The smallest unit of prose composition is the paragraph. A paragraph may be defined as a group of sentences relating to a single topic, or developing a central idea.
A paragraph may be long or short – sometimes as long as a page or more, and sometimes as short as a sentence or two. But students are advised to avoid these extremes and to see that a paragraph is just as long or as short as is necessary for the development of the particular point it deals with. Variation in the length of paragraphs is necessary and desirable. A short paragraph after a long one will afford variety and relief to the eye as well as to the mind.
Some useful tips
Unity of thought
Just as a sentence deals with one thought, a paragraph should deal with only one central idea.
The unity of thought cannot be achieved unless there is a logical order in which the idea is allowed to develop.
To achieve the effect of unbroken continuity of thought, certain conjunctions and words are found useful. Hence, so, therefore, but, or, and, then etc are some of the words which, if rightly used, will connect sentences up and make the paragraph a well-knit organic whole. If ideas have to be contrasted or alternatives presented, expressions like on the other hand, on the contrary, nevertheless, but, still, yet will be useful.
Read the paragraph given below. It is taken from ‘What is Courage’ by Sir William Slim.
- Now these two types of courage, physical and moral are very distinct. I have known many men who had marked physical courage but lacked moral courage. Some of them were in high places but they failed to be great in themselves because they lacked it. On the other hand, I have seen men who undoubtedly possessed moral courage very cautious about taking physical risks, but I have never met a man with moral courage who wouldn’t, when it was really necessary, face bodily danger. Moral courage is a higher and rarer virtue than physical courage.
The first sentence is the key sentence in the paragraph. It introduces the central topic – distinction between physical and moral courage. The contrast is elaborated in the body of the paragraph. Note the use of but and on the other hand, and the repetition of the words physical and moral in order to make the contrast vivid. The last sentence rounds off the paragraph by asserting the superiority of moral courage over physical courage.
This is another important characteristic of a good paragraph. The sentence patterns used in the paragraph must be varied. There should be long and short sentences, simple and complex, direct and involved, straight forward and inverted.
Read the short paragraph given below.
- I will stand on the roof of the world. I will climb Tibet’s highest mountains, sail on its rivers, and swim in lakes that are not on any map. I will walk in valleys and cross deserts untrodden by human beings. Mine will be the first footprints there.