Paragraph problems often arise from three interrelated sorts of difficulties: trouble with unity, trouble with coherence, and trouble with development. These abstract terms may not seem very meaningful to you, but you'll recognize the symptoms of these problems if you see some examples.
PARAGRAPH LACKING UNITY
Club Palm Resort's beaches are beautiful, and the surrounding countryside is quite scenic. The quality of the food leaves a lot to be desired. Many vacationers enjoy the variety of outdoor activities and the instruction available in such sports as sailing and scuba diving. Unfortunately, security is poor; several vacationers' rooms have been broken into and their valuables stolen. Christmas in the Bahamas can make the thought of New Year's in Chicago bearable.
The paragraph lacking unity jumps from subject to subject with no clear sense of goal or purpose. What have scenery, food, sports, and security to do with each other? Until the writer provides a controlling idea to unite the sentences and give them focus, the reader will never know.
Compare the following revision with the original version. Notice that the writer has supplied a controlling topic sentence at the beginning and eliminated those sentences that do not contribute to the paragraph's main idea. As a result, the paragraph's concluding sentence now makes sense.
For vacationers sick and tired of the frozen north, a week at Club Palm Resort can provide just the midwinter thaw they need. Club Palm Resort's beaches are beautiful, and the surrounding countryside is quite scenic. Many vacationers also enjoy the variety of outdoor activities and the instruction available in such sports as sailing and scuba diving. Christmas in the Bahamas can make the thought of New Year's in Minneapolis bearable.
The next example paragraph, showing lack of coherence, contains a topic sentence, and all the other sentences bear some relation to that controlling idea: vacationers' dissatisfaction. However, the individual sentences are not knit together in any meaningful way. Because ideas are not clearly connected, the paragraph doesn't "stick together."
PARAGRAPH LACKING COHERENCE
Club Palm Resort's isolation created dissatisfaction among some vacationers. The quality of the food was poor. People want a choice of entertainment in the evening. Most of us spent too much time together day after day. People expect to be able to go out for a meal if they feel like it.
Compare the following revision with the original. Notice how the writer has used transition words and a new organization, among other things, to establish logical relationships among ideas.
Club Palm Resort's isolation created dissatisfaction among some vacationers. Many people expect to be able to go out for a meal if they feel like it, but the club's location far from populated areas made that impossible. To make matters worse, the quality of the food was poor. The isolated location also forced people to spend all their time together-day after day. By evening nearly everyone was ready for a choice of food, entertainment, and company.
The following example paragraph, lacking development, leaves many questions in the reader's mind.
PARAGRAPH LACKING DEVELOPMENT
A vacation at Club Palm Resort has its good points and bad points. The beaches are nice, but they may not be enough for some vacationers.
Only one "good point" (nice beaches) is mentioned. Are there others? No example of a bad point is given, so how is the reader to judge whether nice beaches are enough to attract vacationers to Club Palm Resort? And what, exactly, does "enough" mean? If the reader is to understand the controlling idea, or even be interested in it, it must be explained and supported sufficiently. Compare the original with the following revision.
A midwinter vacation at Club Palm Resort has its good points and bad points. The beaches are clean and uncrowded. The surrounding countryside is lush and soothing to winter-weary eyes. Furthermore, being able to take sailing and scuba diving lessons, while friends back home shovel snow, makes the outdoor activities extra-enjoyable. On the other hand, several features of Club Palm Resort are substandard. The food is poor, and, because the club is isolated, eating elsewhere is impossible. Security could also be better, as thefts from several guests' rooms indicated. So, for some vacationers, nice scenery and fun activities may not be enough to offset the possibility of poor service and lax security.
By now you should have some idea of the differences between paragraphs with and without unity, coherence, and development. An important key, as always, is your reader. You may know perfectly well what you mean, what point you are trying to make in any given paragraph. You may be able to see it all in your mind's eye. But your readers cannot. They haven't lived your life, don't necessarily share your perceptions, and shouldn't be asked to "read between the lines."
When you unfairly ask your audience to infer or guess what you mean, to supply the connections between ideas, to think of examples that might support your generalizations or fill in the details that would put flesh on the bare bones of your statements, you're asking for audience impatience and misunderstanding.
As in any piece of writing, your paragraphs should respond to the questions "What do I want to say?" "To whom do I want to say it?" "How do I want to say it?" These questions, as always, respond to the larger question "Why do I want to say it?" What is your goal, and have you constructed a paragraph that will accomplish that goal?
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