Writing 101 – The Paragraph

Some days, “I think my prose reads as if English were my second language. By the time I get to the end of a paragraph, I’m dodging bullets and gasping for breath” (Lynn Abbey). Alas, understanding the formula for writing paragraphs brings a cease-fire in my mind, as the thoughts fighting to be expressed align themselves in order of impact.

A paragraph is a self-contained section of writing that puts forward a particular idea.

It typically consists of at least 2 or more sentences and organizes ideas that require more than a sentence to be expressed. There are two main formulas for writing paragraphs:

TEXAS

One of the most common formulas for writing paragraphs is the TEXAS formula. It breaks a paragraph down into five sections describing what a paragraph should do.

  • T – Topic Sentence (defines what the paragraph will assert/explain/discuss)
  • E – Explain or Elaborate (contains context/definitions)
  • X – Example (statistics/quotes/anecdotes)
  • A – Analysis
  • S – Summary or Synthesis (big picture conclusion)
  •  

Long paragraphs are a visual predictor that a story won’t work. You must cut the meat into little pieces.

Jon Ziomek

Uneven U

However, structuring every paragraph using the TEXAS method can make your writing seem repetitive or dull because each section has the same flow. Additionally, not every paragraph requires the TEXAS formula. For example, introductions and conclusions need more Analysis and Summary than Explanation and Example.

Hayot’s Uneven U provides an alternative paragraph structure for writing. It is a flexible yet sophisticated version of the TEXAS method.

Hayot’s Uneven U claims that paragraphs in critical writing have 5 levels of information, as indicated below:

Level Five: Abstract; general, oriented toward a solution or conclusion
Level Four: Less general; orientated toward a problem; pulls ideas together
Level Three: Conceptual summary; draws together two or more pieces of evidence or introduces a broad example.
Level Two: Description; plain or interpretive summary; establishing shot
Level One: Concrete; evidentiary; raw; unmediated data or information Source: Eric Hayot (2014)

The flexibility in “Hayot’s Uneven U” comes from how these various levels are used. Beginnings and ends should be supported by Level 5 and 4 information. For example, your introductory sentence could be Level 4 and your concluding sentence Level 5. Thereafter, Level 1, 2 and 3 data can be used to support your beginning and endings depending on your writing purpose.

Beginnings and endings are the most powerful parts of any section of writing for a reader – put the analytical/synthetic stuff that demonstrates your thinking there!

Gwen Ansell

Therefore, a paragraph using the Uneven U structure may have the below structure:

Level 4Less general; orientated toward a problem; pulls ideas together
Level 2Description; plain or interpretive summary; establishing shot
 Level 3Conceptual summary; draws together two or more pieces of evidence, or introduces a broad example
  Level 1Concrete; evidentiary; raw; unmediated data or information
   Level 5 – Abstract; general, oriented toward a solution or conclusion
Sample of paragraph structure using Hayots Uneven U

There is no perfect formula for writing; however, the TEXAS and Uneven U structures provide a recipe for trouble-shooting paragraphs you would like to improve. Remember:

Poorer writers have fewer readers.

Robert J. Sternberg

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