Paragraphs? (originally posted 7-16-2009)

What has happened to the idea of a paragraph? That clever little invention that parses narrative into semantically related clusters, giving breathlessness to the expression of a part of an idea, and yet, by the pause it introduces at its end, allows the mind breathing room while reading a text–the paragraph is in dire peril my friends. I have grown weary of marking student papers “no 1-sentence paragraphs!!!” and yet now as editor of a so-called scientific journal I find myself deluged with these devices too. Okay, so many of them are in manuscripts that have evolved from doctoral dissertations. Still, someone’s dissertation advisor should have said “no 1-sentence paragraphs!!!” I wrack my brain trying to understand how this wonderful device, taught to most of us in third grade (or maybe even earlier) could so easily depart from academe. I suppose a lot of it has to do with word-processors, which make whatever drivel one manages to generate after staring at the monitor for hours look like elegant printed text. Rather than actually expressing an idea, we find ourselves instead filling justified space between paragraph marks. Oh my … Well, look here folks; a paragraph should be several sentences long. It should begin with a topic sentence, usually the first, which is a sort of exposition, or thesis statement. It should be followed by all of the evidence about that topic (properly supported with references, of course). And then, in good sonata form (see Music Appreciation 101) there should be development, in which you (the author, remember?) add value to the evidence by providing your own synthesis about what it means. And then a paragraph should conclude definitively.

Which reminds me, whatever happened to the literature review (stay tuned) that isn’t just a litany of  “he-said, she-wrote”?

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Posted November 17, 2010 by lazykoblog in writing

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