Friday, 27 November 2020

Why we need paragraphs

As I mentioned in my last post, I wrote about Professor Brabazon's great post on the paragraph (here; 2020). I have already summarised the key structural points, but there was also useful information on what the job of the paragraph is. I think we ignore this too often.

However, Professor Brabazon has a list of items which detail the work, in writing, that the paragraph does. She named ten elements, but I found a lot of cross-over in some, and feel that there are seven areas in which paragraphs deliver value to writers:

  1. Connections. Paragraphs help us "to make connections" (2020, 12:15). We need to ground our ideas in some type of theoretical construct, and create the connections between our ideas through the use of paragraph structure, and through development of a planned structure to lead the reader through the argument; by "sewing together the building blocks of your research to great paragraphs" (13:10). Students who are running into difficulty when writing often have "ideas [that] are fragmented" (12:29). She notes that when difficulty strikes for students, "the ideas are popping all over the place" (12:43) - a great visual! -  but that those ideas are "not grounded and there's no structure to the argument" (12:52).
  2. Information literacy. Our ability to control information is clearly demonstrated by how well we construct paragraphs: they need to be 'just right' for length. Tara notes that writing "short paragraphs confirm[s] that you haven't read enough so you've got no control of your information" (17:49), and "in the long paragraphs you've read a lot but you can't control the information" (17:55). We need to control and to shape "all that knowledge that you're engaging with, so paragraphing requires intellectual discipline and, yes, information literacy" (18:11) 
  3. Synthesising & interpretation. Being able to create a coherent whole out of all very complex component parts "confirms your ability to configure something original and understand the difference between the two" (18:32). As writers we synthesise ideas and "shape them into something meaningful" (18:50), but also, "through a paragraph[, we] move from the synthesis to the originality" (19:06). Further, each paragraph shows how our own interpretation adds value to our work. We need to remember that a synthesis "is not one damn fact after another" (23:14); that is chronology. Narrative created using synthesis is interpreting what we have found, to create our version of the 'truth' based on our evidence, forged through the fires of our internal critique and reflection. Our "writing confirms your intellectual discipline" ( 24:35), and to show that we can "interpret the research of others" (25:06). 
  4. Knowledge & learning. Tara notes that "great paragraphs transform ideas into knowledge" (14:25). While a PhD must provide an original contribution to knowledge, all paragraphs should be helping someone to learn something from us. Writing paragraphs will teach us to write more clearly. We learn from doing, and each deliberately well-constructed paragraph will help us to write more well-constructed paragraphs: "we learn to write by writing" (15:38)
  5. Justification. Writing coherent arguments help us to justify our argument to others. A "well-balanced paragraph shows your ability to take a premise, or an assumption, or an idea and move it beyond opinion into an argument into debate" (19:33). We inject evidence, weight, and logic to create "a seamless case" (19:50) 
  6. Plotting a path. Well written paragraphs "keep us on track" (20:03) and orient us with the argument being developed. Paragraphs help us to navigate through the chapter, the argument, the research, the thesis. If we find ourselves "in the middle of someone's paragraph going, 'where exactly am ? What is going on here?'" (20:24), then the work is not well mapped, and we cannot see the path the author should have charted for us. We end up with the Hansel and Gretel breadcrumb trail through your argument (25:31). 
  7. Audience. The purpose of research is to communicate it to others. Well written paragraphs break complex ideas into digestible pieces so that we "are able to make connections between ideas and then take those ideas and ensure that they find an audience" (14:05).

And a happy audience means a happy researcher.


Sam

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