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Focus: Relate Sentences to a Paragraph’s Main Idea

Updated on January 17, 2023StudentsWriting Tips

Few things are more frustrating than reading a paragraph, reaching its end, and then wondering, “What the #@*% did I just read?”

There are a number of reasons why this might happen. One of them is a lack of focus in the writing. When a paragraph meanders from topic to topic, tries to fit in too many topics, or fails to clearly make the connection between its topic sentence and its supporting sentences, the writing isn’t focused. Unfocused writing often leaves readers puzzled and wondering what information they were supposed to take from it.

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What does an unfocused paragraph look like?

Unfocused paragraphs come in a variety of forms. Some are longer than they should be and never reach a coherent point. Others are too short to make a strong statement. For some, it’s not the length that makes the paragraph unfocused but the content. The sentences might not flow together or support each other, making the text feel disjointed. Alternatively, the sentences might be so dense—packed with technical terms, multiple clauses, or nuanced concepts lacking explanation—that the reader can’t wrap their mind around them.

What constitutes too dense depends on your intended reader. Writing that uses lots of jargon might be perfectly fine if your reader has the expertise to understand that jargon, but it might be too dense for readers without that background.

Signs that may point to a lack of focus in writing include:

  • Tangents
  • Meandering sentences
  • No topic sentence

Why is focused writing important?

Focused writing is important because it’s effective. By effective, we mean the writing clearly expresses its topic. When writing is focused, it’s easy for readers to understand.

On a small scale, focused writing means a paragraph’s topic sentence is clear and supported. On a larger scale, focused writing means each paragraph fits into the larger work coherently. After the introductory paragraph states the piece’s thesis, each following paragraph should support that thesis by expanding on it.

How to focus your writing

It might sound like a circular argument, but the way to focus your writing is by defining a clear focal point before you start writing.

Here’s what we mean by that: Before you begin to write, determine exactly what you’re going to write about. You might have a clear assignment to work with, or you may need to do some brainstorming to find the right topic for your work. Once you’ve determined your topic, craft your outline around it. Note each supporting paragraph’s topic, how it bolsters your writing’s main topic, and the information you’ll include in the paragraph. When it’s time to write your first draft, your outline will be like a road map to follow to keep your writing focused. Your finished outline should look like a skeleton for a finished paper, with each paragraph’s topic sentence listed to show how the paragraphs fit together and relate back to your thesis statement.

Use smooth transition sentences

Transition sentences are the sentences that bridge gaps between other sentences. In many cases, this bridge is what turns two seemingly unrelated sentences into a focused paragraph. Here’s an example with the transition sentence bolded:

That company routinely touts efficiency as one of its core brand values. However, the current requirement that all employees work on site is inefficient and slows down employee productivity. Changing to a primarily remote structure with flexible working hours would increase productivity by improving efficiency.

Transition sentences improve focus in writing by making the relationships between sentences clear. This makes it easier for the reader to understand the author’s position.

Fix run-on sentences

Run-on sentence isn’t just another way of saying long sentence. A run-on sentence is a sentence that:

  • Contains two or more independent clauses
  • Does not have grammatically correct punctuation or a conjunction connecting those clauses

Here is an example of a run-on sentence:

I took two literature courses last semester even though I already satisfied my humanities elective requirements because I like reading.

Here’s the non-run-on version of the same sentence:

I took two literature courses last semester, even though I already satisfied my humanities elective requirements, because I like reading.

An easy way to tell if you’ve got a run-on sentence is to read it and see if it can be separated into two or more distinct thoughts. If it can, see where it needs punctuation, a conjunction, or to be split into two sentences.

Eliminate unnecessary information

One of the easiest ways to correct a lack of focus in writing is to eliminate any tangents. A tangent is a thought that has little or nothing to do with the work’s main topic. In certain kinds of writing, like stream-of-consciousness writing, tangents are perfectly acceptable and even encouraged. But in any kind of focused work, like an essay, research paper, article, or even an email or another kind of business or academic communication, tangents only distract the reader.

As you proofread your work, remove any sentences that aren’t related to your main topic.

Examples of focused and unfocused paragraphs

Unfocused:

The best days of my childhood were the days I spent up at my grandparents’ cabin on the lake. I learned how to swim. My grandfather took me to a small, shallow cove where I practiced all the basics. I was a confident swimmer.

Focused:

The best days of my childhood were the days I spent up at my grandparents’ cabin on the lake. That’s where I learned how to swim. Every afternoon, my grandfather took me to a small, shallow cove where I practiced all the basics. By the time I was eight, I was a confident swimmer.

Unfocused:

Next semester, I’m going to take Intro to Poetry Workshop. I wonder why I never took a poetry class before? I always liked writing fiction, and I even won an award for the best short story when I was in eleventh grade. Writing fiction is easy for me because I can easily think of story ideas. I can’t wait to take Intro to Poetry Workshop!

Focused:

Next semester, I’m going to take Intro to Poetry Workshop. It will be a new experience for me; I’ve never taken a poetry workshop before. However, I’m not new to writing. I’ve always enjoyed writing fiction and found it comes very easily to me. Let’s see if the same is true for poetry—I’m looking forward to taking my first poetry course!

Keys to focused writing

Focused writing is all about staying on topic and removing unnecessary concepts and words.

  • Define your topic and scope before you start writing.
  • Choose topic sentences to set the stage for each paragraph.
  • Use transition sentences to make a cohesive point.
  • Fix run-on sentences.
  • Eliminate unnecessary information.
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