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Revising Paragraphs Help (page 2)

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Updated on Sep 6, 2011

Relevance

If you've identified more than one idea in a paragraph, you should probably break it into two paragraphs. But before you move text, make sure each idea is clearly related to the thesis. If it's not, it needs to be reworked or deleted. (If you didn't catch it when you were revising the big picture, here's another chance.) Remember the importance of maintaining focus in your essay—unrelated paragraphs not only get you off track, but also often confuse readers as well.

Development

Once you've identified the controlling idea of each paragraph, check to see that each idea is sufficiently developed. Topic sentences, like thesis statements, make assertions about your subject. And those assertions need support. Look carefully at any paragraph that consists of only one or two sentences. Chances are, they're seriously underdeveloped. The only time you should have a one-sentence paragraph is when you intentionally decide to emphasize the idea in that sentence.

Transitions

Transitions are the words and phrases used to move from one idea to the next. They help your words flow smoothly and show readers how your ideas relate to each other. In shorter essays, a phrase is usually enough to transition from one paragraph to the next. In longer essays, a sentence or two may be required to guide your reader to the next idea.

Transitions

In the lying with silence essay, notice how the writer uses transitions to move from one paragraph to another. The first sentence of the sixth paragraph, "I'm guilty of silent deceptions, too" connects the previous example (the man who bought a stolen necklace for his girlfriend) to the next example, the writer's own silent lie. Then, the beginning of the second sentence uses the transitional phrase for example to lead readers into the support for that paragraph. In addition, the phrase a few weeks later provides a transition in the middle of the paragraph, connecting the writer's decision to keep silent with her friend's discovery of the deception.

To demonstrate how important transitions are, here's the fourth paragraph of the essay with transitions removed and then repeated with transitions intact (and underlined):

These silent lies can have consequences. A man who buys a stolen necklace for his girlfriend could lose her trust, which could be detrimental to the relationship. He could also face criminal charges. Even she could be in trouble for possession of a stolen necklace.

These silent lies can have consequences. For example, a man who buys a stolen necklace for his girlfriend could lose her trust, which could be detrimental to the relationship. More importantly, he could also face criminal charges. In addition, even she could be in trouble for possession of a stolen necklace.

Introductions and Conclusions

Both of these paragraphs must fulfill specific duties within the essay. While you're revising, you'll need to look closely at them to make certain they function properly.

    As you reread your introduction, ask:
  1. Does it provide the context needed to understand my thesis?
  2. Does it clearly state the main point of my essay?
  3. Does it set the tone for the essay?
  4. Does it grab my reader's interest?

Notice how the introduction to lying with silence accomplishes each of these four tasks. It provides context by quoting Adrienne Rich's claim about silent deceptions. It clearly states the thesis in the last two sentences. It also sets the tone by using words like deceives and devastating, which will be repeated in the essay. In addition, it grabs the audience's attention by beginning with a thought-provoking question.

    As you reread your conclusion, ask:
  1. Does it restate my thesis in a new way?
  2. Does it offer a new understanding?
  3. Does it provide a sense of closure?
  4. Does it arouse my reader's emotions?

While the lying with silence essay does a good job with the introduction, its conclusion needs work. Notice how it simply restates the thesis instead of putting it in different words. It does offer a new understanding, but goes too far by introducing a contentious new issue instead of providing a sense of closure.

In Short

To revise on the paragraph level, first check for your overall organizing principle. How have you arranged your paragraphs? Is this the most effective organizing strategy for your essay? Then check individual paragraphs to make sure they have only one relevant and fully developed idea. Next, check for transitions both between and within paragraphs. Finally, check to see that your introduction and conclusion fulfill their important functions.

Exercises for this concept can be found at Revising Paragraphs Practice.

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