What Are the Rules for Breaking Up a Paragraph in Writing?

Constructing a well-formed paragraph can be one of the most challenging skills for a writer to learn. The first step for understanding how to create effective paragraphs is to understand what a paragraph is. According to the Purdue OWL website, a paragraph is a collection of related sentences that discuss a single topic.

Creating Unity

Good paragraphs have unity. Unity refers to maintaining a single focus. All of the sentences in a paragraph should treat the same topic and should not discuss unrelated ideas. The main topic of a paragraph is identified in the first sentence, called the topic sentence. A topic sentence acts as a thesis, or summary, for the paragraph. For the paragraph to be unified, all of the sentences in the paragraph should discuss the same subject as the topic sentence.

Developing a Paragraph

Effective paragraphs are also well developed. A well-developed paragraph has at least three sentences, but it can have many more. The length of the paragraph can vary by the style of writing. As a result, the length is less important than how fully the paragraph develops a main idea. To determine how well the paragraph developed an idea, look at the topic sentence. If you turned the topic sentence into a question, the rest of the paragraph should answer that question fully. For example, if your topic sentence states, "The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms," you can turn it into a question by asking, "How does the Second Amendment guarantee the right to bear arms?" The rest of the sentences should answer that question.

Organizing a Paragraph

The organization of the paragraph is a determining factor in its development. A well-organized paragraph is easy to read and understand. The best way to choose a pattern of organization is by the content. For example, if your paragraph discusses the differences between a psychology and a sociology degree, you might use a compare and contrast organization. Other patterns of organization include narration, cause and effect, description, process, classification or illustration.

Know When to Start a New Paragraph

The key to making your paragraphs fully developed, but not too long, is to know when to start a new paragraph. One indicator that you need a new paragraph is when you begin to discuss a new idea. Another indication that you should begin a new paragraph is when you discuss an opposing viewpoint. For example, if your main paragraph discussed viewpoints that favor gun control, when you begin to write about the opinions of those who are against gun control, you should begin a new paragraph. You should also begin a new paragraph when readers need to pause. For example, if the information is complex or new to the audience, shorter paragraphs will help them understand the information.

About the Author

Natalie Smith is a technical writing professor specializing in medical writing localization and food writing. Her work has been published in technical journals, on several prominent cooking and nutrition websites, as well as books and conference proceedings. Smith has won two international research awards for her scholarship in intercultural medical writing, and holds a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric.

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