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Paragraph quality is not determined by its length, long or short. Rather, quality is determined by how well the paragraph communicates a single idea. Long paragraphs, however, can be difficult simply because they are long.

The following 2 strategies will help you write long paragraphs that work.

Day 137: Use topic chains to create cohesive paragraphs.

If you write a long paragraph (more than 4 or 5 sentences), how do you keep focused on the topic? How do you keep the reader aware of the main idea being discussed?

You do this with topic chains. A topic chain is basically a series of words and phrases that refer to the main idea. In most cases when you use a topic chain, each sentence will have one or more words that refer to the idea. If this is not possible with a particular sentence, you may need to consider whether or not that sentence belongs in the paragraph. Consider this paragraph from a proposal for state authorization to provide after school services to at-risk children.

"The term disabilities comprises many conditions that may inhibit student learning. Often, students with disabilities require specialized instructional strategies to reduce the degree to which these inhibitors affect learning. Students with special needs require a highly-qualified teacher with training and experience in addressing such needs. As part of the tutor selection process, [the company] identifies those teachers possessing these unique skills, resulting in the ability to match students with special needs with teachers possessing appropriate teaching skills. Teachers will use strategies that allow for differentiated pacing with careful sequencing, monitoring, and control of the learningprocess."

The underlined words create the topic chain. As you can see, each sentence contains words that refer to the topic introduced in the first sentence. These words keep the reader focused on the topic.

Day 141: Use two overlapping topic chains to change the focus of a document.

On day 137, we discussed using a topic chain to keep readers focused on your main idea in a paragraph. However, in some cases, you may need to change the focus of a document, not just transition between ideas but change the focus completely. You can overlap topic chains to create this transition.

For example, let’s say you have been asked to write about a particular topic or answer a specific question. Maybe you want to write about something else or answer a different question. You can’t simply ignore the original requirement, but you can shift the focus while addressing the requirement.

The strategy is fairly simple to understand. At the beginning of the paragraph, you start a topic chain that reflects the original question or topic. This topic chain will conclude before the end of the paragraph. You will introduce the second topic chain a few sentences into the paragraph and continue to the end.

For example, if you have 8 sentences in your paragraph, sentences 1 to 6 may include the first topic chain, and sentences 3 to 8 may include the second chain. Let’s look at an example.

"The term disabilities comprises many conditions that may inhibit student learning. Often, students with disabilities require specialized instructional strategies to reduce the degree to which these inhibitors affect learning. Students with special needs require a highly qualified teacher with training and experience in addressing such needs. As part of the tutor selection process, our company identifies those teachers possessing these unique skills, resulting in the ability to match students with special needs with teachers possessing appropriate teaching skills. Teachers will use strategies that allow for differentiated pacing with careful sequencing, monitoring, and control of the learning process."

The terms in bold reflect the topic of students needs, which was the topic required. However, this company wanted to talk about their expertise in working with those students. The underlined termspromote their expertise.

You can see that the required topic begins the paragraph but then disappears. The desired topic starts a little later and then ends the paragraph. This allows the writer to begin the next paragraph on a completely different topic than the topic with which this one started. This is an advanced technique.

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Tags: chains, document, length, main, needs, paragraph, paragraphs, sentence, special, teachers, More…teaching, topic, writing

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