There are No “One-Sentence Paragraphs” in Essays. Change My Mind.

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

You would already be challenging me, “YOU write one-sentence paragraphs in your blog posts.” Wikipedia says it is a “misconception” to consider that paragraphs should always be more than one sentence. Online articles are often written with one-sentence paragraphs.

But read the title again. Very carefully.

Advice #6: There are no “one-sentence paragraphs” in essays.

In fast-paced social media, long reads cannot attract eyeballs anymore. Even the phrase “too long; didn’t read” has to be contracted into “TL;DR” on Reddit. What I’m saying is, in different communication channels, one packages his/her messages differently.

The internet has become more spoken-like in nature: imagine texting a paragraph to your family and tell me what happens.

But the nature of essay and its form have not changed much, especially in the formal, academic sense. Etymologically, “essay” came from French, which means “to try, to examine, to test”. Testing what?

Testing ideas and arguments out that is, be it a cause-effect, classification, argument… essay. This means a point made in a statement need be supported by a subsequent one, linked into one coherent chunk of text to demonstrate its logical flow.

This also means a “paragraph” is not just an orthographic one for breaking a text randomly. There should be one logical, coherent idea throughout, with certain elaboration, extension, enhancement, and/or if you like, projecting ideas from other sources.

So exactly how? Imagine yourself surfing a wave. I didn’t invent the following “wave diagram”; this is from Prof Karl Maton’s work on “semantic waves“, which has been widely used to understand concepts such as knowledge building and pedagogies, especially writing teaching:

At the crest (the highest point), preview the general idea about the topic in the paragraph. It can be introducing a definition, a factor/consequence, an argument, etc. This is commonly considered the “topic sentence”.

When you’re surfing down the wave towards the trough, explain the definition in simpler terms, use examples, give more contexts and/or cite sources. This is the “meat” of the paragraph, making your ideas more specific, your explanations clearer, and your argument more justified.

At the point when you’re ready to surf another wave, collect all the specifics you have illustrated, find a general term to summarise it. If there have been comments throughout the paragraph, also summarise them. This is the concluding sentence, where you answer the “so what?” question.

Put simply, write a paragraph like a whole essay. Keep the beginning-middle-end in mind.

This is the way one guides the reader along his/her flow of message and logic across paragraphs and the whole text.

Many studies about student writing have demonstrated that students writing paragraphs like riding a wave perform better in assessments.

So you aren’t disallowing students to write “one-sentence” paragraphs because of rules or conventions or “that’s the way it is”. It’s about cohesion and coherence.

Has this changed your mind? :)


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