On Writing Paragraphs

In my other work-place we work closely with a Writing Fellow: The lovely Katie Grant. Who generously agreed to have a meeting, so I could understand her role and have a chat about writing. This post briefly reflects on her tips for paragraph-writing, and I have her permission to share her paragraph-matrix with you.

Building the bridge between academic writing and non-academic writing

I always wondered about the view professional writers take on academic writing. Today, I had the chance to hear an opinion. I asked Katie if she had any tips from the perspective of a writer. She told me that writing, and particularly academic writing, is a technical exercise. A perspective I do not fully appreciate. I always understood writing as a different form of cognition—of thinking things through.

Skye Bridge

After some deliberation, I came to understand that writing as a technical exercise can work as a bridge for students to access academic writing in general, and structures, and style in particular. One of the key aspects in academic writing is building paragraphs. The traditional way of teaching paragraph writing is to tell the students, the most common structure of a paragraph is:

  1. Opening (or Topic) Sentence
  2. Main Part (or Supporting Sentences)
  3. Closing or Linking Sentence (sometimes called Conclusion)

There is actually a rather useful Wiki with some downloadable templates you can refer to.

Tips from the Writing Fellow

Here is what Katie developed instead and coined the paragraph matrix:

  • Assertion
  • Evidence (for instance, i.e. …)
  • Discussion/Analysis (however, …)
  • Punchline (How does this relate to your Essay Title?)
  • Link-Line

Katie Grant, Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow (30/03/3014)

Opening the paragraph with an assertion that lets the reader know, what is to come, what argument the writer wants to make. This is then backed up with evidence, critiqued and eventually contextualized (punchline). The punchline should, so Katie’s advice, link back to the assignment title.

When I talked to a colleague about the punchline, we were wondering, if we wouldn’t be overdoing it, having one in each paragraph. We eventually came to the conclusion that it is probably more about context and ensuring that the paragraph actually contributes to the overall discussion. The punchline is (in my understanding) the ‘So What?’ of the paragraph. It is the why do you provide this information? How does it contribute to the overall argument and theme of the assignment?

I am going to adopt this ‘paragraph matrix’ as a way of teaching paragraphs. It provides more clarity and structure, particularly for the ‘main part’ of the paragraph, and I can see this version being especially helpful to international students.

(originally published on Medium)

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