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Clear and Effective Paragraphs

Limit each paragraph to one idea unless you are linking related points. If you are comparing old and new, for example, it makes sense to bring them together in one paragraph. Complicated information, or a discussion of several ideas, generally needs to be broken up into separate paragraphs to be easily understood.

Keep it simple
Sometimes you need to use a paragraph instead of just a few sentences to make your message clear. The clearest isn't always the shortest.

Instead of:
Plateauing or career blockage refers to structural barriers to career advancement arising due to a combination of age imbalances and a static or contracting workforce.
"Plateauing" or "career blockage" refers to the lack of opportunities for public servants to be promoted to the executive level. This problem arises because there is a large number of public servants who have many years to work before they retire and because the size of the public service is being reduced. For these reasons there are fewer openings available at higher levels.
Another way to break up blocks of information and draw the readers' attention to important elements is to use a question-and-answer format. This will help your reader, find information that is important to them.

Use transitions
A transition is a word, phrase, sentence or paragraph that shows the relationship between two or more parts of your writing. They help your writing move smoothly from idea to idea, sentence to sentence, section to section. Transitions help the reader understand the relationships that are familiar to you.

If you find that you have one or two favourite transition words, you may be trying to compensate for poorly organized text. Use transition words when you need them, but avoid overusing them.

Put parallel ideas in parallel constructions
Whenever a paragraph includes a series of similar items, make sure that all the items are in the same form. Describe each item using similarly constructed phrases. For example, use the same tense for all verbs that describe listed items.

Instead of:
Going on vacation?
inform a neighbour of your departure...
your neighbour should pick up your newspapers...
small valuables should be stored...
use clock timers that activate lights...
before leaving, ensure all entries are secured...
Going on vacation?
inform a neighbour of your departure
have your neighbour pick up newspapers
store small valuables
use clock timers that activate lights
secure all entries before leaving
Use point form and lists appropriately
You can make parallel points clear and easy to remember by using tabulation or a dropped list. Each item in the list is preceded by a bullet or a number. Bullets or numbers draw the readers attention and separate the items better than dashes.

Here are some guidelines for tabulation:
  • The items in the list must form a logical group.
  • Each item should contain only one idea.
  • Each item should work separately with the lead in to form a complete sentence.
  • Put anything common to all items in the lead in.
  • Use bullets to identify each item in the list.
  • Use numbers instead of bullets only when you are describing step-by-step procedures.
  • If bullets are used, all items in the list should begin with a lower case letter.
  • Use commas or no punctuation. Put a period after the last item if it is the end of the sentence.
  • If the list consists of alternatives, put "or" after the second to last item.
  • If the list is inclusive, put "and" after the second to last item.

Try this

For the following paragraph, identify the problem or issue from the point of view of clear and effective paragraphs. Then, rewrite the paragraph.

Exploring the Community

The advantage of this is that its demands are based on day-to-day experience, that its scope is flexible, and that it allows the teacher to gain a full measure of insight into parents' lives. The first task is to explain to students that the community is its people and then to have them list family members and to go home and gather stories and objects which their parents consider to be of special significance. The objects should be displayed and the stories shared. Once this has been done parents should be invited to come and elaborate or to tell new stories themselves. The project can end at this point with family portraits, family trees, family histories, travel journals, biographies etc. It can, however be expanded to take in the entire neighbourhood. In this case, it may culminate in the preparation of street maps, the drawing up of bar graphs (on the relationship between one- and two-story houses in a five-block section, for instance), the making of models of places of interest, the recording of interview with local businessman, the consideration of local concerns, the production of neighbourhood directories or tourist guides. Parents can take part in all these ventures - helping to make contacts for research purposes, accompanying groups or individuals on measuring or sketching expeditions, acting as guides for field trips to churches, synagogues, stores and restaurants, finding materials, giving advice. They can be invited to view work in progress or at the time it is complete.

Other resources online:

Writing User-Friendly Documents
(U.S. National Performance Review)

"Divide Your Material Into Short Sections"
"Limit Each Paragraph to One Topic"