June 01, 2016

On the Papers: What’s at Issue? The Construction of the English Paragraph, Part II

Readers want to know what a paragraph will deal with as soon as possible. But a lawyer’s stated issue often requires more than a single sentence to be adequately expressed.

George D. Gopen

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Miss Grundy, our junior high English teacher, taught us that a paragraph must begin with a “topic sentence.” Its purpose is to inform the reader, right at the start, what the issue or point of the paragraph is meant to be. This worked well when we were young and had so relatively little to say; but as adults, it fails us badly. Not only are the issue and the point not always the same in sophisticated, professional prose; but the issue of a paragraph in a legal document can often not be stated in a single sentence. I will discuss “issue versus point” in a later article. Here I will explore what the issue of a professional paragraph (legal, scientific, business—it matters not) is expected to be in terms of its shape and size.

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