To achieve paragraph unity, a writer must make sure these two things are present:
1) The paragraph must have a single generalization – the focus of attention for the reader and this should be expressed clearly to the reader i.e. in a topic sentence. Topic sentences are usually the first sentence in a paragraph but sometimes go after a sentence that links back to the previous paragraph.
2) A writer must control the content of every other sentence in the paragraph’s body so that:
(a) it contains more specific information than the topic sentence, and
(b) it maintains the same focus of attention as the topic sentence.
Notice that the topic sentence does not only mention the general topic i.e. classroom assistants in schools but also the function of the paragraph as part of the essay’s overall argument. This particular paragraph discusses the debate about their role. Therefore, the reader is clear about how this paragraph fits into the writer’s overall essay structure.
However, topic sentences are not always the first sentence in a paragraph. Sometimes, the first sentence in a paragraph refers back to the previous paragraph.
Task: Look at the two paragraphs below from an Applied Linguistics book on kinship* and the way it is structured, specifically in Asian cultures. Then complete the task below.
*Kinship is the web of social relationships that form an important part of the lives of all humans in all societies. In this text the author argues that kinship is a major source of structure within most cultures, including Asian cultures, and is exploring some of the ways this may affect intercultural communication.
As we have said above, kinship is a major source of structure within most cultures, including Asian cultures. In such societies, human relationships are thought of as being largely vertical relationships between preceding and following generations. Whether it is family relationships such as those between parents and their children or relationships outside of the family such as those between a teacher and a student, the significant point is that most of the relationships are understood to be given by the society, not newly negotiated by the participants in the situation. One is born the son or daughter of particular parents, the descendant of particular ancestors, a member of a particular village. These characteristics of one’s personal identity are not negotiable; they are given by the situations into which one is born.
Taking these together, we can see that there is a clear movement within contemporary western society toward recognizing that successful (and healthy) communication cannot ignore human relationships. Nevertheless, we believe there remains a major distinction between the way human relationships are understood in Asia (and in other traditional societies) and the way they are understood in contemporary western society. The difference, we believe, lies in whether human relationships are thought of as given by society or, on the other hand, as being spontaneously created between individuals.
As we have said above, kinship is a major source of structure within most cultures, including Asian cultures.
In paragraph A, the idea of kinship being a ‘source of structure’ is the main general idea of the paragraph: later sentences give more detail, redefinition and examples/explanation of what this structure involves (the specifics) e.g.
Nevertheless, we believe there remains a major distinction between the way human relationships are understood in Asia (and in other traditional societies) and the way they are understood in contemporary western society.
In paragraph B the first sentence acts as a link back to the previous two or three paragraphs which sum up what the writer has already said. The main idea of this paragraph is not introduced until the sentence that begins ‘Nevertheless, we believe …’.