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LESSON 1: Clear and Organized Writing
Ideas and Paragraphs
A paragraph is a group of sentences that relate to one main idea. If the sentences do not help develop the same main idea, the paragraph seems disorganized, and the writer's meaning is unclear.
Incorrect: Group of sentences that do not relate to the same main idea:
Houseplants make a home more beautiful, but many people find them difficult to take care of. I water my houseplants once a week. There are many different kinds of houseplants. If you are buying a houseplant as a gift, consider how much light the person's home gets.
In the example above, each sentence is about houseplants, but there is no main idea. In the paragraph below, however, each sentence supports one idea: helping houseplants adjust to a new home.
Correct: Paragraph with sentences that relate to one main idea:
Houseplants need help to adjust to a new environment. Your home is probably less bright and humid than a greenhouse or plant store. Therefore, when you get a new houseplant, keep it near a south-facing window at first. Move it away from the light over a period of four weeks. Use a humidifier to make the air in your home more humid. These actions will help avoid the loss of foliage that often occurs when plants change locales.
One paragraph should stop and a new one begin when the main idea shifts. In the example below, the first four sentences describe what road rage is, while the last four sentences tell how to react to road rage. The writer should have started a new paragraph withsentence 5.
Incorrect: One paragraph that should be divided into two paragraphs:
(1) Road rage is an episode of violent behavior that takes place when one driver's actions anger another driver. (2) Young males are the most likely to lose their cool on the road. (3) Most road rage incidents take place during rush hour, when people often get frustrated. (4) Warm weather is another factor in road rage. (5) If you're a victim of an aggressive driver, try to stay calm. (6) Don't react or make eye contact. (7) Try not to brake or swerve in retaliation. (8) These actions will only infuriate the other driver, and you might lose control of your car.
Sometimes the ideas in two paragraphs really belong in one:
Incorrect: Two paragraphs that should be combined:
To make chicken broth, boil a pot of water. Take some chicken, onions, parsnips, carrots, and herbs, and wrap them up in cheesecloth.
Make sure it is real cotton cheesecloth, or you won't be able to eat the broth! Simmer the cheesecloth-wrapped vegetables and chicken in the water for several hours; then remove them. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Clear and Organized Writing Practice 1.1
A. Directions: Read each group of sentences. If there is a main idea, underline it. If there is no main idea, write "No MI."
____ 1. The pharmacist at the local drugstore is very helpful. She can always get the medicines we need. She arranges deliveries of our prescriptions when we're sick. When we don't have money, she lets us pay the next time. Many people have written to thank her.
____ 2. Keep your toolbox well equipped, and you'll always be able to make home repairs. Common home repairs include replacing lighting fixtures and fixing furniture. The community center offers a class on this subject. You can pay someone to do home repairs.
____ 3. Some people don't vote because they think their vote doesn't count. However, elections have been won by just a few hundred votes. If people don't vote, they are giving up their voice. Every vote counts, so let your voice be heard and vote!
____ 4. When you are traveling, it's a good idea to mark your luggage clearly. Put a luggage tag on every piece you intend to bring, including hand luggage like backpacks. To recognize your luggage quickly, put a brightly colored ribbon on it.
____ 5. Listening to music can benefit you in many ways. When you are feeling stress, music can help soothe and relax you. When you need energy, rock 'n' roll or hip-hop can give you a boost. If you have a baby or small child, soft music can help lull the child to sleep.
B. Questions 6 and 7 refer to the following paragraphs.
(1) How frequently you get colds depends on your age. (2) The average young adult gets two to four colds a year. (3) Adults over 60 have fewer than one cold a year, while children have six to ten colds annually. (4) Colds are caused by viruses. (5) Contrary to popular belief, being cold will not cause you to get a cold. (6) Vitamin C is thought to prevent colds, but there is no proof.
(7) Because there is no cure for the common cold, prevention is key. (8) Washing your hands is the best way to avoid getting a cold. (9) Encourage others who have colds to sneeze into a tissue and throw it away immediately.
(10) Refrain from touching your eyes and nose, and stay far from people who have colds.
6. Which revision would improve the effectiveness of the article?
Begin a new paragraph with
(1) sentence 2
(2) sentence 3
(3) sentence 4
(4) sentence 5
(5) sentence 6
7. Which revision would improve the effectiveness of the article?
(1) remove paragraph B
(2) remove paragraph C
(3) move paragraph B to follow paragraph C
(4) join paragraphs B and C
(5) no revision is necessary
Clear and Organized Writing Practice 1.2
A. Directions: Write topic sentences for each of the following paragraphs.
Weather satellites send us information about weather around the world. Thanks to satellite TV, we have an ever-widening range of programs to choose from. Satellites even play a role in long-distance telephone communication.
First of all, stock prices are falling. Second, home sales have slowed to a crawl. Finally, many consumers have cut back on big purchases such as cars, home improvements, and vacations.
According to the new dress code, employees of the library may now wear "semi-casual" clothing. Khakis, blue jeans with no holes, and other slacks are acceptable for men and women. Skirts must be knee-length or longer. Sandals are acceptable in the summer. Employees are requested not to wear gym shoes.
Topic Sentences in Paragraphs
Every paragraph should have a topic sentence that states the main idea. The other sentences in the paragraph are supporting details. These details tell more about the topic sentence. The topic sentence usually appears at the beginning of the paragraph, though it may appear elsewhere.
A topic sentence must do two things:
Tell the topic, or subject, of the paragraph
State the central point that the writer wants to make about the topic
In the paragraph below, the topic sentence is underlined. Notice how the topic sentence tells the subject of the paragraph (graffiti in the neighborhood) and states the central point about the topic (graffiti is a serious problem in the neighborhood and should be addressed).
We need to do more to stop the problem of graffiti in our neighborhood. Recently, several bus stops and the exterior walls of many buildings have been defaced with unsightly graffiti. The neighborhood is fast becoming a much less desirable place to live. As a result, prospective renters feel frightened and look elsewhere.
A topic sentence should not be too specific or too general. If it is, readers won't know what the overall point is. A topic sentence like "The market is covered with gang symbols" would be too specific for the paragraph above. "There is graffiti in our neighborhood" would be too general.
Main Idea Statements in Essays
Just as every paragraph should have a topic sentence, so every essay should have a main idea statement. Whereas a topic sentence states the main idea, or "point," of a single paragraph, a main idea statement expresses the central point of all the paragraphs in an essay. In the essay below, the main idea statement is underlined. Notice that while the main idea statement appears in the first paragraph, it is not the first sentence.
While graffiti is indeed a serious problem facing our neighborhood, other issues also need to be addressed. Two of the most pressing neighborhood issues are the crime rate and the lack of decent housing.
In recent months, crime has increased. For example, a number of muggings have occurred. As a result, residents are nervous about going out at night. The number of apartment break-ins has increased as well. We need a stronger police presence to combat the crime problem.
In addition, much of the housing in this neighborhood is in poor condition. Every day, residents are put in danger by peeling paint, broken locks, and rundown fences. We must put pressure on landlords to resolve their tenants' complaints, perhaps by showing them that, in the long run, it is in their financial interest to do so.
If we do not act immediately, our neighborhood will decline even more. Therefore, I recommend that we form a community task force to tackle these issues. We should ask our city councilwoman to be an advocate for us. With full participation of community members, we will be on our way to a safer, more livable neighborhood.
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