Writing for the United Nations

 
 
 
 

V. Sentence and paragraph development

 
 
 
 

Contents

A. Sentence development
B. Paragraph development
C. Topic sentences
D. Paragraph unity

A. Sentence development

Sentences can be extremely simple or incredibly complicated. Obviously, the more complicated the sentence the more care you need to take to make sure that all the parts are properly constructed and agree with one another. This online course does not aim to give you a grammar lesson; there are many websites [TIP] and English language courses available to help you develop your English language skills.

However, when you review your work, you should make sure that all of your sentences contain all the necessary elements - at the most basic level, at least a subject and a verb. The next chapter of the course gives you some specific help on writing clear and concise sentences.

B. Paragraph development

Paragraph patterns

Paragraphs should be unified and coherent so they are more easily understood by the reader. There are many paragraph patterns writers can use to help keep their paragraphs unified. For example, a paragraph may focus on the reasons or the causes for a specific event or it may provide examples or illustrations. It may compare and contrast two items or ideas or it may break something down into components.

United Nations reports often use the following types of paragraph organization:

  (a) Definition;
  (b) Analysis or classification;
  (c) Time, space or sequence (chronological order);
  (d) Compare and contrast;
  (e) Cause and effect;
  (f) Argument or recommendation.

Paragraphs often combine different patterns of development: chronological order used with comparison/contrast, definitions with recommendations and so forth.

Here are some examples:

Definition

     Located at The Hague, the International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It settles legal disputes between States [TIP] and gives advisory opinions to the United Nations and the specialized agencies. Its Statute is an integral part of the Charter of the United Nations. [TIP]

Analysis or classification

     Conflicts today are a complex mix. Their roots may be essentially internal, but they are complicated by cross-border involvement, either by States or by economic interests and other non-State actors. Recent conflicts in Africa have shown the deadly mix of civil strife and illegal export of natural resources - primarily diamonds - to fuel arms purchases. In addition, the consequences of conflicts can quickly become international because of illegal arms flows, terrorism, drug trafficking, refugee flows and environmental degradation.

Time, space or sequence (chronological order)

     The Security Council has held several special meetings on Africa at the ministerial level. In 1997, it expressed grave concern over the number and intensity of conflicts on the continent and called for an international effort to promote peace and security. In 1998, meeting at the level of Foreign Ministers, it adopted resolutions on the destabilizing effects of illicit arms flows, on arms embargoes [TIP] and on conflict prevention in Africa.

     The average age of minors at the time of breaking the law was found to be mainly between 15 and 18 [TIP]. Nevertheless, there is an emerging tendency for younger offenders, in particular offenders between the ages of 12 and 15, to come into conflict with the law.

Compare and contrast

     Refugees usually find safety, food and shelter in a second country. They are protected by a well-defined body of international laws and conventions and are assisted by UNHCR and other organizations. But the internally displaced often face far more insecure conditions. They may be trapped in an ongoing internal conflict at the mercy of the warring parties, making the provision of relief hazardous or impossible.

Cause and effect

     Families are the basic units of society and have been transformed to a great degree over the past 50 years as a result of changes in their structure (for example smaller families, later marriage and childbearing, increased divorce rates and single parenthood), global trends in migration, the ageing of the population and HIV/AIDS [TIP]. These dynamic social forces have had a manifest impact on the capacities of families to perform such social functions as the socialization of children and caregiving for its younger and older members.

Argument or recommendation

     The United Nations is committed to strengthening the protection of human rights in the judicial process. When individuals are under investigation by State authorities, when they are arrested, detained, charged, tried or imprisoned, there is always a need to ensure that the law is applied with due regard for the protection of human rights.

Now try this for yourself in exercise 13.

[Click here for exercise 13]

C. Topic sentences

The topic sentence is the main idea of a paragraph. It is often, but not always, the opening statement and sometimes suggests the pattern of organization [TIP] that is used in the paragraph. A clear topic sentence prepares the reader for what follows.

Consider some examples:

     I continue to follow closely the situation between India and Pakistan. In my contacts with representatives of the two countries, I have urged both Governments [TIP] to resume their bilateral dialogue to find a peaceful solution to the problem of their dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. Last January, I welcomed the agreement between India and Pakistan to hold a comprehensive discussion on bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, at the Foreign Secretary level at Islamabad. I have been encouraged by the efforts of the parties to keep me apprised [TIP] of their respective positions. To bridge the wide gap between their views, the Indo-Pakistani dialogue should continue in a spirit of genuine reconciliation and peace.

Note that the first sentence in the paragraph above makes for a smooth lead into the paragraph, but the paragraph is about much more than the fact that the Secretary-General is following the situation closely.

     Organized crime and democracy work according to guiding principles that are in direct conflict with one another. A democratic State upholds the sovereignty of the nation and ensures the protection of the rights of all individuals, regardless of wealth, social status, age or gender. Organized crime as traditionally defined, on the other hand, is built around patronage, carrying on a tradition of feudalism, and does not hesitate to commit human rights abuses.

In exercises 14 and 15, you will first try to identify some topic sentences and then see if you can write some for yourself.

[Click here for exercises 14 and 15]

D. Paragraph unity

A paragraph is unified if all of the sentences are clearly connected and flow logically. Each sentence should relate to the previous sentence in the paragraph or directly back to the topic sentence. Parallel structures, repetition of key words and phrases, pronoun use and transitional words or expressions can help to create this flow.

Transitional expressions connect ideas in a sentence and between sentences. Think of them as signposts for the reader.

The following paragraph uses transitions to help establish coherence:

     Monday mornings are difficult for most people. They often wake up groggy, despite the fact that they have had two days of rest. A recent survey showed that, on average, people drink more coffee on Mondays than on any other day of the week. Perhaps having to face the work week yet again is psychologically daunting for most people, even for those of us who like our jobs. Moreover, a lot of people say that they feel depressed on Monday mornings because the weekend seems so far away. For this reason, some jobs offer flextime, allowing their employees to work longer hours Tuesday through Friday so that they can take off a certain number of Mondays during the year.

Examples of transitional words and expressions:

Contrast However
  In contrast
  Whereas
Choice Otherwise
  On the one hand/on the other hand
Example For example
  For instance
Emphasis Indeed
  Undoubtedly
  Certainly
  Of course
  In short
  To say the least
  Last but not least
Addition Furthermore
  In addition
  Moreover
  Besides
Clarification In fact
  Actually
Judgement Unfortunately
  Fortunately
Explanation Therefore
  Consequently
  For this/that reason
  Thus
  Whereupon
Time/space Afterwards
  At the same time
  Subsequently
  Finally
Despite a situation Nevertheless
  Nonetheless
  Even so
  Despite the fact that

Using transitional words or phrases may not add anything to the meaning of the paragraph, but it does make your writing read more smoothly and more naturally.

Look at the first paragraph below. Although it is a perfectly good paragraph, see how the transitional words in bold (in the second paragraph) improve the flow between sentences.

     The dual challenge is the creation of new productive jobs and the improvement of existing ones. In recent years the employment content of growth seems to have weakened, while the effective supply of labour has increased owing to external opening and the growing participation of developing countries in the world economy, in combination with continued high fertility rates in many developing countries and a rise in participation rates of women. An increasing number of jobs has to be created to absorb the expanding labour force, while, at the same time, higher rates of growth are now needed to generate the same rates of job growth than was the case 15 years ago. Policies are needed that focus both on increasing growth and on increasing its employment content.

     The dual challenge is the creation of new productive jobs and the improvement of existing ones. In recent years, however, the employment content of growth seems to have weakened, while the effective supply of labour has increased owing to external opening and the growing participation of developing countries in the world economy, in combination with continued high fertility rates in many developing countries and a rise in participation rates of women. Consequently, an increasing number of jobs has to be created to absorb the expanding labour force, while, at the same time, higher rates of growth are now needed to generate the same rates of job growth than was the case 15 years ago. Policies are therefore needed that focus both on increasing growth and on increasing its employment content.

In exercise 16, try to supply a suitable transition word or phrase.

[Click here for exercise 16]

 

 
     
 
 
  | I. Introduction | II. Reader and purpose | III. Pre-writing techniques | IV. Standard report formats | V. Sentence and paragraph development | VI. Clarity in writing | VII. Writing a summary | VIII. Writing conclusions and recommendations | IX. Some last tips |  
 
 
 

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