Reverse engineering from conclusive sentences can help simplify paragraphs.
Paragraphs are the basic unit of composition (Strunk and White, 2000). Paragraphs help readers to understand when a narrative transitions from one topic to another. Paragraphs can also help writers organize large amounts of information into manageable units. Therefore, designing clear paragraphs is important for effective writing.
Three recommendations for writing effective paragraphs are:
1) Deliberately select an appropriate FRAMEWORK for each paragraph. 2) Use CONCLUSIVE topic sentences to introduce reasoned arguments. 3) Reverse-engineer reasoned arguments from specific conclusions.
Most of the recommendations for writing paragraphs are also recommendations for other aspects of writing. Therefore, only a brief discussion of each recommendation is necessary.
1) Deliberately select an appropriate FRAMEWORK for each paragraph.
Writing a paragraph can be simplified by deliberately choosing a single framework to structure the paragraph.
To review, chronological frameworks are only appropriate in limited situations where time is critical. Chronologies are not the most powerful or interesting frameworks for most professional communication.
Although lists are useful and appropriate when they support hierarchies, lists should not be the most common framework used in scientific writing.
Most paragraphs in scientific writing are structured using reasoned frameworks. Therefore, deliberately choosing a reasoned framework can simplify writing because chronologies, lists, or other elements do not need to be considered. Sentences that are not critical to the reasoning simply detract from the argument and can be deleted.
The most important part of reasoning is a strong conclusion. Therefore, writing paragraphs can be a systematic process. First, clearly state the conclusion of the paragraph. Second, construct the arguments necessary to support the conclusion (using deductive or inductive reasoning).
2) Use CONCLUSIVE topic sentences to introduce reasoned arguments.
Reading and writing can be confusing because many published papers do not follow some of the most common recommendations made to students of writing. For example, the recommendation to use topic sentences has been made for at least 100 years (Strunk and White, 2000). Moreover, recommendations to use topic sentences are ubiquitous, and part of many popular frameworks for writing (e.g. TEEL, TAXES, AXES, PEEL, TIPTOP, SEED, PIE, etc.). However, many scientific papers do not have identifiable topic sentences. Why don't scientific papers follow established recommendations?
Writing is a very open-ended process, and scientific writing is continually evolving. Many scientists are not formally trained in scientific writing and could benefit from guidance (Brand and Huiskes 2001; Brand, 2008). Topic sentences may also be omitted from scientific writing simply to reduce word counts.
Even though many scientific papers do not include topic sentences for each paragraph, topic sentences that are conclusive and match the conclusion sentences of the paragraph are still useful. Selecting and specifically wording a topic sentence before writing a paragraph clarifies the GOAL of the paragraph. Starting a paragraph with a clearly-written topic sentence allows authors to determine whether all added text that is instrumental to achieving the goal. Any text that does not support the conclusion can (and should) be removed.
Therefore, structuring paragraphs using topic sentences is a useful FRAMEWORK that can be repeated for most or all paragraphs of a paper. Writing using topic sentences is useful, even if the topic sentences are eventually removed in the interests of reducing words or enhancing flow. Starting paragraphs by writing conclusive topic sentences also helps to ensure that paragraphs remain focused on a single, reasoned argument.
Using a conclusive topic sentence also allows authors to use "reverse engineering" to help structure paragraphs. Starting with the conclusion of an argument can help authors identify the definitions and premises necessary to defend the conclusion. Beginning a paragraph with a conclusion essentially forces authors to work backward: starting from the conclusion before carefully organizing the premises that support the conclusion.
For example, consider a paragraph about building a musculoskeletal computer model of the hand (Lee et al., 2015). The authors used an optimization technique, where a computer was programmed to find three-dimensional muscle attachment sites that best corresponded to observed muscle function. However, one discovery from the procedure was that some hand muscles have more than one place that they could attach to bones and still function normally.
The authors therefore sought to defend the conclusion "Optimization demonstrated that multiple equivalent muscle attachments are possible for some muscles." Knowing the conclusion allowed the authors to organize complex data into premises that support the conclusion, resulting in the paragraph:
"The optimization procedure found multiple muscle attachments. For some muscles, attachment points were constrained to a narrow region. For example, the standard deviation for FDS at the MCP joint was 0.6 mm. For other muscles, attachment points could be located in a broad region. For example, the ES at the PIP joint had a standard deviation of 1.7 mm. Still other muscles exhibited distinct alternative attachment regions. For example, RI at the MCP joint showed two alternative attachment regions, resulting in a bimodal distribution and large standard deviation of 9.0 mm. Therefore, optimization demonstrated that multiple equivalent muscle attachments are possible for some muscles."
Therefore, reverse-engineering using conclusive topic sentences can be helpful for organizing complex information into clear arguments.
Using a reasoned framework to structure paragraphs is consistent with other useful recommendations, such as using the three "Cs" for effective paragraphs: Context, Content, and Conclusion (Precise Edit, 2012).
Context: Each paragraph fits within a clearly-defined [reasoned] framework.
Content: All sentences are referenced premises that directly contribute to a deductive or inductive argument.
Conclusion: The conclusion of the paragraph is clear, reasonable, and well-supported.
The task of writing paragraphs can be simplified by preparation. Deliberately organize the paragraph around a specific framework. "Reverse engineer" the arguments of reasoned paragraphs from conclusive topic sentences.