A paragraph can be organised in various ways, and the choice depends on the purpose of your writing. If you are trying to tell a story, the narrative would be the better choice. If you want to explain how something is done step-by-step, you can choose the process pattern. Most common patterns to develop paragraphs are as follows:

  1. Narrative
  2. Descriptive
  3. Exemplification
  4. Process
  5. Compare and contrast
  6. Advantage and disadvantage
  7. Cause and effect
  8. Problem and solution
  9. Spatial
  10. Topical
  11. Chronological

Narratives

A narrative aims to tell a story, in order to explain or illustrate a point. The narrative uses transitions of time and space, and may feature the process and descriptive details, people, places or events to make it interesting and captivating. Useful time phrases describing the past, such as last year, last summer, last month, last week, yesterday or on that day, as well as handy phrases such as suddenly and out of the blue are usually used in narratives.

Example 1

It was 1985. She had just returned from her studies abroad. Happy to be home, she was all ready to work and to conquer the world. However, much to her disappointment, the country was facing its worst ever recession. Many people lost their jobs and new jobs were not readily available. She was utterly devastated! She had to stay home waiting for things to improve. All her plans went awry. It was the worst time of her life.

Example 2

She vividly remembered her first interview as if it happened yesterday. It was a fine sunny day. She woke up early, had her bath and did her morning prayers. She wore her best blue shirt. She put on a bit of make-up and went down for breakfast. She had toast and coffee. She then left for the interview. She arrived a few minutes early and anxiously waited for her turn. The panel members asked her questions related to the job she had applied for. She answered them well and, much to her delight, she was asked to report for work the following week.

The narrative pattern may not have a topic sentence. However, the idea or theme of the paragraph may appear in the first or the last sentence. In Example 1, the topic appears in the last sentence (It was the worst time of her life.), while in Example 2, it appears in the first sentence (She vividly remembered her first interview as if it happened yesterday.).

The time frame is established (for example, ‘during World War II’, ‘before independence’, ‘in 2012’, etc.) and the author uses the past tense throughout the narrative. In Examples 1 and 2, the time frames used are ‘It was 1985’ and ‘her first interview’, respectively. The events are normally arranged chronologically using transition words (e.g. ‘first’, ‘then’, ‘next’, ‘finally’, etc.). In Example 2, ‘then’ was used.

In addition, sensory words (e.g. ‘cold’, ‘dark’, ‘grey’, ‘loud’, ‘salty’, etc.) are used to help readers visualise the events. In Example 2, we can find words such as ‘fine sunny day’ and ‘best blue shirt’.

Finally, other adjectives and adverbs are used as descriptive words to further enhance the narratives. For this purpose, the words ‘worst’ (in Example 1) and ‘anxiously’ as well as ‘delight’ (in Example 2) are used in the narratives.


Descriptions

A descriptive pattern uses vivid sensory words to talk about people, places, things and ideas. It also uses various parts of speech to make the description clearer to the reader.

Example 1

Langkawi Island is located in the state of Kedah, Malaysia. It is an archipelago made of 99 islands on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It is surrounded by turquoise sea, while the main island is a mixture of paddy fields and jungle-clad hills. Nature lovers can enjoy island-hopping cruises, jungle trekking and snorkelling activities. Those who adore shopping can take advantage of the duty free products sold at various shopping centres around the island. Visitors who just want to laze around can spend all their time at the beautiful sandy beaches.

Example 2

There are a few symptoms of dehydration. The two early signs of dehydration are thirst and dark-coloured urine. This is the body’s way of telling us to increase our water intake and decrease water loss. Other symptoms may include dizziness or light-headedness, headaches, tiredness, dryness of the mouth, lips and eyes, and passing small amounts of urine infrequently (less than three or four times a day). Dehydration can also lead to a loss of strength and stamina.


Exemplifications

An exemplification paragraph makes use of clear examples to demonstrate or explain a point. The examples presented should be relevant, clear and specific to satisfactorily explain the main ideas that you are discussing.

Example 1

I fill my weekends with many beneficial activities. For example, after breakfast, I would clean the house and do all the laundry. In the afternoon, after helping my mother with lunch and cleaning up, I would tend to the pets, such as the fish in the tank and the kittens. In the evening, after a short rest, I would do some gardening and go for a jog at the nearby park. At night, I would meet up with friends and spend time with them at the movies and dinner later.

Example 2

Fresh graduates who are unable to get jobs can create their own jobs or be self-employed. They can do online businesses or be involved in agriculture. Online businesses require a relatively low capital and have the potential to grow. Another activity that these graduates can engage in is agriculture. They can plant vegetables, rice and fruit trees. Many people who have gone into agriculture find it to be profitable, despite the earlier sacrifices they had to make.


Processes or Sequentials

The process or sequential pattern of organisation is used to explain a process or how to do something. Transition words for time (e.g. then, next, finally, etc.) and enumeration (e.g. first, second, fourth, etc.) are used to help readers clearly understand the process or steps to do something.

This pattern is similar to a chronological pattern, but it arranges the information according to a step-by-step sequence that describes a particular process. Using a sequential pattern, each main section of information represents a main step that one would follow in the actual process. The points included within each main section represent the sub-steps one would follow. A sequential pattern works well in cases where the author wishes to describe a process that follows a specific series of steps in a particular order or sequence.

Example 1

Deactivating your Facebook account temporarily means that you have the option to return to Facebook whenever you want. The following is the process to deactivate your Facebook account temporarily:

  1. Click on the downward arrow at the top right of any Facebook page.
  2. Select ‘Settings’.
  3. Click on ‘Security’ in the left column.
  4. Choose ‘Deactivate your account’, then follow the steps to confirm.

If you deactivate your account, your profile will not be visible to other people on Facebook and people will not be able to search for you, but some information such as messages you have sent to friends may still be visible to others.

If you decide that you would like to return to Facebook, you can reactivate your account at any time by logging in with your email and password. Your profile will then be restored in its entirety.

Example 2

Applying for a United States Passport

These are the steps to be followed to apply for a United States passport for the first time. First, you need to fill out the DS-11: Application Form for New US Passport. Next, you need to personally submit the completed DS-11 form. You then need to submit evidence of US citizenship. This is followed by presenting identification documents. After this, you need to submit a photocopy of the identification documents. You will then need to pay the applicable fee. Finally, you need to provide a passport photograph.

Example 3

How to Get an Uber Service

First, you need to download the Uber app from the App Store or the Android Market. Once you have the app, open it up and sign up for your account. The app will find your location via GPS and show you a map. All you need to do is set your pickup location by moving the red pin to where you are and then tapping the green ‘Set pickup location’ button, followed by the green ‘Request pickup here’ button. Once you have done that, a driver will accept your request. You will receive a text telling you the driver’s name and how long until he or she arrives. You will get one more text telling you when your driver has arrived. Next, hop into the car, tell the driver where to go and then hop out when you are there.


Compare and Contrast

A compare and contrast pattern arranges information according to how two or more things are similar to or different from one another (or both). This is an effective pattern to use when the reader can better understand one subject when it is described in relation to another. If the reader is familiar with one topic, the author can compare or contrast it with another topic to shed insight on it.

For example, suppose an author’s stated purpose is to help the reader make an informed decision on buying either a Honda or a Mazda. One way to arrange the information is to compare and contrast the options along several important dimensions, such as price, running cost and maintenance. In this case, the number of main sections in the outline would depend on how many dimensions or factors were considered. Another way to arrange the information would be to create two main sections, one that describes similarities and another that describes differences.

Example 1

The calories in apples and oranges come from carbohydrates (18 g-22 g), of which 50 per cent is from sugar. However, the fat and protein content is very negligible in both. In terms of vitamins and minerals, oranges are an excellent source of vitamin C, with nearly 140 per cent of daily intake requirement, whereas apples contain roughly seven per cent. Oranges also have a greater amount of vitamin A, six per cent as compared to apples, which is at two per cent. Potassium is higher in oranges (300 mg) as compared to apples (26 mg). Apples, however, have a higher foliage (55 meg) as compared to oranges (23 meg). Both apples and oranges contain soluble and insoluble fibre, which helps to regulate the bowel movements and blood sugar levels, and lower cholesterol. An apple roughly has 5 g of fibre, whereas an orange has 3 g. Apples are known to have numerous health benefits, ranging from preventing asthma, Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s disease, certain cancers, gallstones and Type 2 diabetes, reducing cholesterol and haemorrhoids, and controlling your weight. The high soluble fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants help to boost your immune system and fortify your body. Oranges, due to their excellent source of vitamins, fibre and minerals, also help to prevent asthma, diabetes, arthritis, certain cancers, kidney stones and high blood pressure, and lower cholesterol. Due to their high acidic content and the presence of antioxidants such as beta- carotene, oranges can protect the skin cells from getting damaged and keep it young and moisturised.

Example 2

The most obvious difference between American English and British English is vocabulary. There are hundreds of everyday words that are different. For example, Americans eat fries or French fries, while the British eat chips. The British call the front of a car the bonnet, while Americans call it the hood. Americans go on vacation, while the British go on holidays, or hols. New Yorkers live in apartments, Londoners live in flats. The British use the term anti-clockwise, while Americans use counter-clockwise. In the legal profession, Americans have attorneys, while the British have barristers. Finally, the British go to the cinemas, while Americans go to the movies.


Advantage and Disadvantage

This pattern organises information about a topic by dividing it up into its ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts, or pros and cons. It is an effective pattern to use when an author wishes to objectively discuss both sides of an issue without taking a persuasive stance. This allows the reader to weigh both sides of the issue. As with the compare and contrast pattern, there are a number of possible variations to an advantage and disadvantage pattern. The simplest form of this pattern is shown below.

Suppose, for example, that an author’s stated purpose is to describe the advantages and disadvantages of attending a two-year college. One way to arrange the information is to divide it into two main sections, one for the advantages and one for the disadvantages. In this scenario, the information contained within each main section will represent the specific topics of analysis (for instance, costs, accessibility, etc.).

Example 1

There are some considerations if we intend to pursue any form of online learning. The advantages of online learning include saving time and money. Time and money can be saved because we do not need to travel back and forth to school. It can also reduce stress since we can pace our studies to our needs. Another advantage of online learning is accessibility. Online classes address physical accessibility issues that are encountered in traditional classes. We have a chance to further our education in the comfort of our own home.

However, online learning does have its disadvantages. First, it is costly due to the complex technology involved. We must at least have a computer with access to the Internet. Another disadvantage is online learning does not offer immediate feedback. With online learning, we have to wait for feedback on our assignments until the instructor has reviewed our work and responded to it. Finally, online learning degrees may not be acknowledged by all employers. We risk investing money, time and effort, but end up not having the job in the organisation of our dream.

Example 2

There are several advantages of wind power. It is a clean fuel source. Wind energy does not pollute the air like power plants that rely on combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas. Wind turbines do not produce atmospheric emissions that cause acid rain or greenhouse gases. Wind is a domestic source of energy. The nation’s wind supply is abundant. It is sustainable. For as long as the sun shines and the wind blows, the energy produced can be harnessed to send power across the grid. Wind power is cost-effective. It is one of the lowest-priced renewable energy technologies available today, costing between four and six cents per kilowatt-hour, depending on the wind resource and the particular project’s financing. Wind turbines can be built on existing farms or ranches. This greatly benefits the economy in rural areas, where most of the best wind sites are found.

However, there are some disadvantages to using wind power. Wind power must still compete with conventional generation sources on a cost basis. Depending on how energetic a wind site is, the wind farm might not be cost competitive. Even though the cost of wind power has decreased dramatically in the past 10 years, the technology requires a higher initial investment than fossil-fuelled generators. Good wind sites are often located in remote locations, far from cities where the electricity is needed. Transmission lines must be built to bring the electricity from the wind farm to the city. Wind resource development might not be the most profitable use of the land. Land suitable for wind-turbine installation must compete with alternative uses for the land, which might be more highly valued than electricity generation. Turbines might cause noise and aesthetic pollution. Although wind power plants have relatively little impact on the environment compared to conventional power plants, concerns exist over the noise produced by the turbine blades and visual impacts to the landscape. Turbine blades could damage local wildlife. Birds have been killed by flying into spinning turbine blades. Most of these problems have been resolved or greatly reduced through technological development or by properly siting wind plants.


Cause and Effect

The cause and effect pattern analyses the causes and effects of something or the relationship between them. This pattern is used when the author aims to persuade the readers on an issue by giving them adequate support, in terms of what causes the issue and the consequences or effects. This pattern is particularly effective in persuasive documents in which the author advocates some action to solve a problem, because it demonstrates important relationships between variables. It uses transition words, including because, in effect, given that, since and for that reason, to explain the cause of or reason for something. When used to explain the effect or result of something, transition words such as thus, therefore, consequently and as a result are used.

Example 1

World War I was a direct result of a tangled system of secret alliances. Beginning after the unification of Germany in 1871, many European nations began secretly allying themselves with each other. Starting with the Dual Alliance between Austria-Hungary and Germany in 1879, the nations of Europe allied themselves in mutual protection pacts in such a way that if any one nation became the target of aggression, all of Europe would be pulled into war. That act of aggression occurred when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 1914. Austria-Hungary declared war on the nation of Serbia soon after. Within a year, Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy had allied themselves against France, Britain, Russia and the Ottoman Empire.

The after-effects of the war are numerous. Four empires disappeared; Austria-Hungary, the Ottomans, Germany and Russia. Four age-old royal lines were shattered; the Hapsburgs, Romanovs, Hohenzollerns and the Ottoman Turks. Of the 60 million soldiers mobilised during the war, eight million were dead, seven million were disabled in some way and 15 million were seriously injured. Fifteen per cent of German’s men aged 18-40 were gone, as were 17 per cent of Austria-Hungary’s. A global famine also came after the war, killing 100,000 people in Lebanon and 10 million in Russia! One of the most important effects was that Germany was saddled with a huge war debt that bankrupted the nation and provided fertile ground for the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. In effect, one may argue that World War I caused World War II.

There were some positive effects as well. There were vast improvements in the way the armies cared for wounded soldiers and veterans. Mental health care for soldiers with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) was introduced and the League of Nations was formed. While the League itself proved to be ineffective, it was the precursor to the United Nations, a much more effective international organisation.

Example 2

There are several causes of cyberbullying among children. One of the causes is the motivation for revenge. Some of the cases of cyberbullying are a result of children who have been bullied in the past and, therefore, want to do the same to others. The second cause of cyberbullying is the belief that the victims often deserve to be bullied (Mishna, Khoury-Kassabri, Gadalla and Daciuk, 2012). For example, if a certain kid is thought to be mean to others, the bullies may decide to bully the kid to make him or her change or in retaliation to his or her meanness. Thirdly, some children bully others because of boredom. They are looking for fun and, therefore, they think that bullying others will help cheer them up. The other causes which have been identified include peer pressure from others that have been involved in cyberbullying, the perception that everyone else is involved in cyberbullying, and the belief that they will not be caught due to the anonymity involved (Mishna, Khoury-Kassabri, Gadalla and Daciuk, 2012). Finally, hunger for power, especially by children from well-off families, towards poor children is also a cause of cyberbullying, in addition to lack of empathy for other children.

Like any other type of bullying, the effects of cyberbullying are somewhat the same. For people who are perpetrating cyberbullying, a bad reputation in the future is waiting for them if they get caught. Since cyberbullying is also an action of bullying, there is a law for it and the victims may report the case if they have enough proof. As for the victims of cyberbullies, they become stressed. It would lead them to do negative things and one of them is abusing alcohol intake or even drugs. For teenage cyberbullies, they would end up skipping school as they are unwilling to attend it and meet people, feeling it is tough to communicate and that others might laugh and pick on them. They start to doubt everyone, accusing and judging people one by one. They would lock themselves in their room or, worse, they would try to commit suicide.

Cyberbullying is a great danger to the society. It causes harm to people and affects both the victims and the bullies negatively. It is said that cyberbullying is a serious worldwide issue and it needs to be resolved.


Problem and Solution

A problem and solution pattern divides information into two main sections, one that describes a problem and one that describes a solution. This pattern is typically used in persuasive writing, where the author’s general purpose is to persuade the reader to support a certain course of action. The pattern is designed to coerce the reader to make some kind of change in opinion or behaviour by establishing that a problem exists, then providing a solution.

In the problem section, the author identifies different aspects of the problem and offers evidence of their existence. In the solution section, the author identifies a potential solution and supports the effectiveness of this solution over others. For example, suppose an author’s stated purpose is to persuade his or her readers to use public transport instead of driving. First, the author will attempt to establish that driving creates convincing problems that require a solution. Then, he or she will show the readers how the proposed solution, i.e. using public transport, provides a beneficial alternative to driving.

Example 1

Child labour is a universal phenomenon. The situation is common in both rural and urban areas, where families live below the poverty line. This is accompanied by a high dropout rate in schools. The occurrence of child labour is related to the level of socio-economic development of an area and the attitudes of the parents of the child labourers. In order to address this problem, the child labourers must be protected from working in exploitive and hazardous occupations for excessively long hours, such as at match factories and in the lock and brassware industry. This is to safeguard the health and safety of the children.

Example 2

There are several causes of poverty. These include a lack of income, a lack of resources, a lack or limited access to education and services, and a loss of livelihood due to an economic downturn. To eradicate poverty, there should be concerted efforts by the authorities, businesses and the individuals living in poverty themselves. These include the provision and use of resources, support, empowerment, education and employment opportunities to enhance the well-being and improve the lives of the poor.


Spatial

A spatial pattern of organisation arranges information according to how things fit together in physical space, that is, where one thing exists in relation to another. This pattern is used when an author wishes to create a mental picture of something which has various parts distinguished by physical location. Topics involving geography, for example, are often best organised using a spatial pattern.

Example 1

The mansion has four main wings. The north wing is the common living area. The east wing consists of five en-suite rooms. The south wing has a kitchen and the main dining area. Finally, the west wing houses a library and a workstation.

Example 2

West Malaysia can be divided into the northern states, the east coast and the southern states. The northern states are Perlis, Kedah, Penang and north Perak. The east coast states are Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang. The southern states are south Perak, Selangor, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan and Johor.


Topical

This pattern of organisation is the most commonly used format, and will typically work when the other patterns do not. A topical pattern arranges information according to different sub-topics within a larger topic, or the ‘types’ of things that fall within a larger category. Using this pattern, each ‘type’ represents a main section of information.

Example 1

Cancer is often linked to our family medical history, our lifestyle choices and our environment. We cannot control our family medical history, and only some aspects of the environment are up to us. However, our lifestyle choices, such as our diet, weight, activity levels and smoking, are ours to manage. While the overall odds are that two out of three women will never get cancer, a total of 700,000 women were diagnosed with cancer in 2008. Most of these women had one of the following types of cancer.

The most common is breast cancer, which accounted for 26 per cent of female cancer cases and 15 per cent of the 272,000 female cancer deaths that year. A woman’s odds of getting this cancer: one in eight. Next is lung and bronchus cancers, which accounted for 14 per cent of female cancer cases and 26 per cent of all deaths. A woman’s odds of getting this cancer: one in 16. Colon and rectal cancers contributed 10 per cent of all cancer cases and nine per cent of all deaths. A woman’s odds of getting this cancer: one in 19. Uterine cancer accounted for six per cent of all cancer cases and three per cent of all deaths. A woman’s odds of getting this cancer: one in 41. Finally, non-Hodgkin lymphoma contributed four per cent of all cancer cases and three per cent of all deaths. A woman’s odds of getting this cancer: one in 53.

Example 2

Types of Loans

The federal and state governments, colleges and private organisations all provide college loans to students and parents in the United States. The types of loans available are as follows. The Need-Based Loans are loans awarded by colleges to students with the highest need. These loans are awarded to the poor and needy students. Next is the Non-Need-Based Loan: The Federal Direct Unsubsidised Loans. The Federal Direct Unsubsidised Loans charge interest, but allow students to add the interest fees to the amount the students borrow until after graduation. Another type of loan is the State Loans available from the students’ state.

Those who cannot secure federal or state loans can apply for the Private Loans. In general, private loans are not subsidised or need- based. They also often require a guarantor—someone who promises to repay the money if the student fails to do so. The interest rates of private loans vary: banks and other financial institutions usually have the highest interest rates. Some private organisations and foundations offer lower interest rates. Some colleges offer loans with relatively low interest rates. Some private loans might also offer relatively low interest rates, but their other terms might not be as favourable as those of a federal loan. For example, federal loans generally offer flexible terms—if students do not have a job or become disabled, they might be able to adjust the repayment schedule—whereas private loans may not be as flexible.


Chronological

A chronological pattern arranges the supporting details in the paragraph according to a movement of time. It can either move forwards (e.g. ‘1988, 1990, 2000’) or backwards (e.g. ‘2000, 1990, 1988’). Historical events are commonly presented using this pattern of organisation. This order is also common in narratives and process patterns. Other than dates or time of events, the chronological order also uses transitions, such as First, Next, Now, After that and Finally.

Example 1

First, Ali arrived with some cakes. Next, it was John with some macaroons. Later, Dani brought some fruit juices and fresh salad. Finally, Jane came with the main dish, which was the seafood pasta. Together, they enjoyed a tasty lunch.

Example 2

History of Toyota Motor Sales, USA Inc.

Toyota Motor Sales, USA Inc., was formed on 31 October 1957. Sales began in 1958, with 288 vehicles. In 1965, the Toyota Corona arrived. Specifically designed for the American market, it helped increase sales to 20,000 units in 1966. By 1967, Toyota became the third best-selling import brand in the United States. This was followed by the huge success of the Corolla in 1968. The Corolla has since become the world’s all-time best selling passenger car, with over 30 million units sold in more than 140 countries. By 1972, Toyota surpassed Volkswagen to become the No. 1 brand in the United States.

Example 3

The First Fast-food Restaurant

The first fast-food restaurant in the United States was not a McDonald’s, but a White Castle—a hamburger restaurant that opened in Wichita, Kansas, in 1916. However, it was McDonald’s which perfected the service and style of cooking known today as fast food. Since the history of fast food in America runs parallel to the invention of the car, most people today think of fast food as anything being served out of a window and into a car, which started as a novelty at an A&W Root Beer shop in the 1920s. This ‘curb service’, where a fast-food restaurant employee delivers food from the restaurant to waiting customers outside in their cars, became so popular that the practice spread nationwide rapidly. By the 1940s, the friendly carhop person, or waiter or waitress, delivering the food to the cars gone mobile too, wearing roller-skates to speed up service. Drive-through windows soon followed.

References
Acknowledgements

All authors must admit to a dependence on the work of others. We are no exception. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the publications and reference sources that we have consulted and adapted for educational purposes. It would also have been quite impossible to have produced the material on this website without adapting a variety of authentic resources that we have regularly referred to. While every effort has been made, it has not always been possible to identify and cite the sources of all the material used or to trace all copyright holders. We will be happy to omit any contents or include any appropriate acknowledgements when they are brought to our notice.

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