While you generally want to move from the known to the new, from the thesis to its illustration or restriction, you sometimes want to violate this pattern. Educated readers in particular can be bored by texts that always present information in the same way.

Regardless of whether a paragraph is deductively or inductively structured, readers can generally follow the logic of a discussion better when a paragraph is unified by a single purpose. Paragraphs that lack a central idea and that wander from subject to subject are apt to confuse readers, making them wonder what they should pay attention to and why.

As much as any of the above guidelines, you should consider the media and genre where your text will appear. For as much as paragraphs are shaped by the ideas being expressed, they are also influenced by the genre of the discourse.

Readers also expect paragraphs to relate to each other as well as to the overall purpose of a text. Establishing transitional sentences for paragraphs can be one of the most difficult challenges you face as a writer because you need to guide the reader with a light hand. When you are too blatant about your transitions, your readers may feel patronized.

Understand how to organize information in paragraphs so readers can scan your work and better follow your reasoning.

Unlike punctuation, which can be subjected to specific rules, no ironclad guidelines exist for shaping paragraphs. If you presented a text without paragraphs to a dozen writing instructors and asked them to break the document into logical sections, chances are that you would receive different opinions about the best places to break the paragraph. In part, where paragraphs should be placed is a stylistic choice. Some writers prefer longer paragraphs that compare and contrast several related ideas, whereas others opt for a more linear structure, delineating each subject on a one-point-per-paragraph basis. Newspaper articles or documents published on the Internet tend to have short paragraphs, even one-sentence paragraphs.

Define content by comparing and contrasting categories or classes of objects.

Comparing and contrasting issues can be a powerful way to organize and understand knowledge. Typically, comparing and contrasting require you to define a class or category of objects and then define their similarities and differences.

Comparing and contrasting are very natural processes, a strategy we employ in our everyday lives to understand ideas and events. We learn new ideas by comparing the new ideas with what we've learned in the past. We understand differences between people and events by comparing new events and people to past people and events. Comparisons are often conducted to prove that one concept or object is superior to another. People selling a grant idea or business proposal or people marketing a product may compare and contrast one idea or product to another, advocating their position. As consumers, we routinely compare and contrast. For example, you could compare MP3 players by going to an online site and noting different brands, products, descriptions, prices, shipping costs, dealer rankings, and the states of the dealers. You could compare used cars by noting their make/model, cost,Consumer Reports ranking, and availability. Students are frequently asked to compare and contrast topics for essay examinations. In fact, comparing and contrasting are extremely common academic exercises.

How to Effectively Compare and Contrast Information

When comparing and contrasting, you can either chunk or sequence your analysis. When you chunk you analysis, you first talk about Choice A, explicating whatever points you wish, and then discuss Choice B, elaborating as necessary. For example, if you were comparing the Miami Hurricanes football team to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, you could have a paragraph or so about the Hurricanes and then move on to the Cornhuskers.

Alternatively, when sequencing, you flipflop your analysis, discussing one component of Choice A and Choice B, then another component of Choice A and Choice B, and so on. For example, if you were arguing who would make a better president, George W. Bush or Al Gore, you could discuss Bush and Gore's views on the environment, then their views on health care reform, taxation, and so on.

People seem to find texts that sequence information easier to follow than texts that chunk information, perhaps because each unit of analysis is compared tit for tat. In other words, you don't need to hold in your memory what the writer said about Subject A, Topic 3 while reading Subject B, Topics 1 and 2.

Chunking

Sequencing

Choice A

I. Subject A
A. Topic 1

Subject A
B. Topic 2

Subject A
C. Topic 3

II. Subject B
A. Topic 1

Subject B
A. Topic 1

Subject B
A. Topic 1

Choice B

I. Topic 1

A.

B.

II. Topic 2

A.

B.

III. Topic 3

A.

B.

Example

Fact Sheet: Airline security: Federalizing workers at issue for lawmakers by CNN.

Enable readers to visualize your message by appealing to the five senses and using specific details.

Description is an important feature of all writing genres. Writers use description to support arguments and illustrate concepts and theories. They try to invoke mental pictures of a place so readers can imagine it in their minds.

Write sentence-long, paragraph-long, or extended definitions.

We routinely define new concepts, terms, activities, research methods, and research findings. Our definitions may be limited to a sentence or they may extend to whole paragraphs, passages, essays, or books.

Organize information into logical groups.

As with describing, narrating, defining, and comparing, classifying is a component of all writing genres. Just as writers pause to describe ideas and events or define new concepts in most documents, they routinely classify information--that is, show or tell readers how information can be grouped into categories.

Organize according to time. Reveal the logical or chronological steps one conducts to complete something or the cause-and-effect relationship between events.

Writers frequently use chronological order or reverse chronological order to organize a document. Narratives, resumes, family histories, historical narratives, process reports--these common genres typically employ a narrative order. 

In what ways does your opening engage your reader?

Writers who produce engaging openings keep their audience in mind from the very first sentence. They consider the tone, pace, delivery of information, and strategies for getting the reader’s attention. Many teachers generally recommend that students write their introductions last, because oftentimes introductions are the hardest paragraphs to write.

They’re difficult to write first because you have to consider what the reader needs to know about your topic before getting to the thesis.

In what manner have you reiterated your ideas? What have you left your reader to think about at the end of your paper? How does your paper answer the “So what?” question?

As the last part of the paper, conclusions often get the short shrift. We instructors know (not that we condone it)—many students devote a lot less attention to the writing of the conclusion. Some students might even finish their conclusion thirty minutes before they have to turn in their papers. But even if you’re practicing desperation writing, don’t neglect your conclusion; it’s a very integral part of your paper.

Think about it: Why would you spend so much time writing your introductory material and your body paragraphs and then kill the paper by leaving your reader with a dud for a conclusion? Rather than simply trailing off at the end, it’s important to learn to construct a compelling conclusion—one that both reiterates your ideas and leaves your reader with something to think about.

Use metalanguage to help your readers understand your organization and reasoning. Clarify logical relationships, temporal relationships, and spatial relationships by using metalanguage.

The term "metalanguage" refers to language that helps writers explain relationships between ideas or words that explain how texts are presented. Phrases like "for example," "as a result," and "therefore" are examples of metalanguage. Like an impatient TV watcher clicking through hundreds of channels, readers tend to be impatient, always ready to put their work aside.

As a result, throughout a document, you must ensure that readers will understand how different ideas relate to one another. You don't want your readers to ask

  • "So what?"
  • "Who cares?"
  • "Jeez, just what is this text about?"
  • "What's going on in the world today?" i.e., tangential thoughts.

Successful writers maintain a sense of their readers' likely responses to their documents. Just as writers commonly summarize their message in their introductions, highlighting its significance, writers frequently repeat their main ideas throughout a document, reminding readers of what's been discussed, what will follow, and how new information relates to old information. Your essay shouldn't be a spinning top, wandering from one topic to another--not if you want readers (or a good grade), anyway. Of course, peppering your language with metadiscourse--such as "thus," "therefore," "consequently," and so on--will not provide logic. By itself, metalanguage cannot provide missing logic; it merely provides the glue to help readers better understand how ideas cohere.

Below is a list of common metalanguage terms. Ideally, your ideas relate so well that you do not need extensive metalanguage.

TRANSITIONAL CUES

COMMON TRANSITIONS

To guide readers

  • You might first conclude
  • Please consider the possibility that
  • As you recall
  • Consider now

To order ideas and structure texts

  • To begin...next...furthermore
  • First, second, third...

To place emphasis

  • More importantly
  • Without doubt
  • Surprisingly
  • Remarkably

To provide examples

  • For example
  • For instance
  • In fact
  • Additionally
  • Also
  • Similarly
  • In other words

To show logical connections

  • If...then
  • Consequently
  • However
  • Furthermore
  • Hence
  • As a result
  • On the other hand...
  • In contrast
  • Nonetheless
  • Still
  • While

To hedge

  • Perhaps
  • We may conclude
  • Possibly
  • This suggest
  • It may seem

To summarize

  • In conclusion...
  • To summarize
  • As a result
  • As I have demonstrate

Use an inductive organizational structure to surprise readers or to address controversial topics.

While writers are under increasing pressure to organize information deductively, they can--and do--write inductively. Typically, writers employ a more inductive style when the topic is controversial or when they wish to surprise readers.

Controversial Issues

When writing documents that address controversial issues or matters that threaten the beliefs of their readers, writers may find it strategic to place their arguments in their conclusions rather than their introductions.

Surprise Readers

Readers of novels expect to be delighted with surprise endings. In contrast, readers of nonfiction don't expect the surprise ending, so they can be especially appreciative of a carefully constructed surprise. Note below, for example, the way Dianne Lynch surprises you with the line, "you are using the Internet to fight back"--a line in direct juxtaposition to the first 122 words of her short essay "Afghan Women Reach Out Via the Web."

  • You can't laugh or talk aloud in public, and even your shoes must make no sound. Wearing cosmetics or showing your ankles is punishable by whipping; women have had their fingers amputated for wearing nail polish.
  • You paint the windows of your house black so you cannot be seen from the outside. You are forbidden from walking on your balcony or in your backyard. It has been years since the sun shone on your face. And all public references to you have disappeared.
  • You are a woman in Afghanistan today, living under the regime of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban.
  • And if you are one of the nearly 2,000 women who belong to The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, or RAWA, you are using the Internet to fight back.

When writing essays for school contexts, be sure to check whether your instructor will permit an inductive organization. While an inductive approach can be an effective strategic approach, some readers--particularly in academic and business contexts--define "good writing" as writing that follows a deductive structure.


"Specific to General (Inductive)" was written by Joseph Moxley, University of South Florida