Posted by: wordsmithsuk | August 15, 2012

How to structure a paragraph in a business document


Paragraphs are the building blocks that make up the message that you want to convey. In a well-structured business document each paragraph deals with a separate topic, and there is clear white space between each one. This is so that readers can see at a glance where each topic begins and ends.

Paragraphs help the reader to understand your message because:

  • They break text down into manageable proportions
  • They group together a number of sentences that relate to the same topic
  • They make the page less cluttered because they introduce some white space
  • They give the reader a break
  • A new paragraph makes it clear that you are moving on from the last topic.

There are two main ways of organising your sentences into paragraphs: top-down and bottom up.

Top-down paragraphs

Structuring a top-down paragraph is like a pyramid: the main message is at the top is and below it are the key points that support the message. Start each paragraph with a topic sentence and write further supporting points under that key point, as if you were answering readers’ questions. The further down the paragraph you go, the less important the points become. The final sentence in the paragraph could be something that is simply nice to know but not vitally important.

Here is an example of a top-down paragraph:

Many of us experience SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) during the winter months. This is because the daylight hours are shorter and we spend more time indoors. When limited light reaches the brain, melatonin levels increase so we can become lethargic and depressed. You can increase your exposure to daylight by moving your desk in front of a window or going outside during breaks.

Bottom-up paragraphs

A bottom-up paragraph is structured like an upside down pyramid: the supporting sentences lead up to main message which is at the bottom.

Here is an example of a bottom-up paragraph:

I recently returned from a wonderful week’s holiday on the Turkish Riviera. It’s lovely to escape to warmer climes, but there are always challenges before you leave. One of them is the restricted luggage allowance that comes as part of the territory. I rose to the challenge by vowing to take just the small wheelie case that I normally reserve for weekends away. So how did I achieve this seemingly impossible task you might ask? This is where the maxim ‘less is more’ really comes into its own!

Linking paragraphs

Starting each new paragraph with a link to previous text helps to show the connection between the old and the new thought. These links move the text along briskly and keep the reader engaged. You can repeat words from the end of the prior sentence, or point back to the prior thought by restating (this; that; these; those), or start the sentence with a signal word or phrase. For example:

  • First, second, third
  • For example, for instance
  • In addition, also, furthermore
  • But, however, although
  • Because, given that
  • Therefore, so, as a result
  • By contrast, by comparison
  • On the other hand, on the contrary, alternatively
  • Similarly, in the same way, likewise
  • Clearly, evidently, indeed.

Sometimes you can use a question as a link: ask a question at the end of one paragraph and answer it in the next one.

Do send me your questions about writing business documents, or send me samples of your writing for comments or help.

If you want to become a better writer, check my my audio resource ‘Effective Business Writing for Success’.

You will find more details on my website www. word-smiths.co.uk

Enjoy your writing!

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