Structure & Coherence:
Analyzing Paragraph Topics for Organization

Just about everything in writing and revising relies upon your ability to identify topics and subtopics at all the different levels of writing: individual sentences, paragraphs, groups of paragraphs, sections and and chapters, and so on. Call this business of identifying topics and subtopics organizational analysis. It is a messy business. If you expect mathematical precision and uniquely right or wrong answers, you're in for frustration and disappointment.

The point of organizational analysis is not to get the analysis correct or perfect; instead, the point is to evaluate groupings and sequencing of sentences within paragraphs, illogical sequencing of material in paragraphs, material that does not belong in paragraphs, and topic coverage in paragraphs. Organizational analysis enables you to see problems like these much more readily—and if you see the problem, you can probably fix it.

To be able to assess the content, organization, and continuity of your writing, you need to be able to identify topics and the focus of those topics. A topic is whatever the segment of text is "about." Topics can occur at all levels: sentence, paragraph, section, chapter, parts of books, and of course books. Topics are the building blocks of your communication. The better you can visualize them, the better you can write and revise. This is especially true at the paragraph and section levels of a document.

That process of capturing the topic and topic focus of each paragraph can be called topic analysis. And it's not necessarily a simple thing to do. But that's the topic of this chapter.

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