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Understanding text structure

Paragraph structure (the SEC model)

You may already be familiar with the three parts of a paragraph: a topic sentence or statement [S] (often the first sentence in the paragraph) containing the main idea; support sentences that expand [E] the main idea; and a concluding sentence or a final comment [C] on the main idea. See the SEC Model.

The paragraph model is a guideline. Sometimes, the topic sentence only introduces the subject and is followed by a second sentence which contains the controlling idea. In the example paragraph below, the controlling idea is not in the first sentence. If you read or skim the whole paragraph quickly, you will realise that the controlling idea here is ‘poverty’ and its connection to ‘disasters’. When you read, you should have this connection in mind. The first sentence, therefore, is too general; the second sentence states the controlling idea of the paragraph.

Controlling idea

Read this paragraph and decide which ONE of the following sentences best summarises the paragraph.

[S] Disasters, of course, are not entirely due to the injustice of nature; the injustice of man also plays its part. Poverty contributes both to the causation and impact of disaster. [E] It is a major cause of deforestation and desertification which aggravate flood and droughts. Poverty and the pressure of population drive the poor to live in increasingly dangerous places, like slums perched on steep slopes, or the flood- and cyclone-ridden islands of the Ganges delta in Bangladesh. Poor people can afford only flimsy houses of wood, mud and straw, liable to collapse in a heavy storm. Serious disasters appear to be increasing in frequency. A study by the University of Bradford found that the average number per year rose from five between 1919 and 1971, to eleven between 1951 and 1971, and over seventeen between 1968 and 1971. It seems unlikely that nature's inclemency is growing at this rate. The increase is probably due to the increasing disaster-proneness of the poor. [C] But disasters themselves accentuate poverty and make their victims more disaster-prone for the future.

-Text source: Glendinning, E.H. and Holmstrom, B. (2004). Study reading: A course in reading skills for academic purposes.(2nd.ed.) Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, p.63. 

Which sentence best summarises the main content of the paragraph?

Text cohesion: use of linking words

Authors often use linking words and phrases to mark connections between ideas in their writing. Knowing these words will help you both to understand how ideas in a text are connected and to make accurate predictions as you read.

View a summary chart of some common logical organisers.

For more on how writers achieve coherence in their writing, go to Achieving coherence (Academic Writing module).

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