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Understanding the Paragraph and Paragraphing

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Understanding the Paragraph and Paragraphing is a work of wide-ranging and in-depth scholarship on the nature of the paragraph and the factors involved in making paragraphing decisions when constructing written text. Its comprehensive scope includes discussion on the origin of the paragraph and its nature as explored in centuries past and in recent work in discourse analysis and corpus linguistics, with implications drawn for pedagogy and future research. McGee profiles the work of key figures who helped to set traditional notions of the paragraph, and then turns to recent and contemporary empirical research and theorizing, including his own, on paragraph structure and on writing process activity related to paragraphing decisions. The extensive review and close analysis of sources, combined with the author’s knowledge of research traditions and methodologies, provides a strong foundation for McGee’s probing study of the paragraph and the resulting enlightened understandings of it that the book provides. Given that what the general public and indeed most teachers know about paragraphs and paragraphing does not represent actual paragraph structure or paragraphing practice, the pedagogical guidance which the author provides based on a thorough review of existing research makes this an especially useful book.

Published: Jan 1, 2018


Section Chapter Authors
Dedication Iain McGee
Editor's Preface Martha Pennington
Preface Iain McGee
Chapter 1
Paragraphs and Paragraphing: An Overview of the Issues Iain McGee
Chapter 2
Paragraph Genesis Iain McGee
Chapter 3
Teaching and Learning Paragraphing (I): The Late 19th Century Iain McGee
Chapter 4
Teaching and Learning Paragraphing (II): The 1960s Iain McGee
Chapter 5
The Paragraph Break and Other Discourse-Managing Tools Iain McGee
Chapter 6
Cohesion and the Paragraph Iain McGee
Chapter 7
The Psychological Effect of Paragraphs and Paragraph Organization on Readers Iain McGee
Chapter 8
The Process of Writing Paragraphs Iain McGee
Chapter 9
Wrapping up the Paragraph Iain McGee
End Matter
References Iain McGee
Author Index Iain McGee
Subject Index Iain McGee


The strength of this book is in its encyclopedic review of the literature on paragraphs and paragraphing. Scholars of the paragraph will appreciate the depth of research available in this book, and it will no doubt be of great use in future research on the topic. As to pedagogy, the text is an important reminder that although paragraphs might often be presented as simple and straightforward, they are in fact highly varied and responsive. McGee not only wants us to consider the context of the writer, the reader, and the text itself, but he demonstrates to us the necessity of this view. With these in mind, we can build our understanding of paragraphs as we read them, as we seek to write them, and as we teach others to do the same.
English for Specific Purposes

McGee has ultimately achieved his aim of writing a book that might ‘help writing instructors discuss paragraphs and paragraphing intelligently with their students’ by encouraging readers and writers alike to hold traditional models of the paragraph lightly, focusing less on the what and how of making paragraphing decisions and more on the why.

Iain McGee’s book about paragraphs is seminal.
If you have questions about how paragraphs function or how to treat them in your pedagogy, a handbook or Google might be your first recourse. But I would encourage that this book should be your first stop instead. McGee’s complex and descriptivist conclusions will not make the average composition instructor giddy with relief after having glimpsed something of the ultimate, but teaching writing is never a simple matter, and if you think paragraphs are a trivial side concern on the road to successful writing, McGee might dissuade you.
Understanding the Paragraph and Paragraphing, McGee offers a multidisciplinary path to the intense study of a central structural aspect of teaching writing. It is also an invitation to take up the quest again. Reading McGee’s book has inspired me to return to that path after a long absence.
Composition Studies Journal