Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I ran across a strangely done blog post yesterday. [NOTE: At some point after I first wrote this, the blogger corrected the error. At first there were no paragraph indications at all; it was just one l-o-n-g paragraph! Now there are paragraph divisions, but (as is usual in blogging) the paragraphs are not developed fully, as they should be in academic papers.]

It's the first time I've seen a blog post or any news article which is not divided into paragraphs. It might have been a technical error on someone's part since other posts at this particular blog aren't like this. But it reminded me of an uncountable number of student papers I've seen over time -- one long paragraph! Every time I see something like this, my mind just shuts down. In my classes, I'd just hand the paper back with no grade and tell the student to rewrite it with the proper paragraphing. For a blog post, though ... I just can't read it!

How does one know when to begin a new paragraph? For an academic paper, the answer goes back to the pre-writing stage -- especially, the brainstorming and planning steps. If a student does complete brainstorming and then plans or organizes the ideas in the paper (in outline form, usually), the individual paragraphs will be indicated beforehand. The student will know when to begin the next paragraph if he or she is following the plan or outline.

What should a paragraph include? A decent guideline is about 6-9 or so sentences that focus on one sub-topic in the paper. It'll include a topic sentence, several supporting-detail sentences, and a conclusion/transition sentence.

There is no cut-and-dried formula to follow for every single paper, but the guidelines will work if the student learns them, follows them, and alters them to fit the ideas he or she is trying to make clear. The point is that everything in each paragraph demonstrates development of the main idea of the piece of writing.

Questions? About anything? Post your questions in the comments section.

Monday, January 08, 2007


One of the funniest cartoons I've seen lately is "Dilbert," in yesterday's paper. Here's a link to it:

I know that a living language is always going through changes of various kinds, as well as additions to the vocabulary. In recent years, most of the new vocabulary in American English has come from all the advances in science and computers that have occurred and still continue. However, when people make up words that aren't necessary, it really makes me laugh ... for a while anyway.

One of the most frequent errors that I heard for several years was the use of the non-word orientate. We already have the words orient (the verb) and orientation (the noun), but I guess some people didn't believe the verb could have fewer syllables than the noun!

Anyway -- enjoy the cartoon, and please don't go around making up non-words to confuse people!

Remember: The comments section is for any questions or comments you may have about English, especially if you are trying to help your child with his or her homework and you're up against a wall with it!