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WRITING YOUR DOCUMENT

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tions are satirical and the tone is comic, there is a definite logical progression. Mrs. Gradgrind is “woefully defective” in her stock of facts, and facts, as we have been told from the beginning of the book, are the be-all and end-all of Mr. Gradgrind’s existence. Why then did he marry her? “Because she was satisfactory as a question of figures.” Here Dickens is playing on the phrase facts and figures. She was unsatisfactory as to the former but satisfactory as to the latter, which is not to say that she was a mathematical genius, but that she came into the marriage with plenty of money. She also had “no nonsense” about her. This leads Dickens to specify what nonsense means to a man like Gradgrind, and thus he closes the paragraph. He truly closes it, too, for when you reach the end of that last sentence, you truly feel you have reached a pause. Everything has been said on this particular subject, and now it is time to speak of something else. As briefly mentioned in the previous section, it is often recommended that a paragraph should mimic the arrangement of a larger piece of writing. It should have an opening, or introduction; a main body; and a conclusion, or close. This is good advice, though not always easily achievable within the space of a few sentences. A topic sentence, if you are using one, may form the introduction to the paragraph or be preceded by a separate introductory and usher in the main body. But it is usually not too difficult to construct the body of a paragraph. The ending may cause more difficulty, because it should “feel” like a close. The ending of a paragraph indicates a brief pause, because the writer is now about to treat a new topic. It is sometimes harder to introduce a silence than a point. Let us briefly consider an example from a rather less exalted source than Charles Dickens. One of the paragraphs in the previous subsection concludes with the sentence “The reader usually requires only a gentle nudge to be kept on track, not a heavy hammering.” The first draft of this sentence read slightly differently: “The reader usually requires a gentle nudge to be kept on track rather than a heavy hammering.” During revision, it was felt that this sentence lacked “finality.” If you were reading it aloud, it would be natural to keep your voice up at the end of it, because the way it is constructed requires a final stress on the word “hammering.” The voice, however, usually falls before a pause. When the voice stays up, you expect the reader to go on and say something else—perhaps, in this instance, to illustrate or explain the difference between a “nudge” and a “hammering.” That was not the intention in this paragraph. By sharpening the opposition from “a gentle nudge rather than a heavy hammering” to “only a gentle nudge, not a heavy hammering,” the stress was moved away from the end of the sentence back onto the word not. This allows the voice to pronounce the last two words in a falling tone, and that, in turn, indicates a pause is coming and gives a better sense of finality. It may be added here as a general observation that reading your work aloud, or hearing it in your mind’s ear as if it were being read aloud, is often a very good method of checking that it is indeed having the effect you intended.

Paragraph Dimensions There are no set rules for the size of paragraphs. A paragraph should be as long as the material it contains requires. A paragraph could consist of a single

Guide to good writing - Martin Manser  
Guide to good writing - Martin Manser  
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