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How to Write a Paragraph: The Art of Substantive Writing, 3rd edition

Author: Richard Paul and Linda Elder
Publisher: Foundation for Critical Thinking
Copyright: 2013
Pages: 56
Dimensions: 5 1/4" x 8"
ISBN (10Digit): 0-944583-22-9
ISBN (13Digit): 978-0-944583-22-7

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Writing is essential to learning. One cannot be educated and yet unable to communicate one's ideas in written form. But, learning to write can occur only through a process of cultivation requiring intellectual discipline. As with any set of complex skills, there are fundamentals of writing that must be internalized and then applied using one's thinking. This guide focuses on the most important of those fundamentals.

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Additional Information About:
How to Write a Paragraph: The Art of Substantive Writing, 3rd edition

Skilled writers do not write blindly, but purposely. They have an agenda, goal, or objective. Their purpose, together with the nature of what they are writing (and their situation), determines how they write. They write in different ways in different situations for different purposes. There is also a nearly universal purpose for writing, and that is to say something worth saying about something worth saying something about. 


In general, then, when we write, we translate inner meanings into public words. We put our ideas and experiences into written form. Accurately translating intended meanings into written words is an analytic, evaluative, and creative set of acts. Unfortunately, few people are skilled in this work of translation. Few are able to select and combine words that, so combined, convey an intended meaning to an audience of readers.


At present students are poor writers, not because they are incapable of learning to write well, but because they have never been taught the foundations of substantive writing. They lack intellectual discipline as well as strategies for improving their writing. This is true on the one hand because teachers often lack a clear theory of the relationship between writing and learning and, on the other, are concerned with the time involved in grading written work.


This guide provides techniques that enhance student learning and foster the ability to communicate clearly and logically what one is learning.


The development of writing abilities, as well as all other intellectual abilities, occurs only through sound theory and routine practice. When students understand the relationship between learning and writing, and are engaged in routine writing practice using the tools of critical thinking, they are able to learn content at deeper and deeper levels, and gradually improve their ability to communicate important ideas.


Contents include:

The Theory

  • The Premise of This Guide
  • Writing for a Purpose
  • Substantive Writing
  • The Problem of Impressionistic Writing
  • Writing Reflectively
  • Writing as Exercise for the Mind
  • How to Write a Sentence
  • Writing to Learn
  • Substantive Writing in Content Areas
  • Relating Core Ideas to Other Core Ideas
  • Writing Within Disciplines
  • The Work of Writing
  • Questioning as We Write
  • Non-Substantive Writing 

The Practice: Exercises in Substantive Writing

  • Introduction
  • Paraphrasing
  • Sample Paraphrases
  • Paraphrasing Short Quotes
  • Paraphrasing and Clarifying Substantive Texts
    • Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl
    • History of the Great American Fortunes, by Gustavus Myers
    • On Liberty, by H. L. Mencken
  • Exploring Conflicting Ideas
  • Exploring Key Ideas Within Disciplines
  • Analyzing Reasoning
  • Evaluating Reasoning

Appendix A: The Logic of an Article
Appendix B: Evaluating an Author’s Reasoning
Appendix C: Mapping Sentences (for Instructors)
Appendix D: How to Teach Students to Assess Writing (for Instructors))
Appendix E: The Function of Transitional Words