Paragraph styles

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The following are some common paragraph styles that are used in different sections of academic papers and research papers, as well as non-academic writing. As an exercise, teachers can have students look at sample papers and identify some of the paragraph forms; they can discuss why they are used in such papers, and can try to identify expressions that are typical for some of these paragraph types.

1. Definition
Introducing new or difficult concepts or terms; defining terms in order to establish a syllogism; establishing importance or relevance of an item; establishing a special meaning or relevance of terms as the author will use them in his/her argumentation.
2. Descriptive and narrative
Explaining events, or describing a situation, especially with the writer’s viewpoint or evaluation implied.
3. Chronology
Past background of a topic; establishing the relevance of a topic or issue.
4. Example / illustration / listing / enumerative
How things are to be; describing characteristics; strengths or weakness of an item or concept.
5. Classification / categorization
Explaining interrelationships of items as related members of a class or group.
6. Cause and effect
Explaining results or implications of an item.
7. Process
Explaining or describing an item or concept as a a logical sequence of steps, e.g., reports, experiments.
8. Contrast
Describing differences among items, ideas or theories; showing how one item or idea is superior or inferior to another; evaluating ideas or items.
9. Comparison
Describing similarities; supporting an idea by establishing similarities with already accepted ideas.
10. Analogy
Illustrating a point with an illustration that would be easier for readers to understand, and that conveys relationships among items or ideas as the writer perceives them.
11. Critique / evaluation
The writer examines ideas (or other things) to point out strengths and weaknesses, or positives and negatives, of particular ideas, theories, proposals, experiments, devices, or such. This can be done in order to argue for or against one of them, or to show the superiority of his/her own idea.
12. Deductive logic (syllogism)
This is the classical type of logical argumentation from one point to another: if X and Y are true, then Z must be true.
13. Inductive logic
Reasoning from evidence or points to a logical conclusion.
14. “Optimal / best inference” logic
Arguing for X as the best explanation or conclusion; X works better than other possible explanations, or X best satisfies certain logical requirements that make it the most acceptable option.
15. Summary
A concise overview, e.g., of the logical development of an idea.
16. Background
Explanatory background information, e.g., historical background of an issue.
17. Argumentative
Presenting claims and evidence.
18. Analytical
Logical analysis of an issue.
19. Pro and con
for and against X
20. Subjective
personal, emotional, and/or first-person point-of-view
21. Intersubjective
second person / 1st & 2nd person point-of-view
22. Observational
A description or narration of what an observer sees, possibly with analytical comments
23. Other kinds?

1 Text features

One can examine these paragraph styles to identify typical grammatical and lexical patterns, by looking at patterns in the following categories.

  • Abstract nouns
  • Concrete, physical nouns
  • Gerunds (-ing verbs used as nouns, e.g., swimming)
  • Nouns referring to actions, activities, or events
  • Descriptive noun phrases (e.g., with many adjectives, other specifiers, or post-modifiers)
  • Compound noun phrases
  • Post-modified nouns (nouns followed by a modifier – a prepositional phrase, a participial phrase, relative clause, etc.)
  • Other complex noun phrases
  • Complex or compound sentences[1]
  • Particular types of verbs
  • Certain verb tenses, e.g., simple present, simple past, perfect, pluperfect (past perfect)
  • Certain modal verbs (can, could, should, would … ) or quasi-modal verbs (have to, ought to, need to … )
  • Participial phrases[2]
  • Connector words / conjunctions (if, thus, since, although, however ...)

2 Connectors / transitionals

Students can also try to identify typical connective or transitional words and expressions used in papers (see also the page on Connectors_(transitionals)). They can discuss what patterns are found in various paragraph forms, paper topics, or paper sections.

Connector Example
1. Time / sequence and, or, afterward, soon
2. Addition and, as, also, furthermore
3. Place, direction there, beyond, in the forefront
4. Repetition, emphasis, restatement as mentioned, the aforementioned, that is
5. Exception other than, except for
6. Example for example, specifically, thus
7. Contrast but, though, however, in contrast
8. Comparison just as, likewise, similarly
9. Summary / conclusion as a result, as shown, above all, in summary
10. Reason, purpose because (of), since, due to, with this in mind
11. Cause, effect, result so that, because, therefore, thereupon
12. Manner, similarity likewise, accordingly, thereby, similarly, as if
13. Conditional if, unless, in case of, whether

3 See also=

Academic writing genres

4 Notes=

  1. Compound sentence: A sentence formed from two clauses connected by coordinating conjunctions (and, but, so, or, etc.). Complex sentence: A sentence formed with a main clause plus a subordinate clause (which cannot exist by itself as a sentence; it begins with a subordinating conjunction like since, because, although, if, after, before, etc.). See the page on Sentence types.
  2. This is a phrase or clause with a participle rather than a main verb as its core, either a present or past participle. E.g.: (1) Present participle: This expensive new therapy burdens patients economically, eliminating their opportunity to receive treatment. (2) Past participle: Based on our assumptions, five factors were entered into the model.