How to write a paragraph

Organizing thoughts into a coherent piece of writing can be a daunting task. The best way to pin those ideas down and put them into a form that others can follow is to use an outline. The tried-and-true I-II-III A-B-C outline works whether you have to churn out a paragraph, a page, or a paper. Here’s how to use it for a strong single paragraph;

Write the numbers 1-5 on a piece of paper.

  1. Next to #1, write your answer to the question, or your opinion on the topic, in a complete sentence. For example, if asked to write a paragraph about your favorite person, you might write, “My favorite person is my mother.”
  2. Next to #2, write one reason in support of your answer. For example, on the favorite person paragraph, you might write, “She knows how to help with homework.”
  3. Next to #3, write another reason in support of your answer. You might write, “She takes me wherever I need to go.”
  4. Next to #4, write a third reason in support of your answer. You might write, “She is very good at reading stories.”
  5. Next to #5, rephrase your answer or opinion from #1. You might write, “My mother is a wonderful person to me.”
  6. Copy your sentences #1-#5, one after the other, on your final sheet of paper. And there you have it — a coherent five-sentence paragraph: “My favorite person is my mother. She knows how to help with homework. She takes me wherever I need to go. She is very good at reading stories. My mother is a wonderful person to me.”

The example used here is a very simple paragraph for an early elementary assignment, but the same technique can be used for a more advanced open-ended question. Just answer the question in the first sentence; write one reason for that answer in the second; another reason in the third sentence; a third reason in the fourth sentence; and rephrase your answer for the fifth sentence.

Grammar

Grammar is a subject too complex to be summarized here.  Poor grammar may do nothing worse than irritating your readers.  Sometimes, however, poor grammar can make your writing confusing or impossible to understand.

Be careful with spelling, and especially with homonyms (words which sound the same but are spelled differently).  You may have correctly spelled a word that you didn’t mean to use.  “Joe is a little horse” is a very different statement from “Joe is a little hoarse.”

Incorrect punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence.  “My brother’s money” belongs to my brother, but “my brothers’ money” belongs to my brothers.  A misplaced comma can turn one modifier into two different modifiers.  “He arrived for his appointment, late yesterday afternoon,” suggests that he arrived on time for an appointment in the late afternoon.  “He arrived for his appointment late, yesterday afternoon,” suggests that he was late for his appointment.

Failure to understand the parts of speech can also cause confusion.  If, instead of “I feel bad,” you write, “I feel badly,” it sounds as if you are not very good at feeling.