked are adolescents and women with past traumatic experiences. This included victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, children from orphanages, and children with a large number of siblings and only one parent. Moreover, traffickers reportedly target girls who they perceive to be distressed or who reveal family problems.'

a)
b)
c)
d)
Correct, well done!

Incorrect, the answer is b).

Text b) shows the paragraphs as divided in the original text. Each paragraph deals with a specific topic. The first paragraph considers the link between abuse and trafficking. The second reports the answers to the specific question 'Did anyone ever hurt you......'. The third paragraph discusses the influence of abuse in their decision to leave their home country and the fourth paragraph considers the age of the women when they were trafficked.

It is not enough to just split groups of sentences into paragraphs - although this helps to make the text easier to read, it does not clarify the logic of the text. In example b) the paragraph structure helps to tell the story and ensures the text flows smoothly from one point to the next.

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2

Where are the paragraphs?

In the following text (from an LSHTM press release) all the paragraph breaks have been removed. Read the text and then decide whether you think a) b) c) or d) has the most logical paragraph structure.

'The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) has contributed to a study showing that a low dose of aspirin reduces the occurrence of several common cancers. The study is published in today's Lancet. The work was started and carried out by Professor Peter Rothwell in Oxford, and is based on an overview of several randomised trials of aspirin. These have been primarily concerned with reducing heart attacks, but have also gathered information on deaths from cancer. The trial contributing most information to the overview has been the Thrombosis Prevention Trial (funded jointly by the Medical Research Council and the British Heart Foundation) which was carried out by Tom Meade when he was with the Medical Research Council. Professor Meade is now Emeritus Professor of Epidemiology in LSHTM's Department of Non-Communicable Disease Epidemiology. As well as confirming that low dose aspirin reduces large bowel cancer cases reported in another recent study also led by Professor Rothwell and to which Professor Meade contributed, it also reduces total deaths due to cancer because it affects several common individual cancers, such as those of the oesophagus (gullet), lung, stomach, pancreas and possibly the brain. Reductions in deaths are around 20-30%. Benefit is unrelated to aspirin dose from 75 mg upwards, gender or smoking habit but increases with age. Aspirin may need to be taken for at least five years before it confers benefit, probably longer for some cancers, but benefit is generally greater the longer aspirin has been taken. Hitherto, advice about aspirin has been mainly concerned with reducing heart attacks and strokes in those who have already had them. Caution should be exercised by those who are so far free of these conditions because, unless a person's risk of them is very high, the benefit may be outweighed by the risk of serious bleeding. Professor Meade says: "These are very exciting and potentially important findings. They are likely to alter clinical and public health advice about low dose aspirin because the balance between benefit and bleeding has probably been altered towards using it", although Professor Meade adds that this does not mean everyone should automatically take aspirin. Health professionals and others will now have to consider the practical implications.'

a)
b)
c)
d)
Correct, well done!

Incorrect, the answer is b).

In b) the text is divided into short paragraphs each of which makes one point. The result is a very clear, readable description of the research. However, you should also bear in mind that this is a press release on an academic topic - and your essays, reports and papers could contain slightly longer paragraphs than these.

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3

Missing topic sentence

In these exercises the topic sentence has been removed from the text. Read the paragraph and then decide whether you know what a topic sentence is and if so, whether sentence a), b), c) or d) is the best topic sentence. (If you don't know what a topic sentence is, the feedback for an incorrect answer will give you further information).

'None of the sixteen who responded stated they ever felt safe. Having worked in Serbia, Italy and the UK, one respondent asserted, "You never feel safe in places like that. They're horrible, cold, small rooms, no windows and a lot of girls" [Caroline, Romania to UK]'. (p.53)

a)
b)
c)
d)
Correct, well done!

Incorrect, the answer is a).

Answer a) establishes that the comments that follow were in response to a specific question. Although answers b) and c) would be acceptable they are not as good as a) and d) ignores the question that was put to the respondents entirely.

A good topic sentence introduces the reader to the topic of the paragraph - it helps to guide them through your argument. Before you write your topic sentence, think about the following questions: what am I saying in this paragraph? What information am I imparting? How does it add to the point I'm trying to make? This will help you to be in clear in your own mind about exactly what point you are trying to make in each particular paragraph.

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4

Missing topic sentence

In the following text (from Malaria Consortium, 2007 Malaria: a handbook for health professionals, Macmillan) the topic sentence has been removed. Try to identify whether sentence a), b), c) or d) is the best topic sentence.

'This involves the direct staining of thick and thin blood films, using a fluorescent stain called acridine orange. In the QBC technique, blood is centrifuged in a microhematocrit tube containing acridine orange, and then examined using a fluorescence microscope. If malaria parasites are present, they will be seen as fluorescent bodies at different levels of the sedimentation column, depending upon species and the development stage of the parasite. Although quicker to perform than standard microscopy, fluorescent microscopy is very expensive because it requires specialised equipment, including a fluorescence microscope.'

a)
b)
c)
d)
Correct, well done!

Incorrect, the answer is b).

Answer b) introduces both fluorescence microscopy and QBC and explains that they can be used to identify malaria parasites. The other answers all omit one element of the process.

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You may also like to look at the http://www.uefap.com/writing/writfram.htm website or http://owl.english.purdue.edu/ which both have detailed sections on using paragraphs.