English Proficiency Programme

Paragraph Structuring

Long compositions are organised in paragraphs, mostly 'to aid the reader' to follow the communication from the writer, offering natural 'pauses' and 'shifts'.

Each paragraph should be devoted to one idea/theme forming a link between the preceding and the following paragraphs.

Prescriptions that are typically given as sermons in books, lectures and web-site tutorials.


Should ...

However ...



Number of sentences in a paragraph: Not too few, not too many.
(Some 'manuals' explicitly prescribe some specific numbers, like 5 to 7!)

(a) Up to the author.
(b) Subject to thematic clarity.
(c) "Long for continuity/cohesion" and "Short for focus" are obvious considerations.
(d) Prescription on conversation has a conflict with this prescription.

Practically useless advice.
Just keep in mind to revise, if a paragraph looks awkward for its size - at either end.


First sentence: suggestive of the topic (paragraph) OR effecting a transition from the previous topic (paragraph).
Follwing sentences: building up or explaining the idea.
Last sentence: offering a conclusion OR motivating the next topic (paragraph).

Momentum of a flowing narrative is more important and may disregard such disciplinary prescriptions - for good.

Such patterns need to emerge on their own in the natural flow of writing/narration.
Artificial measures by novice writers to satisfy such norms may result in disaster.

A high-quality example paragraph fulfilling all these 'requirements' perfectly.


Each speech is to be written in separate paragraph(s).
As the speaker changes, the paragraph changes.

Exceptions are possible in fast and gripping development, depending on the writer's pace and sense of urgency.

This rule, obviously, has a conflict with the rule on 'size'.
Even otherwise, it is subject to the writer's pace, temperament and style.

It is difficult to imagine an 'author', worth the name, killing her flow to consciously 'satisfy' all these normative conditions!

What you can do and what you must do is to respect the basic maxim.

A paragraph is the expression of a theme.

[In addition, if you have conversation in your composition, then give each speech separate paragraph(s) of its own.
A long speech may be organised in several paragraphs with the above thematic consideration.]

Question: How to ensure 'thematic' structure and coherence?

Answer: The answer may lie in what some books do as a matter of 'style' - at the cost of a lot of printing space! See the Example of a well-written book.
And, then, let us try a similar exercise on an excerpt from another book, to produce a version of it with marginal theme titles.

Note: You need not produce your final output in this form. But, you can still do it as a background exercise, to ensure clarity, coherence and structure in your final product.

Here are the steps to follow.

  1. Write at ease, changing paragraphs as they make sense at the moment.
    Complete it up to the unit - full piece, chapter, section or subsection - for which you have already assigned a title or heading.

  2. Now, examine whether the paragraph structuring has been right.
    By trying to assign themes in the margin for each paragraph.

  3. Are you happy with these 'theme titles'?
    Through these, can you trace the development of your entire document? Can someone else?
    Is that order and plan what you intended for the write-up?

  4. If not, then what is wrong?
    Themes breaking up in bits and parts of several paragraphs?
    Two short paragraphs together building up a theme, for which you could not give two different sub-themes?
    One single long paragraph talking about several themes, so that your assigned 'theme title' looks like "something and something else and interaction of the two somethings"?
    Is some theme starting in the middle of one paragraph and ending in the middle of another?

  5. The moment you are clear about 'what is wrong', you would most probably know 'what would be right'.

  6. Ensure THAT by splits, mergers, reorganisation, shifting around of chunks of text and therefore adjusting here and there for continuity.

Important: The key step is to spend some quality time with the text to assign to each paragraph a theme title that is concise and comprehensive.
The exercise will obviously improve your understanding of the passage, which is another independent reason why you should practise it over every reading material that you wish to grasp very well.

May be, try it over two more passages.

When you draft a write-up (anything), it will be worthwhile to pass it through a scrutiny of this kind.
It will improve not only the paragraph structure, but also your own grasp over your subject matter and, therefore, the quality of the composition itself.

- Bhaskar Dasgupta