Three Ways to Expand a Paragraph: Enhancement

Photo by Victoria Zakharchuk on Unsplash

This post wraps up the trilogy of “expanding a paragraph” considered from a language perspective. The two strategies I illustrated previously are those of elaboration and extension. Here I am explaining the last (but not the least) strategy: enhancement.

Rhetorically, think of “enhancement” as something “great to have, but not essential”. Just like spices that make a dish delicious, but food is food with or without it.

Grammatically, consider enhancement realised by adverbials, giving the “context” under which something described in the main clause.

That is to say, enhancement is mainly expressed in subordinate clauses, or hypotactic clauses, or prepositional phrases serving similar purposes. For example:

Main clauseSubordinating clause/ Prepositional phrase
The adverse incident
can be avoided
when a verbal reminder or confirmation about the operation is given to the patients.
The adverse incident
can be avoided
under the condition which a verbal reminder or confirmation about the operation is given to the patients.

The nature of subordinating clauses suggests that without them the main clause can still be considered as a complete meaning (grammatically); however, its meaning can be greatly enhanced with the subordinating clause suggesting time or condition (signalled by when).

Then, it is not difficult to deduce that adverb clauses of time, location, manner, cause, effect and concession, in addition to conditionals and non-defining relative clauses function to “enhance” the main clause by giving it qualities.

But in particular here, I talk about two of these enhancement strategies — cause and effect — since they are important logical relations that allow us to create a line a reasoning and “wrap-up” a paragraph.

Also, along the line of exploring cause-and-effect, I can move towards my next piece of academic writing advice on paraphrasing. :)

Both relations of cause and effect are rather straightforward in terms of text signals, in that “causes” are typically marked by because, since and as, whereas “effects” by so, therefore, as a result, etc.


A typical reasoning strategy within an English sentence is that the main clause being the result, and the subordinate clause the cause:

Main clauseSubordinating clause
Patient safety has become a major global concernThe adverse incident
can be avoided
because about 40% of patients are harmed in
primary and outpatient healthcare…

Of course, you can put the subordinating clause before the main clause, given the flexibility of the language. That means the reason can come first, pretty much like Chinese; however, this is a “marked” way of ordering the clause in English.

That suggests English users tend to speak of results or arguments before giving reasons or justifications. That is, important messages are conveyed in main clauses; supporting ideas in subordinate clauses (and phrases).

This is perhaps why second-language users like us feel uneasy to “pack a punch” in the topic sentence: we are so used to providing an elaborating line of reasoning before a conclusion, and believing that’s the logical flow in English writing.

In fact, when we write our first sentence in a paragraph — typically a topic sentence (I always emphasise to my students, for clarity, the topic sentence should always begin a paragraph — almost a prescriptive advice), we put forward our argument first before elaborating it. For example:

Safety leadership… is a critical factor that determines the safety culture of the organization. It is because senior managers are capable of effectively directing the medical staff to foster the culture and commitment required for tackling the underlying systematic causes of medical errors (REF). The organizational culture significantly influences the attitudes and behaviors of all staff (REF), in turn greatly affecting patient safety. In other words, the lower priority to patient safety leads to weaker safety culture that contributes to SRI.

Sample from Student Y, slightly edited for illustration

When the topic sentence puts forward the argument safety leadershipbeing a critical factor, the subsequent sentence substitutes it with it in the Subject, linked with because followed by the reason senior managers are capable of

Surely you can use other linkers such as because of, due to, owing to or other phrase linkers, as long as you’re making that causal relation.

This shows that normally after the topic sentence, the subsequent sentence gives a more specific detail (elaboration) or reasoning (enhancement) to it before moving on.

Does it mean we must put effects before causes all the time? No.

At the end of each elaborated argument with explanations and examples, it is necessary to sum up what this means briefly before proceeding to the next argument. This is when “effect” comes in.


We typically mark effects/ consequences with the conjunction so, in that the second clause/ sentence serves as a closing of a conversational exchange.

Similarly, in writing, we have a variety of language strategies to use to signal closing. Note that this relation of “effect” does not link the sentence only with the previous one. When we end a paragraph, the last sentence is often a wrap-up of everything that has been described or argued throughout the paragraph.

This reasoning process is often marked with the logical meaning of “result”, usually starting the concluding sentence with therefore, as a result, consequently, and the like.

But if you read the sample paragraph above, the concluding sentence seems to be an elaborating relation, which is marked with in other words, rephrasing the previous line of reasoning (A influences B and in turn affects C).

In fact, you can find that the causal relation lies within the clause in the concluding sentence: the verb phrase lead to links lower priority to patient safety (Cause — Event 1) with weaker safety culture (Consequence — Event 2).

And the consequence is then linked to SRI (Consequence — Event 3), with the verb phrase contribute to indicating the cause-effect relationship.

This means verbs can replace logical linkers and adjuncts to connect meaning causally — one of the important process to turn more spoken-like expressions to the technical writing style.

Final thoughts

It’s not hard to find paragraphs in effective essays similar to the sample above, which connects pieces of disciplinary knowledge in a chain of cause-and-effect relationships. The following diagram illustrates such a chain:

This means, to reach the idea in the final sentence, one needs to consider how the topic (safety leadership) is causally related to all the ideas within the paragraph before the idea about SRI, one event/ phenomena/ concept after another in succession.

From here, I can start talking about how we can take advantage of “rewording” logical relations between sentences across grammatical terms (becauseresult from/ originate from; so–result in/ lead to/ cause) in order to paraphrase ideas — one important writing skill but also one difficult to make sense of and master.

My thoughts are a bit messy this week, mainly because the summer classes have gone back to the online mode, and the confirmed cases have been rising in these two weeks.

If you need more explanations or clarifications, or you wish to raise questions, please feel free to drop a comment below. Thanks for reading!

Halliday, M. A. K., & Matthiessen, C. M. I. M. (2004). IFG3. London, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Hao, J. (2018). Reconsidering “cause inside the clause” in scientific discourse–from a discourse semantic perspective in systemic functional linguistics. Text & Talk38(5), 525-550.

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