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The Paragraph

by The Editor Company   


The paragraph belongs essentially to the printed page. It has no place in spoken language. The primary effect of the paragraph is upon the eye, the secondary effect upon the clearness of understanding. A page of unbroken text is heavy and monotonous in appearance, and lacks the general attractiveness of a page well paragraphed. Perhaps this is the reason that much of the paragraphing of amateur writers appears to have-been done solely with this effect upon the eye, in mind. They have not yet learned to look beneath the wordy covering for the framework of a single idea.

The paragraph is the result of careful prevision, while a perfect sentence is generally the work of careful revision. The individual sentence has to be revised and polished. The individual paragraph is simply a group of these sentences relating to the development of a single topic, all being cleverly dovetailed together. A logical sequence of ideas will not be the result if the topics are developed at random. Even before beginning there must be an outline of paragraph thoughts, or there can be no clearness of effect where there was no method of arrangement.

The parts of a paragraph may need pruning and altering but the compass or boundary lines will remain unchanged. The principles of arrangement are identical with those of the sentence; namely, unity, mass, and coherence, and until the writer has these restive steeds well in hand, he need not hope to drive his literary team very far afield.

A paragraph may be said to have unity when its substance may be expressed in a single simple sentence. In spite of a working skeleton, it took several rewritings to render the first sentence in this composition susceptible to this test for unity, so that it could readily be resolved into the sentence, "The paragraph is the amplification of a single idea," and the second paragraph to come within the bounds of "Paragraph principles must be mastered." A sentence that has unity must of necessity be clear, for there is no confusion of ideas. Analysis will

prove any striking speech or composition to be prepared upon this principle. It is the backbone of forcefulness.

Prof. Wendell says: "A paragraph whose unity can be demonstrated by summarizing its substance in a sentence whose subject shall be a summary of the opening sentence, and whose predicate shall be a summary of its closing sentence is theoretically well massed," and yet to make this particular form arbitrary, the same good authority continues "would be to adopt a monotonous uniformity of manner." "The highest art is to conceal art." The massing of the paragraph sentences must be such as to give the most prominent ideas the most prominent positions. The beginning and the ending of the paragraph first catch the eye; consequently begin and end with sentences that deserve distinction.

Coherence is gained by keeping sentences connected in thought close together, and by keeping apart matters distinct in thought. Phrases similar in thought should be similar in form. Parallel constructions appeal to the eye as well as to the mind. The skillful use of connectives and relatives will do much to maintain the smoothness of the paragraph, but care must be taken to have the antecedent of the relative well defined. A paragraph in which the relation of its parts is unmistakable is coherent.

Regarding the paragraphing of conversation, Prof. Genung says: "A new paragraph is given to what each interlocutor says or does irrespective of the amount or nature included."

It takes everlasting vigilance to keep before ourselves the question, "What is the effect I wish to produce?" and toilsome practice to know just how best to acquire those effects; but no where else is it truer than in the literary world, that, "To the victor belong the spoils."