Ch. 3—The Point and Particular Paragraph
last updated 1/29/01

From the Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing

In chapter 3, you learned about finding surprising, or risky, points, and about supporting those points with very specific particulars.  Points turn mere information into something more meaningful—in other words, points make your details significant and interesting for the reader (47).  As the author, you must also try to give the point some kind of tension to make it truly interesting (either twisting or stretching or both).  Essays (especially closed-form essays), and the paragraphs within them, also often move up and down the scale of abstraction (50), weaving between general points and specific details (49).  Many beginning writers often have problems with either significance (the “so what” of the essay, the tension that makes it interesting and important), and/or with getting truly specific (making the reader actually SEE something by using the senses to describe, by giving examples, by explaining, etc.--by going low on the scale of abstraction).

The Assignment:

Write one full, closed-form paragraph (NOT an essay, but a single, focused paragraph that could appear in a a larger essay) that uses very specific details to support a focused, surprising point (topic sentence).  Begin your paragraph with the interesting, tension-filled point sentence and then use the body of the paragraph to provide very specific supporting details. You may only find your focused, single paragraph after doing a lot of writing to discover your best focus. (52)

Length: 1 page or less, double-spaced (about 150-250 words).

Due Date: Week 6 (see calendar for specifics).

Subject-Matter Choices: The subject areas you can make a surprising point about can come from almost anywhere, though I suggest you try choosing a point based on some of the pre-writing you did for your Believing and Doubting assertions in Chapter 2.  You can also go back to your brainstormed list of problems from Chapter 1 for subject ideas.  The subject you choose to write about must have a tension-filled thesis/topic sentence (either by stretching the reader with new information, or twisting the reader with argument, or somehow doing both).  For those of you who feel less comfortable with writing (or those who are willing to try new things), I do strongly suggest that you choose one of the following tension-building thesis templates:

For example, if I use ideas from the assertions in Chapter 2, I might come up with a tension-filled thesis like this:

Although we value freedom above many other things in this country, legalizing hard drugs like cocaine or heroin will likely increase the number of drug addicts in this country by a large amount, leading to the disintegration of lawful, ethical, and peaceful living.

Of course, the above thesis would generate an entire essay or even a book.  As I freewrite or idea map about this thesis, I will be looking for a much narrower idea to focus on.  The more focused my point, the more I can go into gory detail, which is good.  So, be sure to make your interesting point very specific (even if it requires you to think and revise and show your point to others for feedback)!  Your point will likely be a sub-point branching off of a hypothetical thesis.  If your point isn't specific enough, you will end up with either an entire essay (bad) or with a very general, boring paragraph (very bad).

Rhetorical Choices:  Often the audience you choose to write for will determine your purpose, genre, style and structure (see chapter 4 for more information).  Who do you think you are writing for?  How will you appeal to them (tension helps here)?  You will find a closed-form, point-at-the-top approach is easiest for this kind of assignment.  Try beginning with your point, then weave in particulars (real examples, hypothetical examples, explanations, descriptions, analyses, definitions).  End with an additional, general statement about significance if you think your reader is still asking “so what?”

Suggested Writing Process:  If I were doing this assignment, I might begin by reading the drafting advice on pages 52-53 for more ideas.  Then I would begin brainstorming some surprising theses/points probably based on some of the problems I see in the world around me (or topics I've dealt with in class thus far).  I would be sure that my points have tension (and risk) by brainstorming different and more focused, more detailed versions of them, and by asking others what they think.  I would then freewrite or idea map about a few of the best points to see which one interests me most, and which one seems to generate the most specific particulars.  I might discuss my detailed freewrite with others in dialectic dialogues to see if they find me convincing or hear their arguments.  I might get on the Web to see what the rest of the world is saying about my topic.  I would, of course, read the sample student paragraph in chapter 3 (page 53) to get ideas for how to focus and structure my paragraph.  I would freewrite a number of times, focusing, cutting, adding more sensory details, and eventually working my freewrites into a single, polished paragraph.  I would then have a peer or two review my more polished paragraph (and/or go to the OWL for ideas at, or to the Writing Lab in LEC 227).  I would revise my paragraph again, and finally edit its surface errors (yes, this should be treated like a formal assignment, thus surface errors will cause a deduction in points).

Points Available: You can get up to 60 points on this assignment.