Your very presence in ENGL 122 means you have had experience with paragraphing and perhaps understand its value in writing. Paragraphs provide readers with the choices you, the writer, have made regarding the “blocks of meaning” that you want your essay to display.
If you can imagine your paper as a linked chain with each link being a paragraph, whose purpose it is to hold the preceding and following links together, you have a good picture of paragraphing’s vital role in a research paper.
The linked chain metaphor only goes so far, however, as each “link” in a paper does not look the same as it does in a chain. The decisions you make regarding when to start and stop paragraphs can be tricky, and they can affect the unity, coherence, focus, and organization of your essay. A shift in train of thought usually signals the need for a new paragraph. Abrupt shifts disrupt readers though; to a reader an abrupt or sudden shift is like being derailed. Keys to making smooth transitions for cohesion are the phrases you use to move from one paragraph to the other.
Some good ones with which to start paragraphs are listed:
*”As you can see . . .”
*”It would therefore appear . . .”
*Obviously, . . .”
*”From the evidence presented . . .”
*”One can conclude . . .”
*”It then becomes apparent . . .”
*”In contrast to that view . . .”
*”Despite . . . “
*”X goes on to say . . .”
*”So, if this trend continues . . .”
*”Unfortunately, . . .”
*”All of this points to . . .”
*”What will it take to . . .”
*”To illustrate my point . . .”
*”X isn’t perfect either . . .”
The strategy is to keep the seed of an idea you left off with in a previous paragraph with you as you begin the new paragraph. Acknowledging your direction for the reader helps to keep your reader focused (and you, too, as the writer), and keeps your readers confident that you will continue to guide and control them throughout this “essay-long” journey.
Of course, one of the best ways to find out if a reader will follow your train of thought and appreciate your transitions is to go and get a reader; the Writing Center is the perfect place to get feedback on such a specific writing skill.
One other way to allow paragraphing to help you is called the “paragraph organization strategy.” The paragraph organization strategy is also an excellent revision activity (see Development Strategies). This activity works best if you have a draft of your paper available. The first step is to print out a fresh copy of your essay.
Next, number each paragraph in the paper right on the essay with a pen or pencil. (For a 7-10 page paper you will probably wind up with anywhere between 14-25 paragraphs). The next step is to use a separate piece of paper to write down a number for each paragraph in the essay. Then, next to each number, write down the role that each paragraph has in your paper. The early parts of a typical, traditional, research paper might be outlined this way with this process:
#1 Introductory vignette to hook the reader
#2 Thesis statement presented
#3 Historical Background
#4 Identification of key terms
#5 Opposing View
#6 First Case Study
#7 Analysis of First Major Article Source
#8 Primary Source used
#9 Presentation of relevant data, statistics
Number 10 has a question mark to show you what can happen with this activity. Some paragraphs may not have a relevant role in your paper or perhaps need to be placed inside another or be developed to have a fuller, more obvious role. This process offers you the chance to see if your paper has unity of purpose and if it is cohesive, meaning that all the paragraphs are “sticking together” for you.
Give it a try, especially if you’re anxious about the organization of your essay.