|Seven Types of Paragraph Development
Annotated examples of narration, exposition, definition, classification, description, process analysis, and persuasion.
by Gerald Grow, PhD
Division of Journalism
Florida A&M University
|In their pursuit of clear, concise writing, journalism students sometimes develop the habit of writing everything in short, choppy paragraphs that are unrelated to one another. Reviewing any good high school writing handbook will remind you that considerable thought has been given to how longer paragraphs can be developed into well focused presentations of single units of thought.
What follows is an (imaginary) article invented to illustrate many of the “modes of discourse”–the traditional methods by which writing is developed. In succession, the following paragraphs are narration, exposition, definition, classification, description, process analysis, and persuasion. (The process analysis paragraph has been broken into a bulleted list, in typical “how to” style.)
In most writing, these modes are mixed in natural combinations; for example, narration frequently includes description. The following paragraphs have been devised in an attempt to emphasize the characteristics of each mode of writing. The result is somewhat artificial–you would not normally write an article containing one each of seven types of paragraphs!–but I hope it is more memorable than a series of unrelated illustrations.
|Narration||Around 2 a.m. something woke Charles Hanson up. He lay in the dark listening. Something felt wrong. Outside, crickets sang, tree-frogs chirruped. Across the distant forest floated two muffled hoots from a barred owl. It was too quiet. At home in New Jersey, the nights are filled with the busy, comforting sounds of traffic. You always have the comforting knowledge that other people are all around you. And light: At home he can read in bed by the glow of the streetlight. It was too quiet. And much too dark. Even starlight failed to penetrate the 80-foot canopy of trees the camper was parked beneath. It was the darkest dark he had ever seen. He felt for the flashlight beside his bunk. It was gone. He found where his pants were hanging and, as he felt the pockets for a box of matches, something rustled in the leaves right outside the window, inches from his face. He heard his wife, Wanda, hold her breath; she was awake, too. Then, whatever, was outside in the darkness also breathed, and the huge silence of the night seemed to come inside the camper, stifling them. It was then he decided to pack up and move to a motel.
Comments on narration:
|Exposition||This family was a victim of a problem they could have avoided-a problem that, according to Florida park rangers, hundreds of visitors suffer each year. “Several times a month,” ranger Rod Torres of O’Leno State Park said, “people get scared and leave the park in the middle of the night.” Those people picked the wrong kind of park to visit. Not that there was anything wrong with the park: The hikers camped next to them loved the wild isolation of it. But it just wasn’t the kind of place the couple from New Jersey had in mind when they decided to camp out on this trip through Florida. If they had known about the different kinds of parks in Florida, they might have stayed in a place they loved.
Comments on exposition:
|Definition||“Park” is difficult to define in Florida, because there are so many kinds of parks. Basically, a park is a place to go for outdoor recreation-to swim, picnic, hike, camp, walk the dog, play tennis, paddle your canoe, and, in some places take rides in miniature trains or swish down a waterslide. Florida has a rich variety of parks, ranging from acres of RVs ringed around recreation halls, to impenetrable mangrove wilderness. To make things more complicated, not all of them are called “parks,” and even the ones called “parks” come in several varieties.
Comments on definition:
|Description||O’Leno is a good example of a state park in Florida. Surrounded by the tall, shaded woods of a beautiful hardwood forest, the Santa Fe River disappears in a large, slowly swirling, tree-lined pool. After appearing intermittently in scattered sinkholes, the river rises three miles downstream in a big boil, then continues on to meet the Suwannee and the sea. Nearby, stands of cypress mirror themselves in the still waters, walls of dense river swamp rise before you, sudden sinkholes open in the woodlands-rich with cool ferns and mosses. Farther from the river, expanses of longleaf pinelands stretch across rolling hills. In the midst of this lovely setting, you find 65 campsites, 18 rustic cabins, and a pavilion for group meetings. A diving platform marks a good place to swim in the soft, cool waters of the Santa Fe, and canoeing up this dark river is like traveling backwards in time in the direction of original Florida.
Comments on description:
|Comparison||Forest and river dominate O’Leno State Park. By contrast, Lloyd Beach State Recreation Area, near Fort Lauderdale, is dominated by the oily bodies of sun-worshippers who crowd into it every summer weekend. Where O’Leno gives you so much quiet you can hear the leaves whispering, Lloyd Beach is a place of boisterous activity. You can walk a few yards in O’Leno and pass beyond every sign of human civilization. When you walk at Lloyd Beach, you have to be careful to step over the picnic baskets, umbrellas, jam boxes, and browning bodies. At night, O’Leno wraps itself with the silence of crickets and owls. Lloyd Beach is busy with fishermen till well past midnight. If you want to fish near town, or dive into the busy bustle of an urban beach, Lloyd Beach is the place to go. But if you want to stand at the edge of civilization and look across time into an older natural world, O’Leno is the park to visit.
Comments on comparison:
|Process Analysis||[Note: I couldn’t think of a way to write the following paragraphs that followed naturally from the previous material. For the next paragraph, pretend you are reading an article on how to put up a particular brand of tent.]
When you find the park you are looking for, you will need to make camp. One person can set up the FamilyProof Tent, though it is easier with two, yet almost impossible with three or more. Here’s how:
Now you are ready to move in.
Comments on process analysis:
|Persuasion||Before you go camping in Florida, plan ahead. Don’t wind up in the wilds when you want to be near Disney World, and don’t wind up on a concrete RV pad when you really want the forest primeval. Find out what parks are available, and what they are like. Get good information on what to expect, and what your options are. This can make all the difference in the quality of your vacation.
Comments on persuasion:
Using the examples provided in class, find one of each of the four types of paragraphs. Identify each paragraph as narrative, expository, descriptive, or persuasive. Then, answer the following questions.
1. What is the writer trying to influence his audience to do or
believe in the persuasive paragraph? Support your response.
2. List two or three of the sensory details you found in the
3. What was the main idea of the expository paragraph?
4. List, in order, the main supporting details of the narrative