American Univesity of Beirut

Structure and organization: paragraphs in technical writing


You are expected to write paragraphs that are:​​

This means they need to:



Revolve around one theme

(In this example, the paragraph focuses on fine aggregate characteristics that can be determined by ASTM C1X5X)

(1) In this study, fine aggregate characteristics were evaluated according to ASTM C1X5X. (2) This standard lists three procedures (Methods A, B, and C) to measure the void content of fine aggregate. (3) While Methods A and C use graded fine aggregate (consisting of different sizes of aggr​egate), Method B uses several individual size fractions (each aggregate size is tested on its own for void content). (4) Depending on the method used, the measured void content may provide further indications of the aggregate's characteristics. (5) For instance, using Method A to measure the void content of an aggregate of a known grading, the results can further indicate the aggregate's angularity, sphericity, and surface texture. (6) On the other hand, when void content is measured on an as-received fine-aggregate grading (Method C), the results can predict the aggregate's performance (workability) when used in the field. (7) Therefore, various tests should be conducted under various conditions.
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Paragraphs should start with a topic statement(s) (sentence 1), followed by details and explanations relevant to that topic (sentences 2-6), and should end with a summary/ evaluation (sentence 7).


​​Use transitions and connective devices between ideas

(Notice how the underlined transitions enhance the flow of ideas and help achieving the known-new contract in sentences)


Balance general statements with specific details

(General statements should provide the context and specific statements should provide details. For instance, sentence 2 provides a general statement about the the various procedures listed in the standard. Then, sentence 3 provides specific comparisons between the three methods)​

Varied in terms of verb tenses

Use different tenses when reporting different types of information

(Notice the change of tenses and verb types in this paragraph. Descriptions of the actual procedures conducted are reported in the past tense (were evaluated). However, the descriptions of the methods are reported using the present tense because they include general facts about those methods (lists, use, uses).) Also, when discussing possibilities and necessities, modal verbs are used (may, can, should).)



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