Business Writing Tip #99—Checklist for Organising Paragraphs

Right, I promised you a checklist to help you make sure you’ve planned and organised your writing well. First we’ll look at individual paragraphs, and then at the overall structure. You might not need to consider all of these points for every piece of writing you do, but it’s worth checking them all so that you don’t miss anything.

So here goes… ( a downloadable pdf version of the checklist is available here)

When you’re thinking about paragraphs:

YES

NO

  • Does the paragraph have a topic sentence? (Note: not all paragraphs have a topic sentence. Sometimes the topic sentence is implied, but be careful if you do this and make sure you are making life easy for your reader.)
  • What is the main idea of the paragraph? (Even if the topic sentence is not explicitly stated, you should be able to work out the main idea based on the information in the paragraph.)
  • Do all the sentences in the paragraph support the main idea?
  • How are the sentences in the paragraph organised? Are they chronological, examples, etc? Make sure you are only using one scheme in each paragraph. That is, don’t mix up timelines and examples, contrasts and emphasis.)
  • Is this the most effective way to organise them?
  • Are there any sentences that don’t follow the organisation or that just don’t flow logically?
And when you’re thinking about the structure of the piece overall…    
Does the piece of writing have an organised structure (an introduction; body and conclusion)?
Introduction    
  • Does the introduction seem helpful for the reader as a signpost to the whole piece of writing?
  • Does it explain the focus of the piece of work and your position on this?
  • Does it explain why the reader should be interested and the relevance of the research you have done?
Body/Body paragraphs    
  • Is there an overall general to specific organisation?
  • Have you arranged the material logically?
  • Do points within and over paragraphs follow logically?
  • Is it clear how paragraphs are related to each other?
  • Does each paragraph start a new theme or sub-theme?
  • Does each sentence make sense and does it relate to the sentence before it?
  • Have you used signposting language so that the essay flows? (Signposting language signals key parts of your writing such as the purpose, structure, your position, the main points, conclusions, etc.)
  • Is there a satisfying ending?
Conclusion    
  • Does it remind the reader of the piece of writing’s most important features?
  • Does the conclusion cover only what you proposed in the introduction and expanded on in the body? (It’s not the place to introduce additional material.)

 

Business Writing Tip #98—Organising Your Paragraphs

Way back in Tip #45 I talked about paragraphs and how they help make your text more readable. They organise the text for the reader.

I wrote that paragraphs are a collection of related sentences dealing with a single topic, and in that post I talked about topic sentences.

Today I want to talk about how you can organise your ideas within a paragraph. It is important to organise the details that support your topic sentence. Four common ways of organising details are:

  1. Comparison/contrast—the writer provides details which show similarities and/or highlight differences
  2. Examples—the writer uses an example or illustration in support of the main point
  3. Emphasis—the writer organises the details in order of their importance, or from the most general to the most specific
  4. Chronological—the writer orders the events in the order in which they occurred

Some useful words and phrases for each category

Compare/ContrastComparison: in the same way, similarly, likewise, also, by comparison, in a like manner, as, with, as though, both, like, just as
Contrast: but, in contrast, despite, however, instead, nevertheless, on the contrary, in spite of, still, yet, unlike, even so, rather than, otherwise
ExamplesTo illustrate this point, let’s take the example of, for instance, for example, such as, in particular, particularly, especially
EmphasisMoreover, furthermore, in addition, not only...but, above all, indeed, naturally, clearly, obviously, needless to say
ChronologicalWhen, as soon as, the moment, on hearing ..., from the beginning of the year, throughout the life of the project, to start with, up to that time, first of all, first, in the first place, after this/that, afterwards, then, next, secondly, thirdly, finally, next, last but not least

Next time I’ll post a checklist to help you make sure you have planned and organised your writing appropriately.