Good Advice About Paragraphing for Law Students (from Law School Professors)

Posted on 10-15-2014 by
Tags: Law school , Law School Faculty , law students , Latest Headlines & Stories

Paragraphs- such a simple topic we’re taught about in English, yet as we get older we understand that the paragraph can be more complex than it seems. Different writing styles have different requirements of this aspect of writing. In an article in the 2014 Kentucky Bench & Bar magazine which can be accessed through the earlier link, Phillip M. Sparkes gives us insight on how to approach paragraphs and make you a better writer.

Sparkes touches on the following 4 points regarding writing paragraphs: (1) unity; (2) coherence; (3) cohesion; and, (4) length. Below are some thoughts/tips he gave regarding each of the four aspects of a paragraph.

1. Unity:

This is when a paragraph has a single, clear focus. Having a strong topic sentence is key to establishing unity within a paragraph. Sparkes believes it is helpful to think about unity in terms of the shape of the paragraph:

“Some paragraphs, like those in statement of facts section of memo or a brief are hourglass- shaped. They begin with a general statement about the topic, then narrow to specific support for that statement, and conclude with a broader sentence which summarizes the topics and transitions to the next.“

“Other paragraphs, like those in the argument or discussion sections of a memo or a brief, are funnel-shaped. The rim of a funnel is a proposition and the subsequent sentences narrow as the writer proves the proposition.”

2. Coherence:

This is the logical connections that readers perceive in a written text and that allow the reader to make sense of it. When putting paragraph together write to allow thoughts to flow smoothly. This can be done using following patterns: cause & effect, compare & contrast, analogies, examples or illustrations.

3. Cohesion:

This is how sentences connect to one another. Sparkes points out that while they sound the same, cohesion and coherence are completely different.

“Think of cohesion as pairs of sentences fitting together in the way two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle do… Think of coherence as seeing what all the sentences in a piece of writing add up to, the way all pieces of a puzzle add up to the picture on a box.”

4. Length: 

It’s key to try and avoid excessively lengthy paragraphs while also having the paragraph fully developed. In order for the paragraph to be fully developed it must “have the right level of detail, the right kind of detail and the right pattern of presentation”, according to Sparkes. With attention spans decreasing, it is probably best to keep paragraphs on the shorter side.

 Law school professors: Do you have any additional suggestions you would recommend to students? 

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