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a.  Organization of paragraphs. You have several options for organizing your paragraphs. These include:

  • Time.
  • Space.
  • General to particular or particular to general.
  • Climax.
  • Compare and contrast.
  • Analysis and classification.
  • Definition.
  • Cause and effect.

(1)  Time. A narrative paragraph records events in the order that they occurred.

Within an hour of departing the battalion base camp Bravo Company began receiving enemy fire. Captain Jones, monitoring the Bravo Company report alerted his Alpha Company platoons and directed them to move on order to a rendezvous point north of the perimeter. He instructed his weapons platoon to orient its 81-millimeter orders in Bravo Company’s direction and be ready to provide support as directed. Finally, Captain Jones directed the two platoons with him to move north toward the same rendezvous point.

(2)  Space. A paragraph that describes something often uses space as the organizing principle. When you describe the layout of the Alpha Company office you would organize it in some spatial order, from east to west, from bottom to top, from near to far, and the like.

Using available maps Lieutenant Chandler constructed a sand model outlining the most prominent terrain features and the patrol objective. The model showed the routes of advance on Noname Ridge and withdrawal along with the known characteristics of the objective area.

(3)  General to particular or particular to general. A general to particular pattern describes the paragraph that begins with a general statement topic sentence, followed by sentences supporting the general statement with details, examples, and evidence. A paragraph may reverse this order by beginning with a particular statement followed by general statements.

General to particular: Disaster is rarely as universal as it seems from media reports. The fact of it being on record makes it appear continuous and wide-ranging whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic in time and place. One would expect that the Northridge, California earthquake had devastated the San Fernando valley forcing thousands of people from their homes and businesses. The fact is only a relatively few people had to move. The majority went about their daily activities as though nothing had happened.
Particular to general: When people get frustrated about crime in their neighborhood and in their schools it is natural for them to look around for somebody to blame. I suppose this is bearable as long as we purge ourselves of the idea that these problems are susceptible to local politics. They are not. They are real, and in spite of what you may hear in the next few weeks changing political leaders will not resolve the problems. You can't vote the problems out of office.

(4)  Climax. You can often make your paragraph more effective by arranging details and examples in order of increasing importance.

York was charged by six German soldiers who came at him with fixed bayonets. He drew a bead on the sixth man, fired, and then on the fifth. He worked his way down the line, and before he knew it, the first man was all by himself. York killed him with a single shot.

(5)  Comparison and contrast. Some ideas naturally lend organization by comparison and contrast. Consider the following topic sentences:

PVT Jones is a natural soldier; I am a natural nonsoldier.
Foreign wines have their virtues, but if we compare them carefully to our American wines, we’ll choose the American.

(6)  Analysis and classification. Analysis takes things apart. Classification groups things together.

Analysis: How much can you change the character of a problem soldier? What if a soldier comes from an environment where the parents themselves set a bad example or the soldier received little education? What about a soldier from a neighborhood where accepted conduct is lying and stealing. These norms became instilled as values while he was growing up. Lying to authority, "getting over," "shamming," and taking advantage of "the system" are normal behavior to this soldier. He is undependable and irresponsible; he lacks self-discipline. Can this soldier change?
Classification: American military professionals do not fight to force our political system on others or to gain power or wealth. Professional soldiers are protectors of the ideals of America, willing to fight for these ideals so that others can live in a free and just society. To do this, they must be experts in battle. The military professional who deeply values loyalty to the nation sees himself as a person who will always do his best to defend American ideals.

(7)  Definition. Definition sets limits within which a topic or term is used, especially in dealing with abstract issues.

Providing purpose gives soldiers a reason why they should do difficult things under dangerous, stressful circumstances. You must establish priorities, explain the importance of missions, and focus soldiers on the task so that they will function in an efficient and a disciplined manner.

(8)  Cause and effect. Whenever you discuss the causes of a problem and the effects that result you employ cause and effect organization.

Stress is the body’s response to a demand placed on it. The demands may be physical (cold, injury, disease) or mental (fear, conflict, pressure). Stress also occurs when soldiers think they cannot meet the demands they expect to face.

b.  Paragraph development. The following five guidelines will help you write effectively.

(1)  Limit each paragraph to a single topic. Don't break up your writing into an endless series of paragraphs treating minor ideas. Build each paragraph around a central idea and limit the information to what your reader needs. Three or four fully developed key ideas are more easily remembered than six or eight half-expressed ideas.

(2)  Begin the paragraph by telling what it is about. One way to do this is to use a name (topical heading) for the paragraph. Whether you use a topic heading or a full sentence will normally depend on the style you have selected for your paper. The text should begin with a topic sentence that states your main idea or that gives introductory information about the subject.

(3)  Add supporting thoughts and data. Following the introductory portion of the paragraph, add the supporting thoughts and data that you have on the topic. Say all you have to say about the topic in one paragraph; while you may later refer to or draw conclusions about the topic, you should not scatter the discussion throughout a series of paragraphs.

(4)  Progress from one part of your paragraph to the next. Help your reader to follow you by shifting or rephrasing sentences until each thought leads easily to the next. Use pronouns that refer to antecedents in the previous sentences. Show connection by introducing sentences with such words as however, therefore, or now. Below are other transitional words and phrases for unifying your paper.

To Show Use
Addition Besides, second, further, likewise, moreover
Cause or result For this reason, on that account, therefore, and so, under these conditions, as a result
Comparison In the same way, similarly, likewise
Concession Naturally, of course, although
Explanation For example, in particular, specifically
Repetition In fact, in other words, obviously

(5)  Use the final sentence in a paragraph for emphasis. The concluding sentence in a paragraph of several sentences will often summarize the paragraph. In a paragraph the first and last portions are the most emphatic. If the paragraph is complex, the last sentence should mirror the key information which you set forth in your topic sentence. Figure 3-2 illustrates the techniques discussed in the preceding paragraphs.

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Figure 3-2. A well-organized paragraph.

c.  Logical arrangement of paragraphs. A simple, easy flow of ideas is necessary if you are to get your message across. Arrange your paragraphs so that each paragraph will prepare the reader for what is to come.

(1)  The text of formal writing, regardless of its detailed format, is usually made up of three elements: the introductory portion, the body, and the closing or action portion. Think of these three elements as a working breakdown to show the general relationship of your paragraphs to one another.

(a)  Your initial paragraph (or paragraphs) tells what the writing is about; it may state a problem, describe the purpose of the paper, or give background on a subject. It may cite governing directives or otherwise show the authority for the paper. Your introductory paragraph should be short and to the point; it should tell your reader what to expect and why you have written the paper.

(b)  The body consists of one or more paragraphs. Regardless of its exact arrangement or the number of paragraphs, the body is the place where you state your case. Facts, criteria, and related data are usually presented first; an analysis of the facts and an explanation of your views then follow.

(c)  In the closing or action portion, you should recommend a specific line of action or summarize the important points of the paper. If the paper is a directive to lower units, use this portion to set a date for completed action.

(2)  As you develop each paragraph, make sure it is consistent with the intended organization of your paper. Be slow to make changes in the tentative outline; think each change through to make sure that its adoption does not upset the overall pattern or omit vital information. If a better presentation will result, change your outline even though you must rewrite other portions. If your outline is well organized, the relationship of each paragraph to the whole paper will be easy to understand.

(3)  Briefly review each paragraph as you write. Is the meaning clear? Do the thoughts flow naturally from one paragraph to the next? If not, rework your paragraphs until they satisfy you. However, don't try to give the paper a final review until you have finished it.

David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 14, 2016