Lesson 3: The Perfect Paragraph

Say it with me:

TS, CD, CM, CM, CD, CM, CM, CD, CM, CM, CS.

This is the mantra of the Perfect Paragraph. In a piece of writing–especially rhetorical writing–a single paragraph must be complete in and of itself. Here is how it is done:

TS=Topic Sentence

As implied, a topic sentence sets forth the main idea or argument of the paragraph. A topic sentence must be intriguing, complete, and able to give the reader an idea of the contents of the paragraph.

CD=Concrete Detail

Usually a CD is a fact, or substantive statement that expands on the TS by offering more specific information about the topic.

CM=Commentary

A CM statement allows the writer to offer an opinion or insight that shows a certain point of view. Again it must be in line with the topic of the paragraph, but a CM allows the writer to show off a little. In a perfect paragraph, you can have two or three CMs for every CD.

CS=Closing Statement

Once you have set up a series of concrete details followed by well-supported insights that relate directly to your topic, then you can round it out with a closing statement that synthesizes the opinion you have set forth above and the fact/details that you have offered. A perfect CS will transition nicely into the next paragraph, or tie up the argument with a satisfying bow.

Got that? Memorize it. TSCDCMCMCDCMCMCDCMCMCS/TSCDCMCMCDCMCMCDCMCMCS/TSCDCMCMCDCMCMCDCMCMCS

Ok, now that you’ve got it. Forget it.

The Perfect Paragraph is a BORING paragraph, but I bring it up because it’s a good rule to have in the back of your mind when you are writing. I learned this is high school Advanced Placement English as a way to quickly structure essays. I wrote so many essays during my junior and senior years in high school that I could almost do it in my sleep. The AP class was designed to prepare us to take a test in which we wrote three essays in about three hours.

Now, I wouldn’t recommend ANYONE put themselves through such a painful ordeal. Frankly, those generic essays I cranked out in that class must also have been painful to read. However, there is some merit to knowing how to structure your writing when you are trying to make sense of a jumble of ideas and information. Over the years, I have leaned on this structuring method to remind me the elements I need to cover when trying to convey information via writing.

True, this particular pattern is for writing regular rhetorical essays–that is to say, essays that try to make some point about some topic or other. A standard rhetorical essay has a strong thesis, and uses a series of paragraphs to offer supporting information interspersed with argument and opinion that attempts to prove the thesis set forth to be correct, or at least viable. Basically, an essay written this way tries to convince (purpose) a particular reader (audience) of a particular idea or point of view (subject).

Of course, writing being the dynamic medium that it is, there are an infinite number of ways to accomplish the same thing…and probably at least 96 percent of those ways have been tried by some poet, writer, artist, or other literary person. Suffice to say–it’s been done.

But the concept remains the same. Any piece of writing must clearly convey certain things. It must offer a clear topic or main idea. Then follow it up with concrete information that expands on the main idea. And because no one wants to read the words of a robot, liven it up with your own special twists. Make it yours. Then round it out with a line that brings it all together, and offers a final insight into your brilliance.

Try it. You might be surprised.

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About Taylor

Teacher/Writer/Word Nerd View all posts by Taylor

One response to “Lesson 3: The Perfect Paragraph

  • Jasmina

    Hello,
    Thank you so much for explaining it. This helped me a great deal to understand this way of writing. My daughter is 7th grade and has a great difficulty understanding CM/CD structure. She goes to a “choice” school in are school district that is ahead of regular middle school but still part of the school district. I have finished a high school in Europe long time ago and this is very new to me. I don’t think her teacher explained it well so I had to do my own research to help her. It has been a very painful experience for us :)
    Thank you!

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