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Expository and Analytical Paragraphs

Seasoned writers whose ease and familiarity with composing allow them to spend more time on style than on organization will shape and bend paragraph structure to their rhetorical will.  Beginning writers, however, cannot afford such a luxury.  Rather, they should try to use a reasonable process to achieve a practical structure so that they communicate their ideas clearly, persuasively and compellingly. The following pattern of development should be practiced and applied without fail in every expository paragraph you write this term.

LENGTH

Students, and even instructors, get worked up over how long a paragraph should be.  In fact, when a paragraph seems to take up more than three-quarters of a double-spaced page of writing, students start to ask, "Isn't this paragraph too long?"  This is a bit like asking, "Isn't my drive to work too long?"  The concern is not so much about the length of the drive, so much as it is whether you've gotten lost on the way.  Similarly, when students worry about paragraphs being too long, what they're really saying is, "Isn't the idea in this paragraph too complex?" Their worry is that they are going to lose their way in the examination of that idea, or in the organization of its development. None of this has anything to do with length.

A paragraph can be pages long if it needs to be.  (And, in the case of most of the assignments in this course, a paragraph will be pages long!)  What matters is whether you have adequately developed all parts of it with sufficient detail, support, and discussion.  Sometimes this takes very little to accomplish, if the topic point is simple.  Other times, it takes a while because your topic point is complex.  In either case, it boils down to how complete the development is, not how long the paragraph is.

DEVELOPMENT

In a goodly amount of expository writing, the typical body paragraph that explains a claim of fact or value is developed in FIVE STAGES.

Different kinds of paragraphs may have a different number of stages or components; the counter-argument paragraph, for instance, contains three stages, not five.  Furthermore, not all of the rhetorical modes in paragraph development are typical of expository writing.  The descriptive-narrative paragraph, for instance, does not obey the same rules of development because their goal is not to explain expositorily.  Exemplification paragraphs use patterns of examples instead of regular exposition.  And, some paragraphs are added to expository writing simply for their rhetorical effect, or as transitional markers in the essay's overall development; these tend to be the shortest types of paragraphs.

However, most of the other rhetorical modes of paragraphing using some degree of detailed explanation and analysis, and draw from support (whether quotes or facts).  Such modes include the following:

Definition
Cause-Effect
Classification-Division
Comparison-Contrast
Persuasion-Argumentation
Process

Because these sorts of paragraphs, when they are thorough, follow a five-stage process of development. which suggests that the minimum number of sentences such a paragraph should have is 5.   That five-stage process is as follows:

ASSERT

Introduce a claim of fact, value or policy as the first sentence(s) of the paragraph.  Make sure the claim, both, limits the topic and advances an attitude or opinion about the author's argument.

e.g.
Although many people would probably not consider a house full of college roommates to be a family, my house is, without a doubt, a solid family unique in how selfless everyone in it is. My family stands apart from even the family in which I was raised, because it engenders loyalty and support when crises occur.

EXPLAIN

Explain the paragraph's topic assertion by defining potentially unfamiliar terms and confusing abstractions, or by rationalizing the use of a certain criteria for the discussion to follow; discuss the nuances and complexities of both parts of the topic assertion:  the limited version of the topic, and the claim.

e.g.
Different families have different values, including cultural ones, but these are values that my family of roommates chooses to respect out of their own free will. Loyalty is a bond of trust in which people dedicate themselves to one another's safety and support one another's interests.  Support shows an ability to empathize, which is indispensable for any group of people to be supportive the way a family should be. However, loyalty is perhaps the single most important value that any family needs in order to hold together, whether blood relatives or relative strangers, because it implies a mutual respect.

SUPPORT

Provide an appropriate range of examples, evidence, opinions, data, illustrations or statistics, and describe these with adequate detail.  When demanded, included paraphrase and verbatim quotations.  Use a rhetorical pattern of development to organize the presentation of this support (i.e., comparison-contrast; process; etc.)

e.g.
The kind of loyalty that typifies a family seems harder and harder to find these days, but my roommates and I certainly have it. Every Wednesday night, we have a “family night” we spend together making pizza and watching a movie that we take turns choosing. We all clear our schedules, and even try to keep our work and class schedules free on Wednesday nights so that we can spend this time together. Boyfriends (and girlfriends) are not invited, but no one ever complains because we treasure that time to rediscover why we are so close.

INTERPRET

This is perhaps the most important stage of the analytical paragraph, as it explains how and why the evidence lends credence to the claim made in the topic assertion.  Explain to your readers how the details of your support can be interpreted so that they bear out the meaning of the topic assertion, or so that they "prove" or otherwise illustrate convincingly the ideas you wish to communicate.

e.g.
All these qualities demonstrate how we put our other roommates before ourselves. This does not mean that we are not sometimes selfish, because human nature means everyone is occasionally. However, we have enough maturity as individuals, and love for one another, to put the needs of others first.

CONCLUDE

Good analytical paragraphs are "rounded off" with a sentence or two that confidently re-assert the topic point as a logical conclusion to the paragraph's argument.  However, concluding sentences in analytical paragraphs also allow writers to insert transitional statements that will link to the next paragraph in the essay's body.

e.g.
I realize that, one day, most of my family will move on, just like blood-related families do, but I am confident that our family ties will long outlast the time we will have spent together living under one roof. No matter what lies ahead for us, we will always think of ourselves as a genuine family.

THE COMPLETE PARAGRAPH

      Although many people would probably not consider a house full of college roommates to be a family, my house is, without a doubt, a solid family unique in how selfless everyone in it is.  My family stands apart from even the family in which I was raised, because it engenders loyalty and support when crises occur.  Different families have different values, including cultural ones, but these are values that my family of roommates chooses to respect out of their own free will. Loyalty is a bond of trust in which people dedicate themselves to one another's safety and support one another's interests.  Support shows an ability to empathize, which is indispensable for any group of people to be supportive the way a family should be.  However, loyalty is perhaps the single most important value that any family needs in order to hold together, whether blood relatives or relative strangers, because it implies a mutual respect.  The kind of loyalty that typifies a family seems harder and harder to find these days, but my roommates and I certainly have it.  Every Wednesday night, we have a “family night” we spend together making pizza and watching a movie that we take turns choosing.  We all clear our schedules, and even try to keep our work and class schedules free on Wednesday nights so that we can spend this time together.  Boyfriends (and girlfriends) are not invited, but no one ever complains because we treasure that time to rediscover why we are so close.  All these qualities demonstrate how we put our other roommates before ourselves.  This does not mean that we are not sometimes selfish, because human nature means everyone is occasionally.  However, we have enough maturity as individuals, and love for one another, to put the needs of others first.  I realize that, one day, most of my family will move on, just like blood-related families do, but I am confident that our family ties will long outlast the time we will have spent together living under one roof.  No matter what lies ahead for us, we will always think of ourselves as a genuine family.
Last Updated: 01/16/2016

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Karl J Sherlock
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