Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences, and Transitions

Lesson and Workshops Introduction:

We have designed pre- and post-class activities (essentially ‘homework’ exercises for students) to complement the in-class lesson/workshop for this specific science writing-skill component (‘Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions’).

At our institution, we ask students to complete the pre-class activities online as preparation for the in-class lesson/workshop, so as to give them some exposure to the concepts that will be explored in more detail in class.

The in-class activities are designed to improve students’ writing skills and to give them experience in working with partners/small groups on related activities. The in-class lesson/workshop has been designed to encourage an interactive, conversational approach to completing the activities; this should help students to resolve any confusion from the pre-class activities and discuss the importance of the writing skills they are learning to master with their peers and instructors. We provide student worksheets for the in-class activities, as well as TA and Instructor versions of these worksheets, which also include suggested solutions to the activities. We also provide a PowerPoint presentation to accompany the lesson/workshop, and a timing guide with teaching prompts to help instructors encourage students to get the most from these sessions.

Lastly, students are asked to complete the post-class activities online, as a final learning tool and wrap-up to help them solidify the concepts they have learned and gain some more practice in applying these to real writing situations.


A Note on Asking Students to Complete the Pre- and Post-Class Activities Online

We recommend asking students to complete the activities online so as to reduce the likelihood that worksheets of these activities are printed and enter the student domain; over time, these questions will reduce in value if copies are posted online (via blogs etc. by students who have previously completed them).

We have designed these activities to take students approximately 30-60 minutes to complete; they form a small part of the graded continuous assessment for students enrolled in a science communication course at our institution, but could also be deployed as not-for-credit activities.


A Note on the Different Versions

All different versions/banks have been used and refined following student and instructor feedback, and all of them focus on the same important concepts. We cycle different versions across different terms to minimize the potential that students enrolled in our course in concurrent terms will share answers (e.g. we do not use the same version in concurrent terms).

Please note that while the initial choice of which version to use is somewhat arbitrary, it is important to use the same version for the pre-, in- and post-class activities as a whole unit; this is because some of the questions appearing in the in-class lesson/workshop and/or post-class activities build on work completed in the pre-class activities (e.g. do not use pre-class version 1, and post-class version 2 together).

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences Transitions: In-Class Activities, Instructor Timing Guide

Please note this guide is to help you keep track of time as students work through the activities. It complements the final worksheets (and PowerPoint) but please have a look at this guide so you know when you should display certain slides.

** Please note that this is one of the busier in-class writing skills activities and it is important that students complete activities 1 – 3 for the learning goals to be met. Therefore, you are encouraged to stick closely to time. **


Activity 1, (15 min)

You should allow a total of 15 minutes for students to complete Activity 1.


Activity 2 (15 min + 5 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed =35 min)

* Students might need guidance as to what format their outline should be in: suggest to them that it should look like a contents page in a book, with sub-headings. *

You should allow 15 minutes for students to complete Activity 2, before spending a further five minutes discussing a suggested solution (PowerPoint slide #3).


Activity 3 (15 min, total time elapsed = 50 min)

You should allow 15 minutes for students to complete Activity 3.


Activity 4 (remaining time/take-home)

You should spend any remaining time on this activity. It is likely that students will not have enough time to tackle this, but they can do so at home (it will only take them five minutes or so, and you should encourage them to do so to see the value of creating and using an outline to improve the quality of their written work).


As students leave

** Please give them a copy of Page 3 of the document: ‘Unit 1 In-Class Instructor Final with Solutions’. **

Page 3 shows a suggested solution for the outline they should have produced, and then shows an example of a written response to the prompt they have been answering. Importantly, this also highlights effective topic sentences and transitions, which are included in the writing skills specifically addressed in this unit.

Version 1

Paragraph structure, topic sentences and transitions: Student Pre-Class Activities

Paragraphs

Paragraphs are extremely important components of an effectively structured piece of writing because they organize material in a way that makes it easier to follow for your readers. Without them, even the most fascinating piece of work will fail to attract the attention it deserves. Structuring your writing into clear, effective paragraphs that address individual ideas will help you organize your work, which in turn gives your readers the best possible chance of understanding the points you are trying to make.

Scientists and researchers often find themselves communicating the results of important studies in an attempt to convince others that they have discovered a new piece of knowledge that will have implications for future research and/or immediate real-world applications. As such, it is even more crucial that they are able to tell a story effectively because they have to convince their audience that their arguments are valid.

The three golden rules below will help you to write clear paragraphs, although you should note that these are just the main ones that you will need to focus on; there are plenty of others that will improve your writing as well. To begin with, try to make sure that you:   

  1. Make one main point per paragraph. It is good practice to tell your reader in one clear, concise sentence (called a topic sentence) at the beginning of each paragraph what you will be expanding upon in that particular paragraph. 
  2. Funnel information from general to specific. Treat each paragraph as a mini-essay, each with its own topic sentence. It is a good idea to start by providing general information before making the information that follows more specific.
  3. Provide evidence to fully support each paragraph. Although it is a good idea to make most paragraphs roughly similar in terms of word count, it is more important to make each paragraph similar in terms of content completeness. You must provide evidence to back up the general statement(s) made early in each paragraph. 

Question 1 (1 mark)

Imagine that you have been working on a chemistry project and have drafted a short report to detail what you have learned. Read this draft below. Which of the five sentences contains information that does not relate very closely to the rest of the text?

(1) Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and tetrabromobisphenyl A (TBBPA) are flame-retardant chemicals that are added to materials in order to reduce their flammability. (2) Certain flame retardants have been banned from use in consumer products because numerous studies found them to be toxic. (3) However, many consumer products such as televisions, curtains, and furniture foam may contain other flame-retardant chemicals with unknown health effects. (4) Many homeowners would like to purchase goods without flame retardants because they don’t think fires are likely to start; however, these goods are very difficult to find. (5) The two main mechanisms for incorporating flame retardants into materials such as plastics and polyurethane foam are by either mixing them with the base material or chemically binding them to it.

Question 2 (4 marks)

Re-read the draft of writing about flame-retardants (above, question 1) and use the three golden rules described on the first page to restructure the writing into effective paragraphs. Hint: You should split the text into three different paragraphs and will need to reorder the sentences. You can copy and paste the text as you do this to save time.

Topic Sentences

Remember from the previous section that an effective topic sentence must inform your reader what the paragraph is about, and it should also link the flow of your argument from the previous paragraph to the current one. It is usually a good idea to make the first sentence of your paragraph the topic sentence.

As a rough indicator of whether you have written clear topic sentences, a reader in a real hurry should be able to read these, and these only (i.e. avoid the detailed information in all the paragraphs), and still be able to understand the backbone of the argument you are making.   

Some example errors and improvements

A1 (topic sentence missing):  
“When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”  

B1 (with effective topic sentence):  
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”    

A2 (topic sentence does not relate closely enough to paragraph): 
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but those with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.”    

B2 (topic sentence relates directly to paragraph):  
“Wolves and hares use different foraging strategies, and there are positives and negatives associated with each. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but food must be shared and wolves with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.” 

Questions 3, 4, 5 and 6 (1 mark each, 4 marks total)

Study the following paragraphs and the three different options for a topic sentence. Choose the most suitable one for each. 

Question 3 (1 mark): Most New World monkeys have prehensile tails that are able to grasp objects, while Old World monkeys either have no visible tail or a non-prehensile tail.

  1. Old World monkeys have more useful tails than New World monkeys.
  2. The type of tail a monkey has typically depends on the group it belongs to.
  3. New World monkeys are more intelligent than Old World Monkeys.

Question 4 (1 mark): Asteroids are composed mainly of rock and metals. They can be found in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter. Comets are mainly ice and reside in the Kuiper Belt past the orbit of Neptune as well as in the Oort cloud in the outer solar system.

  1. Asteroids and comets are planetary bodies in our solar system.
  2. Asteroids and comets both orbit the Sun, but in different locations.
  3. Asteroids and comets differ in their composition and location in space.

Question 5 (1 mark): One such series is that of uranium-238, which eventually forms the stable lead isotope lead-206. As uranium-238 decays, radioactive daughter elements are formed which then further decay by either alpha or beta decay until lead-206 is formed.

  1. Naturally occurring radioactive elements undergo radioactive decay to form a stable daughter product through a series of decay steps.
  2. The uranium-238 decay series is a naturally occurring process that ultimately forms a stable daughter product.
  3. A stable uranium isotope is the final element in a series of decay steps that radioactive elements undergo.

Question 6 (1 mark): For example, many parents have refused to give their children the triple vaccine of measles, mumps and rubella because of the suggestion that it increases the risk of developing autism. This is despite independent research finding no evidence to support a link between the two. Further independent research shows that there has been an alarming increase in the number of measles cases in children that did not receive the vaccine in recent years. Despite this fact, a high proportion of parents are still reluctant to administer the triple vaccine to their kids.

  1. Children that have not been vaccinated against measles have a higher chance of contracting the virus.
  2. Although studies have confirmed many vaccinations are safe to use, some vaccines are still doubted.
  3. Some parents have relied on speculation in order to make choices regarding their child’s health.

Questions 7, 8, and 9 (1 mark each for identifying the problem, 1 mark for the re-written topic sentence; 6 marks total)

For the following three questions, read the bolded topic sentence (and paragraph that follows it) before deciding which one of the following problems makes each one a poor topic sentence:

A) It is too broad, and it is therefore hard to cover in sufficient detail in one paragraph
B) It is too narrow, and there is therefore too little to expand on in the paragraph
C) It lacks focus, and is therefore hard to link it to the support of one idea
D) The language is too specialist, and therefore might not make sense to everyone

Once you have decided this, re-write the topic sentence so it is more effective.

Question 7 (2 marks)

Many fruits are of the seedless variety. For example, the majority of bananas that are commercially available are seedless Cavendish bananas. In addition to being seedless, these bananas are also all genetically identical. This means that they lack genetic diversity and a single disease could potentially wipe out banana crops.

Question 8 (2 marks)

Coagulation via filter alum addition during drinking water treatment is a crucial step for removing colloids. These fine particles are not removed during previous steps, as they are too small. The addition of the filtering aid, filter alum, causes a precipitation reaction and allows the fine particles to settle out with the precipitate.

Question 9 (2 marks)

Microorganisms in Lake Hillier, Australia, produce pigments that range in colour and are responsible for making the water appear pink. These pigments, called carotenoids, range in colour from yellow to red and give the lake its unique colour. The microorganisms store the pigments throughout their cell membrane, making the lake water appear pink.

Making Smooth Transitions

We have already seen that a piece of writing containing interesting, important information will fail to get the message across if it is not structured into clear paragraphs. In the same way, such information will not make an impact on a reader if the flow of ideas does not transition seamlessly from sentence to sentence, or from paragraph to paragraph.

When reading over your work, ask yourself whether the flow of information is smooth. Although it is often difficult to remember everything that you have just read, it is a bad sign if you find yourself having to jump backwards again and again to fully understand something.

Before you get used to making smooth transitions, it is a good idea to ask a friend or classmate to read your work and tell you whether they followed your thought process from the first sentence to the last. If they found it difficult, you probably need to work on your transitions. An effective transition should do at least two of the following three things. It should:  

  1. Signal the point at which you are shifting to another idea
  2. Act as a preparatory signpost for what is coming up next
  3. Explain to the reader how each idea is connected

Two examples

A1 (Poor transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears. As temperatures rise they will have a smaller habitat in which to live. Also, there will be less food available for them because there will be smaller populations of krill. Polar bear populations are thus affected by the amount of ice available.” 

B1 (Good transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears for two main reasons. Firstly, because increased temperatures cause increased melting of ice on which the bears live, there will be a reduced area in which they can live. Secondly, many species that polar bears rely on for food will be less numerous than in the past because their main food source, krill, can only breed successfully underneath ice. Therefore, the reduction of ice is the key factor in limiting polar bear populations.” 

B1 is better than A1 because:

  1. Each transition informs the reader that a new idea is about to be elaborated on
  2. Each sentence begins with a ‘signpost’ that links it to the next one
  3. Each transition connects the points made in the whole text with one another

Question 10 (5 marks)

Imagine that you are writing a summary of an experiment conducted by UBC researchers to see whether climate change affects the flight season of Canadian butterfly species. In less than 250 words you had to describe (1) why the research was important, (2) what the main results were, and (3) why they might have important implications.   Read the ‘original’ draft below and use the three transition pointers above to fill in the gaps suitably. Hint: It is perfectly acceptable to use more than one word for transitions in your own writing, but for this question, use only one-word examples to fill in the gaps.

Scientists from the University of British Columbia, Université de Sherbrooke, and University of Ottawa reviewed hundreds of museum and weather records to determine if climate change has affected the flight season timing of Canadian butterflies. [?????], researchers analyzed museum collections of 200 butterfly species and estimated flight season timing from specimen collection dates. [?????] they collected museum data, researchers matched the flight season timing to weather station data from the past 130 years. They concluded that temperature sensitivity was common among the species they analyzed, [?????] flight seasons began approximately 2.4 days earlier for every one degree Celsius increase in temperature.
Earlier flight seasons may have major implications for butterflies, especially when the flight season begins early enough that butterflies encounter sudden frosts. [?????], in these circumstances, they can die while migrating. In addition, declines in populations can also act as an early warning sign as to how other animals might respond to global climate change. [?????], butterfly flight season timing studies are very valuable from a conservation perspective because butterflies are indicator species for other wildlife.

Question 11 (5 marks)

There are eight transition words or phrases in the body of text below (these have been bolded for you). Five of these are poor transitions. Underline the five poorly chosen transitions. Hint: If you underline more than five, you will have marks taken away!

It is a common misconception that scientists do not use creativity in their research because it might interfere with their objectivity. Obviously, some people think that following the scientific method of designing a hypothesis, then an experiment, analyzing the results, and then writing them up means there is no room for being an individual. However, if scientists did not use imagination and creativity many breakthroughs would not have been made. Eventually, in 1878, A.A Michelson calculated the speed of light by designing an ingenious experiment. First, he placed mirrors a long way apart. Concurrently, he made sure that one was spinning and then focused light on the other, which reflected back onto the spinning one. Nevertheless, the spinning meant the returning beam was deflected. Lastly, he measured the deflection before calculating the speed with a formula. Therefore, technology has improved since then but the accepted speed of light is very similar to the value he originally calculated.

Version 2

Paragraph structure, topic sentences and transitions: Student Pre-Class Activities

Paragraphs

Paragraphs are extremely important components of an effectively structured piece of writing because they organize material in a way that makes it easier to follow for your readers. Without them, even the most fascinating piece of work will fail to attract the attention it deserves. Structuring your writing into clear, effective paragraphs that address individual ideas will help you organize your work, which in turn gives your readers the best possible chance of understanding the points you are trying to make.

Scientists and researchers often find themselves communicating the results of important studies in an attempt to convince others that they have discovered a new piece of knowledge that will have implications for future research and/or immediate real-world applications. As such, it is even more crucial that they are able to tell a story effectively because they have to convince their audience that their arguments are valid.

The three golden rules below will help you to write clear paragraphs, although you should note that these are just the main ones that you will need to focus on; there are plenty of others that will improve your writing as well. To begin with, try to make sure that you: 

  1. Make one main point per paragraph. It is good practice to tell your reader in one clear, concise sentence (called a topic sentence) at the beginning of each paragraph what you will be expanding upon in that particular paragraph. 
  2. Funnel information from general to specific. Treat each paragraph as a mini-essay, each with its own topic sentence. It is a good idea to start by providing general information before making the information that follows more specific.
  3. Provide evidence to fully support each paragraph. Although it is a good idea to make most paragraphs roughly similar in terms of word count, it is more important to make each paragraph similar in terms of content completeness. You must provide evidence to back up the general statement(s) made early in each paragraph. 

Question 1 (1 mark)

Imagine that you have been working on a chemistry project and have drafted a short report to detail what you have learned. Read this draft below. Which of the five sentences contains information that does not relate very closely to the rest of the text?

(1) Helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon and radon are the six noble gases that together make up a group of elements with very similar properties. (2) Some people still hold an old misconception that noble gases will not react with other elements because they do not have "spare" electrons in their outer shells that are free to interact with electrons of other elements. (3) An example of an industrial use involving a noble gas is that of manned blimps, which used to use hydrogen before it was considered too dangerous due to the chance of explosion; these now use helium instead. (4) Noble gases are alike in the sense that none of them have any colour, smell, or taste, and, in normal circumstances, they are not flammable. (5) Although noble gases do not interact easily with other elements, the heavier ones are less stable and do sometimes react to form compounds.

Question 2 (4 marks)

Re-read the draft of writing about noble gases (above, question 1) and use the three golden rules described on the first page to restructure the writing into effective paragraphs. Hint: You should split the text into three different paragraphs and will need to reorder the sentences. You can copy and paste the text as you do this to save time.

Question 3 (3 marks)

To give you some more practice in following the three golden rules of paragraph formation, read the following information drafted by a colleague ahead of a conference about noble gases, and condense it into fewer paragraphs. This exercise should help show you that it is just as possible to split information into too many paragraphs as it is to use too few, but that by following the three golden rules, you should be able to improve any piece of writing.

Read the draft below and use the three golden rules to restructure the writing into effective paragraphs. Hint: You should condense the text into three different paragraphs. You can copy and paste the text to save time.

  1. Scientists believe that helium is the second-most common element in the universe.
  2. They think it accounts for almost one-quarter of all the elements by fraction of weight.
  3. Research has suggested most of it originally came from the Big Bang.
  4. However, the relative proportion is still increasing because other elements are decaying.
  5. Things are very different on Earth.
  6. The gravitational field is too weak to prevent helium from escaping our atmosphere.
  7. As a result, it is not even the most common noble gas on our planet, which is argon.
  8. All noble gases are used in laboratory experiments.
  9. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the more common they are in our atmosphere, the cheaper they are to buy.
  10. Xenon, which is very rare, can cost around 100 times as much as helium!

Topic Sentences

Remember from the previous section that an effective topic sentence must inform your reader what the paragraph is about, and it should also link the flow of your argument from the previous paragraph to the current one. It is usually a good idea to make the first sentence of your paragraph the topic sentence.   As a rough indicator of whether you have written clear topic sentences, a reader in a real hurry should be able to read these, and these only (i.e. avoid the detailed information in all the paragraphs), and still be able to understand the backbone of the argument you are making.

Some example errors and improvements 

A1 (topic sentence missing):
  “When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”

B1 (with effective topic sentence):  
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”

A2 (topic sentence does not relate closely enough to paragraph): 
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but those with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.”

B2 (topic sentence relates directly to paragraph):  
“Wolves and hares use different foraging strategies, and there are positives and negatives associated with each. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but food must be shared and wolves with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.” 

Questions 4, 5 and 6 (1 mark each, 3 marks total)

Study the following paragraphs and the three different options for a topic sentence. Choose the most suitable one for each.

Question 4 (1 mark): The blue whale can grow to lengths of 100ft and weigh as much as 180 tons, whereas the dwarf sperm whale does not grow to be longer than 9ft and weighs as little as 250kg.  

  1. There is huge variation in the size of different whale species.
  2. The blue whale is much more powerful than the dwarf sperm whale.
  3. Despite living in the sea, whales are mammals and are unable to breathe underwater.

Question 5 (1 mark): Viruses are made up of genetic material surrounded by a coat of protein. They must ‘hi-jack’ a host cell and use its physiological machinery to reproduce. Conversely, bacteria are much larger than viruses and are capable of independent reproduction. 

  1. Viruses and bacteria differ in their method of reproduction.
  2. Viruses and bacteria both cause serious illness in people but reproduce differently.
  3. Viruses and bacteria are very different organisms.

Question 6 (1 mark): For example, many parents have refused to give their children the triple vaccine of measles, mumps and rubella because of the suggestion that it increases the risk of developing autism. This is despite independent research finding no evidence to support a link between the two. Further independent research shows that there has been an alarming increase in the number of measles cases in children that did not receive the vaccine in recent years. Despite this fact, a high proportion of parents are still reluctant to administer the triple vaccine to their kids.

  1. Some inoculations are still poorly trusted despite tests confirming their safety.
  2. Measles has affected a high proportion of children that have not been vaccinated against it.
  3. Parents often rely on rumours to make poor health decisions on behalf of their kids.

Questions 7 and 8 (1 mark each, 2 marks total)

Now try to apply the rules of structuring your writing with effective topic sentences from the other perspective; try to select the most appropriate sentences to follow the topic sentences below.

Question 7 (1 mark)

In the natural world, sexual attraction is often based on male individuals displaying colourful features. 

  1. For example, male peacocks, male perch, male grouse, and some male spiders all follow this pattern. In these same examples, the females in each species are typically less colorful.   
  2. For example, male peacocks with the biggest and brightest tails tend to attract more females than those with duller appendages. Similarly, male perch with the brightest orange bellies and striking dorsal fins win more mates than their less colorful peers.
  3. For example, specific genes in male peacocks and male perch code for certain proteins that, when expressed at high levels, cause the animals to develop extreme colors and win mates. This phenomenon is true for some bird and fish species.

Question 8 (1 mark)

Drugs and medicines can save lives, but also destroy them.

  1. The word ‘drug’ has a negative association for many people but ‘medicine’ has a much more positive one. For example, Penicillin is lauded as one of the greatest discoveries in human history as its use saved millions of people from diseases like diphtheria and scarlet fever. On the other hand, recreational drugs do not save people from such diseases.
  2. Because medicines can be so important in saving lives, the pharmaceutical industry is worth trillions of dollars. Non-medicinal drugs, sold illegally, are also extremely valuable. Medicines have traditionally saved millions of people from diseases such as syphilis, diphtheria, typhoid and malaria but drugs often have negative associations because people know how damaging they can be to people that become addicted. 
  3.  Many life-threatening diseases, such as diphtheria and malaria, can be successfully treated with the correct antibiotics and antiviral drugs. For people afflicted by these diseases, drugs are wonderful commodities. However, people that take recreational drugs can often develop serious addictions to them; because these drugs are often extremely damaging to the body, addicts are in serious danger of developing major health issues that can ultimately lead to death. 

Questions 9 and 10 (1 mark each, 2 marks total)

For the following two questions, read the bolded topic sentence (and paragraph that follows it) before deciding which one of the following problems makes each one a poor topic sentence:

A) It is too broad, and it is therefore hard to cover in sufficient detail in one paragraph
B) It is too narrow, and there is therefore too little to expand on in the paragraph
C) It lacks focus, and is therefore hard to link it to the support of one idea
D) The language is too specialist, and therefore might not make sense to everyone

Question 9 (1 mark)

Many students prefer one distinct scientific discipline to others. Although many people categorize students as 'science students' from an early stage of their academic careers, there are many biologists that do not involve themselves in learning chemistry or physics, and vice versa.

Question 10 (1 mark)

Parametric statistical methods are preferable to their non-parametric equivalents because they increase power in hypothesis-testing analyses. This is important because statistical analysis of data essentially provides support for the existence (or non-existence) of a significant effect. As such, a parametric method might highlight an important pattern that could be missed by a non-parametric test, which has great relevance in the field of research.

Making Smooth Transitions

We have already seen that a piece of writing containing interesting, important information will fail to get the message across if it is not structured into clear paragraphs. In the same way, such information will not make an impact on a reader if the flow of ideas does not transition seamlessly from sentence to sentence, or from paragraph to paragraph.

When reading over your work, ask yourself whether the flow of information is smooth. Although it is often difficult to remember everything that you have just read, it is a bad sign if you find yourself having to jump backwards again and again to fully understand something.

Before you get used to making smooth transitions, it is a good idea to ask a friend or classmate to read your work and tell you whether they followed your thought process from the first sentence to the last. If they found it difficult, you probably need to work on your transitions.    An effective transition should do at least two of three things. It should:  

  1.  Act as a preparatory signpost for what is coming up next
  2.  Explain to the reader how each idea is connected
  3.  Signal the point at which you are shifting to another idea

Two examples 

A1 (Poor transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears. As temperatures rise they will have a smaller habitat in which to live. Also, there will be less food available for them because there will be smaller populations of krill. Polar bear populations are thus affected by the amount of ice available.” 

B1 (Good transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears for two main reasons. Firstly, because increased temperatures cause increased melting of ice on which the bears live, there will be a reduced area in which they can live. Secondly, many species that polar bears rely on for food will be less numerous than in the past because their main food source, krill, can only breed successfully underneath ice. Therefore, the reduction of ice is the key factor in limiting polar bear populations.” 

B1 is better than A1 because:  

  1. Each sentence begins with a ‘signpost’ that links it to the next one
  2.  Each transition connects the points made in the whole text with one another
  3.  Each transition informs the reader that a new idea is about to be elaborated on

Question 11 (5 marks)

Imagine that you conducted a detailed experiment to see whether certain plant species were more effective than others at suppressing the spread of an invasive plant species that has negative consequences for British Columbia grasslands. In less than 250 words you had to describe (1) why your research was important, (2) what your main results were, and (3) why they might have important implications.   Read the ‘original’ draft below and use the three transition pointers above to fill in the gaps suitably.

The spread of Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass) throughout grasslands in British Columbia (BC) has many negative effects on these habitats. For [?????], cheatgrass reduces biodiversity, leads to more frequent wildfires, and causes health problems for cattle that eat it. [?????], negative effects on ecosystems are also financially costly; it costs a lot of money to restore a habitat after fire and it is expensive to buy food for lots of cattle.    I grew cheatgrass plants in different treatment groups each featuring one other plant species that was common in BC grasslands, [??????] I wanted to see which species had the greatest negative effect on cheatgrass growth rate. [?????] this method, I tested three other species and found that crested wheatgrass significantly reduced the growth rate of cheatgrass; it reduced growth rate by approximately 65%. Bluebunch wheatgrass did not significantly affect cheatgrass growth rate, whereas Idaho fescue significantly increased the growth rate of cheatgrass by approximately 39%. As a [?????], I recommend grassland managers promote the growth of crested wheatgrass and discourage the growth of Idaho fescue.

Choosing Effective Transition Words and Phrases

Good transitions link ideas from sentence to sentence to build a compelling argument, and for this reason it is vital that an effective transition word or phrase is used in each scenario to achieve this. For example, the transition ‘for example’ will only work when you have just made a statement and are about to back it up with some specific evidence.

The following list is by no means extensive, but it provides some excellent transition words and phrases that will help you link sentences and develop, logical, flowing arguments:  

  • But/however
  • Nevertheless
  • For example
  • Firstly/secondly/finally etc.
  • Therefore/thus
  • As a result
  • In contrast
  • And/also
  • Furthermore/moreover

Some examples

  • Rabbits regulate their own body temperature. In contrast, snakes rely on the external environment to warm them.
  • The vast majority of fertilized eggs released by salmon are eaten by other animals or drift away to unsuitable habitats. However, a small number hatch into young fish each year and these fish eventually go on to produce eggs of their own.
  • Prey species are at their most vulnerable when they are temporarily distracted when drinking. As a result, predators have learned to lurk around water sources and wait for their prey to come to them.

The following list includes some words that you should pay extra attention to when using as transitions. These words can be very effective when used correctly, but they can also confuse readers in certain situations:  

  • Since
  • It
  • For
  • They
  • Naturally
  • Clearly/obviously  

Some examples

  • A major medical breakthrough was made approximately 80 years ago when Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin. Since it has helped to greatly reduce the number of people dying from diseases such as syphilis and diphtheria.

  In the above example, it is not clear whether the writer is suggesting that fewer people have died from these diseases in the years that have passed since the breakthrough was made, or whether he/she is using ‘since’ to mean that it was a major breakthrough ‘because’ fewer people died from the diseases after its discovery.

  • As rabbit populations grow to something approaching carrying capacity, the chance that any one individual will die increases. They are more at risk from the effects of competition and disease in these circumstances.

  In the above example, it is not clear whether the individuals are more at risk, or if the rabbit population as a whole is more at risk.

  • Clearly, the results show that as temperature increases, mouse heart rate does likewise.

  In the above example, the writer assumes his/her reader will come to the same conclusion. Not everyone interprets things the same way and it can come across as rude to suggest a pattern or conclusion is obvious.

Question 12 (5 marks)

There are eight transition words or phrases in the body of text below (these have been bolded for you). Five of these are poor transitions. Underline the five poorly chosen transitions. Hint: If you underline more than five, you will have marks taken away!

It is a common misconception that scientists do not use creativity in their research because it might interfere with their objectivity. Nevertheless, some people think that following the scientific method of designing a hypothesis, then an experiment, analyzing the results, and then writing them up means there is no room for being an individual. As a result, if scientists did not use imagination and creativity many breakthroughs would not have been made. To highlight this point, in 1878, A.A Michelson calculated the speed of light by designing an ingenious experiment. To begin, he placed mirrors a long way apart. Ultimately, he made sure that one was spinning and then focused light on the other, which reflected back onto the spinning one. Thankfully, the spinning meant the returning beam was deflected. Finally, he measured the deflection before calculating the speed with a formula. Furthermore, technology has improved since then but the accepted speed of light is very similar to the value he originally calculated.

Questions 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

Read the following paragraph. There are blanks where effective transitions need to be added. Each blank represents one question, for which you must choose the best transition from a set list of options.

When designing an experiment, there are a lot of things you need to think about. [Q13], it is important that you consider how to control variables other than the ones you are interested in. [Q14], there is no point asking whether temperature impacts swimming speed in fish if other things such as water depth, current, and light intensity are not held constant, because it is not possible to know which of these factors influenced the results. [Q15], it is important to design an experiment that can be easily repeated. [Q16] you need to make sure results did not occur by chance, you should aim to repeat the same experiment at least a few times so as to see whether an effect is consistent. Failing to control other variables or to plan for experimental repeats are two of the biggest mistakes that inexperienced researchers make. [Q17], the most common error of all involves taking more than one measurement from the same organism, test tube, or chemical mixture and failing to see that this can provide a biased estimate of your sample population.

Choose one transition word/phrase for each question from:

Q13: Firstly, Obviously, Naturally
Q14: For example, As a result, Secondly
Q15: In addition, Nevertheless, Consequently
Q16: Because, Since, Likewise
Q17: However, In summary, Meanwhile

Question 18: Bringing it all together (10 marks)

Choose a complicated subject or topic that you are very interested in (it can be anything, but try to choose something that most people will know little about). In 150-200 words, write a total of five sentences that are split into two paragraphs. Try to explain two separate aspects of this subject and ensure that:

  1. Each topic sentence is clear and suitable
  2. Your paragraphs are organized appropriately and information flows logically from sentence to sentence
  3. Each sentence transitions smoothly to the next

Once you have written your sentences/paragraphs, try to ask a friend with no background knowledge about the subject whether they have understood how each element (sentence) relates to the next one, and to the argument as a whole. Their input will likely help you write a strong, cohesive piece of writing.

*** Make sure you make a copy of your answer (copy and paste into a file on your computer). You will return to this piece of writing in the post-class activities. ***

Version 3

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions: Student Pre-Class Activities

Paragraphs

Paragraphs are extremely important components of an effectively structured piece of writing because they organize material in a way that makes it easier to follow for your readers. Without them, even the most fascinating piece of work will fail to attract the attention it deserves. Structuring your writing into clear, effective paragraphs that address individual ideas will help you organize your work, which in turn gives your readers the best possible chance of understanding the points you are trying to make.

Scientists and researchers often find themselves communicating the results of important studies in an attempt to convince others that they have discovered a new piece of knowledge that will have implications for future research and/or immediate real-world applications. As such, it is even more crucial that they are able to tell a story effectively because they have to convince their audience that their arguments are valid.

The three golden rules below will help you to write clear paragraphs, although you should note that these are just the main ones that you will need to focus on; there are plenty of others that will improve your writing as well. To begin with, try to make sure that you:

  1. Make one main point per paragraph. It is good practice to tell your reader in one clear, concise sentence (called a topic sentence) at the beginning of each paragraph what you will be expanding upon in that particular paragraph.
  2. Funnel information from general to specific. Treat each paragraph as a mini-essay, each with its own topic sentence. It is a good idea to start by providing general information before making the information that follows more specific.
  3. Provide evidence to fully support each paragraph. Although it is a good idea to make most paragraphs roughly similar in terms of word count, it is more important to make each paragraph similar in terms of content completeness. You must provide evidence to back up the general statement(s) made early in each paragraph.

Question 1 (5 marks)

Imagine that you have been working on a research project that was designed to investigate why the North American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) is proving to be such an invasive species. After working with numerous conservation charities and having looked at lots of sets of data, your colleague has drafted a short piece of writing to advertise your work ahead of an upcoming conference.

Read this draft below and use the three golden rules to restructure the writing into effective paragraphs. Hint: You should split the text into three different paragraphs and will need to move two sentences into one of these. You can copy and paste the text to save time.

The North American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) is one of the most invasive species on the planet, and is famous for eating just about anything it can fit inside its mouth. Although being non-fussy eaters is part of the reason that bullfrogs are so successful at invading other habitats, the first major advantage they have over other frogs is that they produce relatively high numbers of offspring. While the females of many native frog species produce 2-3,000 eggs at a time, bullfrogs can produce ten times as many, which gives the resultant young a much greater chance of surviving into adulthood. The second major advantage bullfrogs have over other species of frog is that they are more mobile and more willing to travel relatively long distances between ponds; native frogs tend to stay very near to the pond in which they are born, whereas bullfrogs can travel over two kilometers between habitats as they search for more favorable environments. Studies looking at the contents of bullfrog intestines have confirmed that they eat birds, snakes, rats, turtles, fish, and each other. Due to their willingness to eat a variety of prey species, local wildlife populations can be severely affected when they become common.

Question 2 (3 marks)

To give you some more practice in following the three golden rules of paragraph formation, read the following information drafted by your colleague ahead of the invasive species conference and condense it into fewer paragraphs. This exercise should help show you that it is just as possible to split information into too many paragraphs as it is to use too few, but that by following the golden rules, you should be able to improve any piece of writing.

Read the draft below and use the three golden rules to restructure the writing into effective paragraphs. Hint: You should condense the text into three different paragraphs. You can copy and paste the text to save time.

Controlling the spread of bullfrogs is of such importance that scientists are considering implementing a biological control program.
Such programs involve the deliberate release of predatory species into an environment in the hope that they will ultimately control the numbers of the unwanted species.
In this best-case scenario, the other species in the food web will recover and neither the introduced predator nor the unwanted species will exert a large effect on community processes.
Many scientists are wary of implementing biological control methods, however, as there are large risks associated; the major ones include the expense involved and the limited likelihood of success, as well as the released predator being too effective and simply replacing the unwanted species as a dominant one that negatively affects all other species in the environment.
When this last-case scenario becomes a reality, scientists are then faced with the problem of reducing numbers of the new dominant species.
In the case of the bullfrogs, the likeliest choice of a predatory control species would be the large-mouthed bass.
This fish is popular among fishermen and would seem a good choice to keep bullfrog numbers in check because it has a big appetite and is known to eat tadpoles and small frogs.

Topic Sentences

Remember from the previous section that an effective topic sentence must inform your reader what the paragraph is about, and it should also link the flow of your argument from the previous paragraph to the current one. It is usually a good idea to make the first sentence of your paragraph the topic sentence.

As a rough indicator of whether you have written clear topic sentences, a reader in a real hurry should be able to read these, and these only (i.e. avoid the detailed information in all the paragraphs), and still be able to understand the backbone of the argument you are making.

Some example errors and improvements

A1 (topic sentence missing):
“When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”

B1 (with effective topic sentence):
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”

A2 (topic sentence does not relate closely enough to paragraph):
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but those with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.”

B2 (topic sentence relates directly to paragraph):
“Wolves and hares use different foraging strategies, and there are positives and negatives associated with each. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but food must be shared and wolves with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.”

Questions 3, 4 and 5 (1 mark each, 3 marks total)

Study the following paragraphs and the three different options for a topic sentence. Choose the most suitable one for each.

Question 3 (1 mark):

The blue whale can grow to lengths of 100ft and weigh as much as 180 tons, whereas the dwarf sperm whale does not grow to be longer than 9ft and weighs as little as 250kg.

  1. There is huge variation in the size of different whale species.
  2. The blue whale is much more powerful than the dwarf sperm whale.
  3. Despite living in the sea, whales are mammals and are unable to breathe underwater.

Question 4 (1 mark):

Viruses are made up of genetic material surrounded by a coat of protein. They must ‘hi-jack’ a host cell and use its physiological machinery to reproduce. Conversely, bacteria are much larger than viruses and are capable of independent reproduction.

  1. Viruses and bacteria differ in their method of reproduction.
  2. Viruses and bacteria both cause serious illness in people but reproduce differently.
  3. Viruses and bacteria are very different organisms.

Question 5 (1 mark):

For example, many parents have refused to give their children the triple vaccine of measles, mumps and rubella because of the suggestion that it increases the risk of developing autism. This is despite independent research finding no evidence to support a link between the two. Further independent research shows that there has been an alarming increase in the number of measles cases in children that did not receive the vaccine in recent years. Despite this fact, a high proportion of parents are still reluctant to administer the triple vaccine to their kids.

  1. Some inoculations are still poorly trusted despite tests confirming their safety.
  2. Measles has affected a high proportion of children that have not been vaccinated against it.
  3. Parents often rely on rumours to make poor health decisions on behalf of their kids.

Questions 6 and 7 (1 mark each, 2 marks total)

Now try to apply the rules of structuring your writing with effective topic sentences from the other perspective; try to select the most appropriate sentences to follow the topic sentences below.

Question 6 (1 mark)

In the natural world, sexual attraction is often based on male individuals displaying colourful features.

  1. For example, male peacocks, male perch, male grouse, and some male spiders all follow this pattern. In these same examples, the females in each species are typically less colorful.
  2. For example, male peacocks with the biggest and brightest tails tend to attract more females than those with duller appendages. Similarly, male perch with the brightest orange bellies and striking dorsal fins win more mates than their less colorful peers.
  3. For example, specific genes in male peacocks and male perch code for certain proteins that, when expressed at high levels, cause the animals to develop extreme colors and win mates. This phenomenon is true for some bird and fish species.

Question 7 (1 mark)

Drugs and medicines can save lives, but also destroy them.

  1. The word ‘drug’ has a negative association for many people but ‘medicine’ has a much more positive one. For example, Penicillin is lauded as one of the greatest discoveries in human history as its use saved millions of people from diseases like diphtheria and scarlet fever. On the other hand, recreational drugs do not save people from such diseases.
  2. Because medicines can be so important in saving lives, the pharmaceutical industry is worth trillions of dollars. Non-medicinal drugs, sold illegally, are also extremely valuable. Medicines have traditionally saved millions of people from diseases such as syphilis, diphtheria, typhoid and malaria but drugs often have negative associations because people know how damaging they can be to people that become addicted.
  3. Many life-threatening diseases, such as diphtheria and malaria, can be successfully treated with the correct antibiotics and antiviral drugs. For people afflicted by these diseases, drugs are wonderful commodities. However, people that take recreational drugs can often develop serious addictions to them; because these drugs are often extremely damaging to the body, addicts are in serious danger of developing major health issues that can ultimately lead to death.

Questions 8 and 9 (1 mark each, 2 marks total)

For the following two questions, read the bolded topic sentence (and paragraph that follows it) before deciding which one of the following problems makes each one a poor topic sentence:

A) It is too broad, and it is therefore hard to cover in sufficient detail in one paragraph
B) It is too narrow, and there is therefore too little to expand on in the paragraph
C) It lacks focus, and is therefore hard to link it to the support of one idea
D) The language is too specialist, and therefore might not make sense to everyone

Question 8 (1 mark)

Many students prefer one distinct scientific discipline to others. Although many people categorize students as 'science students' from an early stage of their academic careers, there are many biologists that do not involve themselves in learning chemistry or physics, and vice versa.

Question 9 (1 mark)

Parametric statistical methods are preferable to their non-parametric equivalents because they increase power in hypothesis-testing analyses. This is important because statistical analysis of data essentially provides support for the existence (or non-existence) of a significant effect. As such, a parametric method might highlight an important pattern that could be missed by a non-parametric test, which has great relevance in the field of research.

Making Smooth Transitions

We have already seen that a piece of writing containing interesting, important information will fail to get the message across if it is not structured into clear paragraphs. In the same way, such information will not make an impact on a reader if the flow of ideas does not transition seamlessly from sentence to sentence, or from paragraph to paragraph.

When reading over your work, ask yourself whether the flow of information is smooth. Although it is often difficult to remember everything that you have just read, it is a bad sign if you find yourself having to jump backwards again and again to fully understand something.

Before you get used to making smooth transitions, it is a good idea to ask a friend or classmate to read your work and tell you whether they followed your thought process from the first sentence to the last. If they found it difficult, you probably need to work on your transitions.

An effective transition should do at least two of three things. It should:

  1. Act as a preparatory signpost for what is coming up next
  2. Explain to the reader how each idea is connected
  3. Signal the point at which you are shifting to another idea

Two examples

A1 (Poor transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears. As temperatures rise they will have a smaller habitat in which to live. Also, there will be less food available for them because there will be smaller populations of krill. Polar bear populations are thus affected by the amount of ice available.”

B1 (Good transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears for two main reasons. Firstly, because increased temperatures cause increased melting of ice on which the bears live, there will be a reduced area in which they can live. Secondly, many species that polar bears rely on for food will be less numerous than in the past because their main food source, krill, can only breed successfully underneath ice. Therefore, the reduction of ice is the key factor in limiting polar bear populations.”

B1 is better than A1 because:

  1. Each sentence begins with a ‘signpost’ that links it to the next one
  2. Each transition connects the points made in the whole text with one another
  3. Each transition informs the reader that a new idea is about to be elaborated on

Question 10 (5 marks)

Imagine that you conducted a detailed experiment to see whether certain plant species were more effective than others at suppressing the spread of an invasive plant species that has negative consequences for British Columbia grasslands. In less than 250 words you had to describe (1) why your research was important, (2) what your main results were, and (3) why they might have important implications.

Read the ‘original’ draft below. Now, use the three transition pointers above to improve the transitions by filling in the gaps in the same body of text.

The spread of Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass) throughout grasslands in British Columbia (BC) has many negative effects on these habitats. For [?????], cheatgrass reduces biodiversity, leads to more frequent wildfires, and causes health problems for cattle that eat it. [?????], negative effects on ecosystems are also financially costly; it costs a lot of money to restore a habitat after fire and it is expensive to buy food for lots of cattle.

I grew cheatgrass plants in different treatment groups each featuring one other plant species that was common in BC grasslands, [??????] I wanted to see which species had the greatest negative effect on cheatgrass growth rate. [?????] this method, I tested three other species and found that crested wheatgrass significantly reduced the growth rate of cheatgrass; it reduced growth rate by approximately 65%. Bluebunch wheatgrass did not significantly affect cheatgrass growth rate, whereas Idaho fescue significantly increased the growth rate of cheatgrass by approximately 39%. As a [?????], I recommend grassland managers promote the growth of crested wheatgrass and discourage the growth of Idaho fescue.

Choosing Effective Transition Words and Phrases

Good transitions link ideas from sentence to sentence to build a compelling argument, and for this reason it is vital that an effective transition word or phrase is used in each scenario to achieve this. For example, the transition ‘for example’ will only work when you have just made a statement and are about to back it up with some specific evidence.

The following list is by no means extensive, but it provides some excellent transition words and phrases that will help you link sentences and develop, logical, flowing arguments:

  • But/however
  • Nevertheless
  • For example
  • Firstly/secondly/finally etc.
  • Therefore/thus
  • As a result
  • In contrast
  • And/also
  • Furthermore/moreover

Some examples

  • Rabbits regulate their own body temperature. In contrast, snakes rely on the external environment to warm them.
  • The vast majority of fertilized eggs released by salmon are eaten by other animals or drift away to unsuitable habitats. However, a small number hatch into young fish each year and these fish eventually go on to produce eggs of their own.
  • Prey species are at their most vulnerable when they are temporarily distracted when drinking. As a result, predators have learned to lurk around water sources and wait for their prey to come to them.

The following list includes some words that you should pay extra attention to when using as transitions. These words can be very effective when used correctly, but they can also confuse readers in certain situations:

  • Since
  • It
  • For
  • They
  • Naturally
  • Clearly/obviously

Some examples

  • A major medical breakthrough was made approximately 80 years ago when Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin. Since it has helped to greatly reduce the number of people dying from diseases such as syphilis and diphtheria.

In the above example, it is not clear whether the writer is suggesting that fewer people have died from these diseases in the years that have passed since the breakthrough was made, or whether he/she is using ‘since’ to mean that it was a major breakthrough ‘because’ fewer people died from the diseases after its discovery.

  • As rabbit populations grow to something approaching carrying capacity, the chance that any one individual will die increases. They are more at risk from the effects of competition and disease in these circumstances.

In the above example, it is not clear whether the individuals are more at risk, or if the rabbit population as a whole is more at risk.

  • Clearly, the results show that as temperature increases, mouse heart rate does likewise.

In the above example, the writer assumes his/her reader will come to the same conclusion. Not everyone interprets things the same way and it can come across as rude to suggest a pattern or conclusion is obvious.

Question 11 (5 marks)

There are five major mistakes in terms of the use of transition words and/or phrases in the paragraph below. First of all, try to highlight all five. Do this by bolding the five words/phrases that are problematic.

There are many different factors involved in regulating the size of a population of animals. Clearly, density independent factors, such as natural disasters and changeable weather patterns, work in tandem with density dependent factors, such as competition and predation, to ultimately determine how many individuals will exist from one point in time to another. A natural disaster, such as a flash flood, can wipe out a population regardless of its size; it will kill field mice whether they exist as a solitary breeding pair or are part of a 1000-strong local population. In contrast, density dependent factors will have less of an effect when the population is small. Therefore, the availability of resources, such as food and nesting sites, also dictate how many individuals can survive in a given environment. In contrast, when there is lots of food available, a population will grow because there are sufficient resources to support more individuals than currently exist. Thus, as time progresses, it is probable that food will no longer be as plentiful and fewer individuals will be supported. Finally, predation is likely to be more common when populations grow because there are more individuals available for predators to eat. Also, diseases are likely to have more effect when a population is large because there are more individuals in close contact and this makes it easier for the disease to spread between hosts.

Question 12 (5 marks)

Now study the paragraph again (the one above, from question 11) and replace the poor transitions you bolded with a suitable transition word or phrase.

Question 13: Bringing it all together (10 marks)

Choose a complicated subject or topic that you are very interested in (it can be anything, but try to choose something that most people will know little about). In 150-200 words, write a total of five sentences that are split into two paragraphs. Try to explain two separate aspects of this subject and ensure that:

  1. Each topic sentence is clear and suitable
  2. Your paragraphs are organized appropriately and information flows logically from sentence to sentence
  3. Each sentence transitions smoothly to the next

Once you have written your sentences/paragraphs, try to ask a friend with no background knowledge about the subject whether they have understood how each element (sentence) relates to the next one, and to the argument as a whole. Their input will likely help you write a strong, cohesive piece of writing.

*** Make sure you make a copy of your answer (copy and paste into a file on your computer). You will return to this piece of writing in the post-class activities. ***

Version 4

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions: Student Pre-Class Activities

Paragraphs

Paragraphs are extremely important components of an effectively structured piece of writing because they organize material in a way that makes it easier to follow as a reader. Without them, even the most fascinating piece of work will fail to attract the attention it deserves. Structuring your writing into clear, effective paragraphs that address individual ideas will help you organize your work, which in turn gives your readers the best possible chance of understanding the points you are trying to make.

Scientists and researchers often find themselves communicating the results of important studies in an attempt to convince others that they have discovered a new piece of knowledge that will have implications for future research and/or immediate real-world applications. As such, it is even more crucial that they are able to tell a story effectively because they have to convince their audience that their arguments are valid.

The three golden rules below will help you to write clear paragraphs, although you should note that these are just the main ones that you will need to focus on; there are plenty of others that will improve your writing as well. To begin with, try to make sure that you:

  1. Make one main point per paragraph. It is good practice to tell your reader in one clear, concise sentence (called a topic sentence) at the beginning of each paragraph what you will be expanding upon in that particular paragraph.
  2. Funnel information from general to specific. Treat each paragraph as a mini-essay, each with its own topic sentence. It is a good idea to start by providing general information about your topic before making the information that follows more specific.
  3. Provide evidence to fully support each paragraph. Although it is a good idea to make most paragraphs roughly similar in terms of word count, it is more important to make each paragraph similar in terms of content completeness. You must provide evidence to back up the general statement(s) made early in each paragraph.

Question 1 (5 marks)

Imagine that you have been working on a research project that was designed to investigate why numbers of the African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) have declined by approximately 90% in the last 100 years. After working with numerous different conservation charities and having looked at lots of sets of data, your colleague has drafted a short piece of writing to advertise your work ahead of an upcoming conference.

Read the draft below and use the three golden rules to restructure the writing into effective paragraphs. Hint: You should split the text into three different paragraphs and will need to move two sentences into one of these. You can copy and paste the text to save time.

Spheniscus demersus (African Penguin) has become an endangered species. The first main reason for the decline, highlighted by sea surface temperature measurements, is that global climate change has warmed waters in which it feeds and this has affected many of the fish species it relies on for food. As temperatures have risen, many of these prey species, such as pilchards and anchovies, have migrated southwards in search of cooler waters and are no longer reliable sources of food for the penguins. The second main reason is related to the first one; the growing human population has put more pressure on fish stocks, which have been greatly reduced as fishing efforts have continued to increase to meet demand. For example, in Namibia, 1.5million tons of surface-feeding fish were caught in 1962, but the quota was imposed at 0 tons in 2002 because stocks were so low. As a result of this impact, there are now fewer fish in the ocean than previously, which means a lower number of penguins can be supported by the food web than was previously the case. In 1910 it was estimated that approximately 1.5 million of these penguins existed but the current estimates place this figure at 100,000 – 125,000. This drastic decline means it is important that we investigate some of the reasons why the species has become endangered so that we can better understand how to design a conservation plan to prevent extinction.

Topic Sentences

Remember from the previous section that an effective topic sentence must inform your reader what the paragraph is about, and it should also link the flow of your argument from the previous paragraph to the current one. It is usually a good idea to make the first sentence of your paragraph the topic sentence.

As a rough indicator of whether you have written clear topic sentences, a reader in a real hurry should be able to read these, and these only (i.e. avoid the detailed information in all the paragraphs), and still be able to understand the backbone of the argument you are making.

Some example errors and improvements

A1 (topic sentence missing):
“When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”

B1 (with effective topic sentence):
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Fish caught in a trawler net will swim round and round, looking for a way out. Even primitive micro-organisms will move as far away as possible from a negative stimulus, somehow conditioned to flee from impending death.”

A2 (topic sentence does not relate closely enough to paragraph):
“There is a huge diversity of life on earth, but all organisms display a common desire to survive. When cornered by a pack of wolves, even the most terrified hare will run within the closing circle, desperately seeking an escape route. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but those with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.”

B2 (topic sentence relates directly to paragraph):
“Wolves and hares use different foraging strategies, and there are positives and negatives associated with each. Wolves co-ordinate their hunting efforts so as to increase their chances of catching prey, but food must be shared and wolves with higher social ranks earn the right to eat before their inferiors. Hares, on the other hand, typically forage for food on their own. Although they do not benefit from the increased awareness of where food might be, which would come from searching with others, they never have to share their food when they find it.”

Questions 2, 3 and 4

Study the following paragraphs and the three different options for a topic sentence. Choose the most suitable one for each.

Question 2 (1 mark):
The blue whale can grow to lengths of 100ft and weigh as much as 180 tons, whereas the dwarf sperm whale does not grow to be longer than 9ft and weighs as little as 250kg.

  1. There is huge variation in the size of different whale species.
  2. The blue whale is much more powerful than the dwarf sperm whale.
  3. Despite living in the sea, whales are mammals and are unable to breathe underwater.

Question 3 (1 mark):
Viruses are made up of genetic material surrounded by a coat of protein. They must ‘hi-jack’ a host cell and use its physiological machinery to reproduce. Conversely, bacteria are much larger than viruses and are capable of independent reproduction.

  1. Viruses and bacteria differ in their method of reproduction.
  2. Viruses and bacteria both cause serious illness in people but reproduce differently.
  3. Viruses and bacteria are very different organisms.

Question 4 (1 mark):
For example, many parents have refused to give their children the triple vaccine of measles, mumps and rubella because of the suggestion that it increases the risk of developing autism. This is despite independent research finding no evidence to support a link between the two. Further independent research shows that there has been an alarming increase in the number of measles cases in children that did not receive the vaccine in recent years. Despite this fact, a high proportion of parents are still reluctant to administer the triple vaccine to their kids.

  1. Some inoculations are still poorly trusted despite tests confirming their safety.
  2. Measles has affected a high proportion of children that have not been vaccinated against it.
  3. Parents often rely on rumours to make poor health decisions on behalf of their kids.

Questions 5 and 6

Now try to apply the rules of structuring your writing with effective topic sentences from the other perspective; try to select the most appropriate sentences to follow the topic sentences below.

Question 5 (1 mark)

In the natural world, sexual attraction is often based on male individuals displaying colourful features.

  1. For example, male peacocks, male perch, male grouse, and some male spiders all follow this pattern. In these same examples, the females in each species are typically less colorful.
  2. For example, male peacocks with the biggest and brightest tails tend to attract more females than those with duller appendages. Similarly, male perch with the brightest orange bellies and striking dorsal fins win more mates than their less colorful peers.
  3. For example, specific genes in male peacocks and male perch code for certain proteins that, when expressed at high levels, cause the animals to develop extreme colors and win mates. This phenomenon is true for some bird and fish species.

Question 6 (1 mark)

Drugs and medicines can save lives, but also destroy them.

  1. The word ‘drug’ has a negative association for many people but ‘medicine’ has a much more positive one. For example, Penicillin is lauded as one of the greatest discoveries in human history as its use saved millions of people from diseases like diphtheria and scarlet fever. On the other hand, recreational drugs do not save people from such diseases.
  2. Because medicines can be so important in saving lives, the pharmaceutical industry is worth trillions of dollars. Non-medicinal drugs, sold illegally, are also extremely valuable. Medicines have traditionally saved millions of people from diseases such as syphilis, diphtheria, typhoid and malaria but drugs often have negative associations because people know how damaging they can be to people that become addicted.
  3. Many life-threatening diseases, such as diphtheria and malaria, can be successfully treated with the correct antibiotics and antiviral drugs. For people afflicted by these diseases, drugs are wonderful commodities. However, people that take recreational drugs can often develop serious addictions to them; because these drugs are often extremely damaging to the body, addicts are in serious danger of developing major health issues that can ultimately lead to death.

Making Smooth Transitions

We have already seen that a piece of writing containing interesting, important information will fail to get the message across if it is not structured into clear paragraphs. In the same way, such information will not make an impact on a reader if the flow of ideas does not transition seamlessly from sentence to sentence, or from paragraph to paragraph.

When reading over your work, ask yourself whether the flow of information is smooth. Although it is often difficult to remember everything that you have just read, it is a bad sign if you find yourself having to jump backwards again and again to fully understand something.

Before you get used to making smooth transitions, it is a good idea to ask a friend or classmate to read your work and tell you whether they followed your thought process from the first sentence to the last. If they found it difficult, you probably need to work on your transitions.

An effective transition should do at least two of three things. It should:

  1. Act as a preparatory signpost for what is coming up next
  2. Explain to the reader how each idea is connected
  3. Signal the point at which you are shifting to another idea

Two examples

A1 (Poor transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears. As temperatures rise they will have a smaller habitat in which to live. Also, there will be less food available for them because there will be smaller populations of krill. Polar bear populations are thus affected by the amount of ice available.”

B1 (Good transitions): “Global warming will have negative consequences for polar bears for two main reasons. Firstly, because increased temperatures cause increased melting of ice on which the bears live, there will be a reduced area in which they can live. Secondly, many species that polar bears rely on for food will be less numerous than in the past because their main food source, krill, can only breed successfully underneath ice. Therefore, the reduction of ice is the key factor in limiting polar bear populations.”

B1 is better than A1 because:

  1. Each sentence begins with a ‘signpost’ that links it to the next one
  2. Each transition connects the points made in the whole text with one another
  3. Each transition informs the reader that a new idea is about to be elaborated on

Question 7 (8 marks)

Imagine that you conducted a detailed experiment to see whether certain plant species were more effective than others at suppressing the spread of an invasive plant species that has negative consequences for British Columbia grasslands. In less than 250 words you had to describe (1) why your research was important, (2) what your main results were, and (3) why they might have important implications.

Read the ‘original’ draft below. Now, use the three transition pointers above to improve the transitions by filling in the gaps in the same body of text.

The spread of Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass) throughout grasslands in British Columbia (BC) has many negative effects on these habitats. For [?????], cheatgrass reduces biodiversity, leads to more frequent wildfires, and causes health problems for cattle that eat it. [?????], negative effects on ecosystems are also financially costly; it costs a lot of money to restore a habitat after fire and it is expensive to buy food for lots of cattle.
I grew cheatgrass plants in different treatment groups each featuring one other plant species that was common in BC grasslands, [??????] I wanted to see which species had the greatest negative effect on cheatgrass growth rate. [?????] this method, I tested three other species and found that crested wheatgrass significantly reduced the growth rate of cheatgrass; it reduced growth rate by approximately 65%. Bluebunch wheatgrass did not significantly affect cheatgrass growth rate, whereas Idaho fescue significantly increased the growth rate of cheatgrass by approximately 39%. As a [?????], I recommend grassland managers promote the growth of crested wheatgrass and discourage the growth of Idaho fescue.
It is hoped that this research will help prevent further spread of cheatgrass in BC grasslands, [?????] should allow these habitats to again flourish with a high natural biodiversity. [?????] cheatgrass could one day be eliminated from these grasslands, [?????] would be lots of positive ecological and financial effects.

Question 8 (10 marks)

Choose a complicated subject or topic that you are very interested in (it can be anything, but try to choose something that most people will know little about). In 100-150 words, write six sentences explaining one aspect of this subject and make sure each sentence transitions smoothly to the next so that your reader will be able to follow your explanation. Once you have written it, try to ask a friend with no background knowledge about the subject whether they have understood how each element (sentence) relates to the next one, and to the argument as a whole as their input will likely help you write a strong, cohesive piece of writing.

It is vital that you choose effective transition words and phrases to link your sentences together, but it is also important to focus on the ordering of your sentences so that your work is logical in the way that it presents information.

Before you submit your answer, make sure you make a copy (copy and paste into a file on your computer). You will return to this piece of writing in the post-class activities.

Choosing Effective Transition Words and Phrases

Good transitions link ideas from sentence to sentence to build a compelling argument, and for this reason it is vital that an effective transition word or phrase is used in each scenario to achieve this. For example, the transition ‘for example’ will only work when you have just made a statement and are about to back it up with some specific evidence.

The following list is by no means extensive, but it provides some excellent transition words and phrases that will help you link sentences and develop, logical, flowing arguments:

  • But/however
  • Nevertheless
  • For example
  • Firstly/secondly/finally etc.
  • Therefore/thus
  • As a result
  • In contrast
  • And/also
  • Furthermore/moreover

Some examples

  • Rabbits regulate their own body temperature. In contrast, snakes rely on the external environment to warm them.
  • The vast majority of fertilized eggs released by salmon are eaten by other animals or drift away to unsuitable habitats. However, a small number hatch into young fish each year and these fish eventually go on to produce eggs of their own.
  • Prey species are at their most vulnerable when they are temporarily distracted when drinking. As a result, predators have learned to lurk around water sources and wait for their prey to come to them.

The following list includes some words that you should pay extra attention to when using as transitions. These words can be very effective when used correctly, but they can also confuse readers in certain situations:

  • Since
  • It
  • For
  • They
  • Naturally
  • Clearly/obviously

Some examples

  • A major medical breakthrough was made approximately 80 years ago when Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin. Since it has helped to greatly reduce the number of people dying from diseases such as syphilis and diphtheria.

In the above example, it is not clear whether the writer is suggesting that fewer people have died from these diseases in the years that have passed since the breakthrough was made, or whether he/she is using ‘since’ to mean that it was a major breakthrough ‘because’ fewer people died from the diseases after its discovery.

  • As rabbit populations grow to something approaching carrying capacity, the chance that any one individual will die increases. They are more at risk from the effects of competition and disease in these circumstances.

In the above example, it is not clear whether the individuals are more at risk, or if the rabbit population as a whole is more at risk.

  • Clearly, the results show that as temperature increases, mouse heart rate does likewise.

In the above example, the writer assumes his/her reader will come to the same conclusion. Not everyone interprets things the same way and it can come across as rude to suggest a pattern or conclusion is obvious.

Question 9 (6 marks)

There are six major mistakes in terms of the use of transition words and/or phrases in the paragraph below. First of all, try to highlight all six. Do this by copying and pasting the body of text into your answer and bolding the six words/phrases that are problematic.

There are many different factors involved in regulating the size of a population of animals. Clearly, density independent factors, such as natural disasters and changeable weather patterns, work in tandem with density dependent factors, such as competition and predation, to ultimately determine how many individuals will exist from one point in time to another. A natural disaster, such as a flash flood, can wipe out a population regardless of its size; it will kill field mice whether they exist as a solitary breeding pair or are part of a 1000-strong local population. For example, density dependent factors will have less of an effect when the population is small. Therefore, the availability of resources, such as food and nesting sites, also dictate how many individuals can survive in a given environment. In contrast, when there is lots of food available, a population will grow because there are sufficient resources to support more individuals than currently exist. Thus, as time progresses, it is probable that food will no longer be as plentiful and fewer individuals will be supported. Finally, predation is likely to be more common when populations grow because there are more individuals available for predators to eat. Also, diseases are likely to have more effect when a population is large because there are more individuals in close contact and this makes it easier for the disease to spread between hosts.

Question 10 (6 marks)

Now study the paragraph again (the one above, from question 9) and replace the poor transitions you bolded with a suitable transition word or phrase.

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: Version 1, Version 2, Version 3 and Version 4 Solutions

Paragraph structure, topic sentences and transitions: Student In-Class Activities

Creating and using an outline to guide your writing

It can be a little daunting when you first start to put your ideas down on paper, whether you are writing a lab report, an essay, or even a blog post about some aspect of science. For this reason, it is a good idea to create and use an outline to help you produce a logical, organized piece of written work. In these in-class activities, you will work with a partner/partners to learn how to do this. You will hopefully see the value in doing so because you should be able to see how your own piece of writing improves by the end of the class, based on the use of this outline.

Activity 1: (work together, then alone, 15 minutes)

Imagine you have been asked to write a short answer (approximately 200 - 300 words) to the prompt: What is a simple science experiment and which skills are needed to work effectively with other people when performing one?

Spend a couple of minutes talking to a partner (or to two people if you are working in a group of three) about the things you would want to include in your answer. Then, try to write an answer to the prompt on your own (each person must write their own answer).

Activity 2: (work together, 15 minutes)

Now you are going to create an outline to help guide your response to the same prompt. There are a number of steps that you should follow when producing your outline:

  1. Determine the purpose of your written answer, and who your audience is.
  2. Brainstorm all of the ideas you want to include in your written answer.
  3. Group related ideas together (these will form separate paragraphs).
  4. Order the information that will go into each paragraph from general to specific.
  5. Devise sub-headings that can be applied to the information that will form each paragraph (this will help you write effective topic sentences later).

In reality, you will have longer to do this when preparing to write something, but the principle holds for any piece of writing (such as this short answer). Try to produce a numbered outline that looks something like contents page in a book by the time you have worked through points 1 – 5 above. This will be your outline.

** Each pair/group is likely to have a slightly different outline, depending on the content they decide to include in their answer to the original prompt. However, to make sure you are all on the right general path, your instructor will show an example of an outline for this prompt before you move on to Activity 3. **

Activity 3: (work alone, and then together, 15 minutes)

Now you are going to use the outline you just created to re-write a short answer (approximately 200 – 300 words) to the prompt: What is a simple science experiment and which skills are needed to work effectively with other people when performing one?

Hints

  • Focus on the organization of ideas into the different paragraphs
  • Order the information in each paragraph from general to specific
  • Once you have your first draft, replace the sub-headings for each paragraph with a topic sentence to begin each paragraph (this should explain the point of the paragraph to your readers)
  • Once you have done this, add in transition words and phrases to link each sentence with the next one.
Topic Sentences Transition Words and Phrases
Good ones should: Feature Good Examples
Signal the main point of the paragraph a reader is about to read Signal the point at which a new direction is being taken in the writing
  • Secondly,
  • In contrast,
  • However,
Be general enough to allow the other sentences to develop the point it makes, but not so broad that the other sentences cannot justify the statement it makes Link sentences smoothly together to provide a logical flow os ideas "...confirmed this. Nevertheless, some people refused to believe this result..."

Activity 4: (work together, remaining time)

Read the short answer you have just written, and then re-read your initial answer (the one you wrote in Activity 1, before you had produced a quick outline to help guide the logical development of your written answer). Discuss the difference in quality with your partner/partners. If you have time, exchange written answers and comment on the progression you have all made.

Further resources and help on writing effective, more comprehensive outlines

Hopefully, these in-class activities will have shown you the benefit of creating and using an outline to guide your writing. When you write longer pieces of work, the benefits will be more visible. For further resources, please see Purdue’s Online Writing Lab.

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: In-Class Activities Solutions

Version 1

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions: Student Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities have been designed to give you further practice in spotting paragraphs with a good structure, that feature appropriate topic sentences, and which are bound together by effective transition words and phrases.

Question 1 (5 marks)

Imagine that you conducted a detailed experiment to see whether certain plant species were more effective than others at suppressing the spread of an invasive plant species that has negative consequences for British Columbia grasslands. Read the ‘original’ draft below. You have been provided with three ideas for stylistic ‘alterations’ that you could make to improve this paragraph. Your task is to rank these in order from the one that would make the biggest improvement to the smallest (3 marks).

Once you have done this, cut and paste the original paragraph and put your first choice alteration into practice by editing the paragraph in this way (2 marks).

The spread of Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass) throughout grasslands in British Columbia (BC) has many negative effects on these habitats. For example, cheatgrass reduces biodiversity, leads to more frequent wildfires, and causes health problems for cattle that eat it. Also, negative effects on ecosystems are financially costly; it costs a lot of money to restore a habitat after fire and it is expensive to buy food for lots of cattle. One way to reduce the environmental and financial effects of cheatgrass growth is to introduce another plant species that will reduce the growth rate of cheatgrass. In order to know which plant species has the greatest negative effect on cheatgrass growth rate, I grew cheatgrass plants in different treatment groups each featuring one other plant species that was common in BC grasslands. Following this method, I tested three other species and found that crested wheatgrass significantly reduced the growth rate of cheatgrass; it reduced growth rate by approximately 65%. Bluebunch wheatgrass did not significantly affect cheatgrass growth rate, whereas Idaho fescue significantly increased the growth rate of cheatgrass by approximately 39%. Naturally, I recommend grassland managers promote the growth of crested wheatgrass and discourage the growth of Idaho fescue.

Alteration A: Improve transition words/phrases.
Alteration B: Split information into more than one paragraph.
Alteration C: Improve the topic sentence.

Questions 2, 3 and 4 (3 marks each, 9 marks total)

For each of the following topics, choose the suitable topic sentence and match the reasons that make the others unsuitable to the unsuitable topic sentences. In all cases, when choosing your suitable topic sentence, imagine that you are just beginning to write an essay on the topic.

Question 2 (3 marks)

Topic 1: Antiviral resistance in viruses.

Topic Sentence 1: Of the 1,344 influenza viruses tested during the 2012-2013 flu season, 99.9% were resistant to the antiviral drug amantadine.
Topic Sentence 2: Antiviral resistance presents many different problems for patients, healthcare professionals, and drug developers.
Topic Sentence 3: Antiviral resistance may develop in viruses spontaneously or while in the presence of an antiviral.

Option A: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option B: The focus is too broad for the information that could follow in one paragraph about this topic.
Option C: Suitable topic sentence.

Question 3 (3 marks)

Topic 2: Correlation doesn’t imply causation

Topic Sentence 1: People often wrongly imply that a correlation between two variables means there is a cause and effect relationship between them.
Topic Sentence 2: Although many people wrongly infer that a conclusion is definitive if it is based on statistical data from extraneous variables, many more assume that an association between two variables can never indicate a causal relationship.
Topic Sentence 3: In certain cities, many people assume that colder temperatures result in more traffic accidents, suggesting that correlation implies causation.

Option A: Too difficult to interpret.
Option B: Suitable topic sentence.
Option C: Too narrow in focus for the information that should follow about this topic.

Question 4 (3 marks)

Topic 3: Using giant solar powered “sails” to power spacecrafts.

Topic Sentence 1: Solar energy might one day power spacecraft and astronauts into deep space.
Topic Sentence 2: Scientists believe that building giant "sails" in space could help astronauts explore the deeper parts of the universe.
Topic Sentence 3: "Sails" that catch solar energy and transfer photons with incredible kinetic potential into forward thrust might one day allow astronauts to explore the depths of the universe.

Option A: Suitable topic sentence.
Option B: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option C: Information is too broad for a topic sentence.

Question 5 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph about cleaning up oil spills below, and try to fill in the blanks by choosing the most suitable transitional word/phrase for each question.

Researchers have developed a new way to clean up difficult oil spills using a method based on the function of cactus needles. [A], synthetic and copper spikes were designed as smaller versions of cactus needles, which draw moisture out of the air. Cactus needles cause water droplets to aggregate before they are carried to the base of the needle via surface tension. [B], tests confirmed that the synthetic and copper spikes were able to mimic this phenomenon as micrometer-sized oil droplets collected on the needle surfaces and were drawn along the length of the spike. [C], clean-up methods focus only on removing oil from the surface. [D], researchers are excited by the new possibility because the spikes could be used for cleaning up denser droplets that sink below the surface and are difficult to remove. [E] this method is said to be a cheaper alternative to traditional methods, other experts warn that the technology may not be practical in real situations. For example, the amount of needles that would be required to clean a large oil spill is huge.

Fill in the blanks by choosing from:

A: Apparently, Initially, Obviously, Naturally
B: Subsequently, Nonetheless, Secondly, Conversely
C: These days, Nevertheless, Previously, Presently
D: In addition, Despite this, Consequently, However
E: Because, Since, Although, Despite the fact that

Question 6 (6 marks)

Read the paragraph about wolves in Yellowstone National Park below, and pay special attention to the CAPITALIZED transition words/phrases linking the different sentences together. Copy and paste this paragraph and then bold the three transitions that are particularly poor (3 marks). Then, below this, copy and paste the same paragraph and change those three transitions so as to make them more suitable (3 marks). Again, bold these in the paragraph to make it easier to see what you have changed.

The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park has had a surprisingly positive effect on grizzly bear populations. [OBVIOUSLY] many scientists were worried that fewer bears would be supported by the ecosystem [BECAUSE] the wolves were expected to enhance competition for food and living resources, but the opposite effect has been documented. Research has shown that the wolves are driving down excessively large populations of grazing mammals, such as elk and deer. [IN ADDITION], many shrub species that provide berries as a food resource for bears have become much more common, and the bears are supplementing their diets accordingly. [HOWEVER], scientists have warned that this could be a short-term effect; they cannot yet be sure that the presence of the wolves is responsible for increasing bear numbers, [OR] can they be certain that bear populations will remain this high in years to come. [NEVERTHELESS], the early signs are very positive that bringing wolves back to Yellowstone has helped to stabilize a delicate, complex food web.

Version 2

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions: Student Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities have been designed to give you further practice in spotting paragraphs with a good structure, that feature appropriate topic sentences, and which are bound together by effective transition words and phrases.

Question 1 (4 marks)

Below are four paragraphs containing similar content, but each one features one different basic error. These errors relate to paragraph structure and/or the logical development of ideas in the piece of writing. Try to match the main problem to the paragraph in which it is present.

Paragraph 1: Exploring space is challenging because the universe is cold, unpredictable, and huge. Scientists have recently suggested that to explore the deeper parts of the galaxy they will need to find alternative ways of powering spacecraft. This is because it is not possible to equip a craft with sufficient fuel to travel long distances in space. However, there is hope that innovation and improving technology will allow us to explore deeper and deeper. For example, some believe it will be possible to construct very big "sails" to catch solar energy, which will in turn push the craft forwards at increasing speeds.

Paragraph 2: Scientists believe that building giant "sails" in space could help astronauts explore the deeper parts of the universe. These sails would be used to catch solar energy, which possesses momentum that could be used to drive a spacecraft forwards to wherever its pilots wished to go. Despite this hope, it might be hundreds of years before the technology exists to build these sails. Although NASA and other space agencies have made tremendous progress in recent decades, designers are still frequently dismayed by their inability to make computer systems reliable in anti-gravity situations. For example, basic programs that perform calculations can inexplicably malfunction once operating outside our atmosphere.

Paragraph 3: "Sails" that catch solar energy and transfer photons with incredible kinetic potential into forward thrust might one day allow astronauts to explore the depths of the universe. Because photons behave like other atomic particles, in that they are reflected off mirror-like surfaces when colliding, they can transfer momentum to an object. Critically, it is this momentum that could be used to drive a spacecraft forwards toward its destination. Exploring deep space remains one of mankind's greatest challenges because navigating long distances requires a lot of fuel and/or other ways of powering flight.

Paragraph 4: Solar energy might one day power spacecraft and astronauts into deep space. Scientists believe that constructing huge "sails" would catch solar rays. Solar particles can transfer momentum to objects when they collide, which would theoretically be enough to power a craft into deep space. This would be a major factor in allowing astronauts to go further than ever before because modern explorations are limited by fuel reserves. Most space explorations use the majority of their fuel loads just in getting out of Earth's atmosphere.

Problem A: The order of information is poorly developed (in terms of specificity).
Problem B: The topic sentence is poorly chosen.
Problem C: The transitions are poor.
Problem D: The information should be split into more than one paragraph.

Question 2 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph about temperatures and traffic accidents below. You have been provided with three ideas for stylistic ‘alterations’ that you could make to improve this paragraph. Your task is to rank these in order from the one that would make the biggest improvement to the smallest (3 marks).

Once you have done this, cut and paste the original paragraph and put your first choice alteration into practice by editing the paragraph in this way (2 marks).

People often wrongly imply that a correlation between two variables means there is a cause and effect relationship between them. For example, last summer, when temperatures were hotter, a higher number of traffic accidents occurred in certain cities around the world. Soon after, reports appeared that said the extra heat must have been causing motorists to be more impatient and make poor decisions when they were behind the wheel. Although many people made the common mistake of jumping to that conclusion based on data from unrelated variables, even more hold the misconception that a correlation can never imply a cause and effect relationship. When all other variables are held constant in an experiment, it is possible to suggest one factor is directly responsible for causing a change in the other one, if the results back this up. For example, if 100 fish are kept in identical conditions but their weight gain is measured in different temperatures, a correlation between the two factors would suggest that temperature is directly responsible for influencing weight gain.

Alteration A: Improve transition words/phrases.
Alteration B: Split information into more than one paragraph.
Alteration C: Improve the topic sentence.

Questions 3, 4 and 5 (3 marks each, 9 marks total)

For each of the following topics, choose the suitable topic sentence and match the reasons that make the others unsuitable to the unsuitable topic sentences. In all cases, when choosing your suitable topic sentence, imagine that you are just beginning to write an essay on the topic.

Question 3 (3 marks)

Topic 1: Antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

Topic Sentence 1: One of the main causes of bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics is the over-prescription of drugs.
Topic Sentence 2: Bacteria can develop resistance to specific antibiotics for a variety of reasons.
Topic Sentence 3: In less than 20 years the percentage of S. pneumoniae strains that developed resistance to Penicillin-based drugs rose from 4% to 33%.

Option A: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option B: The focus is too narrow for the information that will follow about this topic.
Option C: Suitable topic sentence.

Question 4 (3 marks)

Topic 2: Plagiarism in science

Topic Sentence 1: Many people believe that plagiarism in science is a simple case of quoting someone else’s published work and passing it off as their own.
Topic Sentence 2: What does – and does not – constitute plagiarism in science is a multi-faceted issue that many scholars will debate and debate and still disagree about.
Topic Sentence 3: Plagiarism in science is a complex topic and includes many different types of academic fraud.

Option A: Too difficult to interpret.
Option B: Suitable topic sentence.
Option C: Too narrow in focus for the information that should follow about this topic.

Question 5 (3 marks)

Topic 3: Catchy headlines in science articles.

Topic Sentence 1: A recent study suggested members of the general public would be 36% more likely to read a science article if the headline was catchy and non-specific.
Topic Sentence 2: Do you think that scientists should write in a more engaging style if it would result in more people reading their articles?
Topic Sentence 3: When polling a total of 1135 New York citizens, it was discovered that these people would be 36% more likely to read a science article if the headline was written in a more catchy, accessible style than is typical for such articles.

Option A: Suitable topic sentence.
Option B: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option C: Suitable topic sentence, but there is a catchier, more attention-grabbing option.

Questions 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

Read the paragraph about wolves in Yellowstone National Park below, and try to fill in the blanks by choosing the most suitable transitional word/phrase for each question.

The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park has had a surprisingly positive effect on grizzly bear populations. [Q6] many scientists were worried that fewer bears would be supported by the ecosystem, [Q7] the wolves were expected to enhance competition for food and living resources, the opposite effect has been documented. Research has shown that the wolves are driving down excessively large populations of grazing mammals, such as elk and deer. [Q8], many shrub species that provide berries as a food resource for bears have become much more common, and the bears are supplementing their diets accordingly. However, scientists have warned that this could be a short-term effect; they cannot yet be sure that the presence of the wolves is responsible for increasing bear numbers, [Q9] can they be certain that bear populations will remain this high in years to come. [Q10], the early signs are very positive that bringing wolves back to Yellowstone has helped to stabilize a delicate, complex food web.

Fill in the blanks by choosing from:

Q6: Unsurprisingly, Although, Though, Contrastingly, Hitherto
Q7: because, despite, since, while, nonetheless
Q8: In addition, Thus, Of Course, As a result, Naturally
Q9: neither, nor, not either, or, instead
Q10: Finally, Nevertheless, In contrast, Yet, Thus

Question 11 (4 marks)

Read the paragraph about species names below, and pay special attention to the CAPITALIZED transition words/phrases linking the different sentences together. Copy and paste this paragraph and then bold the two transitions that are particularly poor (2 marks). Then, below this, copy and paste the same paragraph and change those two transitions so as to make them more suitable (2 marks). Again, bold these in the paragraph to make it easier to see what you have changed.

When new species are first discovered, the person responsible for initially documenting them in scientific literature is allowed to come up with an official name, and this can be more or less what they want it to be. It does not have to be made up of words that appear in a specific language, and it does not have to be science-related. OBVIOUSLY, a species name must be non-confusing and easy to pronounce, though. CONSEQUENTLY, many plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and viruses have names that can be read aloud without the reader necessarily knowing what they refer to. FREQUENTLY, these names closely link to the interests of their discoverers. FOR EXAMPLE, an ant was named after Indiana Jones actor, Harrison Ford, a marine fossil discovered by a Johnny Depp fan was named in honor of his famous character, “Edward Scissorhands”, BUT a lemur found in Madagascar was named after John Cleese, who had been working to conserve similar animals. IN ADDITION to the rule permitting a discoverer to name a new species, it is also acceptable for conservation charities to refrain from naming organisms and instead reserve this honor for individuals that donate significant money to the cause they represent.

Question 12 (6 marks)

Combine all the skills you have learned to write a very well structured paragraph. To get you in the habit of editing your work to improve it, revisit the paragraph you wrote for the pre-class activities (Question 13) to complete this task. You should have made a copy of this paragraph when you completed the pre-class activities.

You can add more detail and should change some of the wording to improve your paragraph, but you must ensure the final piece still has five different sentences that are separated into two paragraphs.

Your aim is to improve your work by (1) writing more effective topic sentences, (2) using more effective transitions to make it flow more smoothly from sentence to sentence, and (3) improving the cohesion/ordering of information. To show improvement, you will need to copy and paste your original paragraph (make sure you note which one this is) before writing a new, improved version.

Note: If you did not make a copy of your original paragraph, you should write a new one (about a science subject that interests you) to attempt this question. It should be 100-200 words in length and feature five sentences separated into two paragraphs. Please note, however, that to obtain maximum possible credit, you must copy and paste your original paragraph before editing it so that you can show how your skills have improved.

Version 3

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions: Student Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities have been designed to give you further practice in spotting paragraphs with a good structure, that feature appropriate topic sentences, and which are bound together by effective transition words and phrases.

Question 1 (4 marks)

Below are four paragraphs that all feature one different basic error. These errors relate to paragraph structure and/or the logical development of ideas in the piece of writing. Try to match the main problem to the paragraph in which it is present.

Paragraph 1: An adult red squirrel weighs approximately 300 g, whereas the much heavier eastern grey squirrel weighs nearer 600 g when mature. Red squirrels are also much smaller in terms of length, measuring approximately 20 cm as opposed to the 30 cm that is typical of a grey squirrel. Grey squirrels tend to be more competitive and bully red squirrels away from suitable habitats when the two species co-exist because of their greater size.

Paragraph 2: Competition tends to be more intense between individuals of the same species than between members of different species. The main reason for this is that members of the same species have more similar resource requirements, whereas different species typically evolve to exploit slightly different resources. For example, finches on the Galapagos Islands have evolved different beak sizes so as to make use of a variety of different seed sizes as food resources. Although different bird species will eat more than one type of seed, and thus compete with each other, each one has evolved to specialize in eating one seed type. Thus, when that particular size of seed is very scarce, competition will be higher between members of the same species. Evolution of beak sizes takes a considerable amount of time and occurs constantly over thousands of generations. Natural variation in the beak sizes of individuals leads to certain birds being more competitive than others. Over time, these birds are more likely to pass on their genes to the next generation, which in turn means it is more likely that birds with similar beak sizes will populate each species.

Paragraph 3: Children born from the same parents can have very different physical characteristics, such as eye and hair colour, height, and muscle definition. Similarly, fish that hatch from eggs produced and fertilized by the same breeding pair will differ in the shape of their fins and the patterns on their scales. Dogs, too, despite being part of the same litter, will have different body shapes and sizes.

Paragraph 4: Complex statistical tests of data are being used increasingly frequently even though people who design the experiments they evaluate rarely understand them. Tests that compare differences in averages seen in different treatment groups are straightforward enough but others, such as Principal Components Analyses, are very complex. Many published journal articles rely on very complicated statistical tests to garner support for the conclusions drawn by the author(s).

Problem A: This paragraph is lacking a topic sentence (and transition).
Problem B: This paragraph begins with overly specific information before becoming more general.
Problem C: This paragraph addresses more than one main point (and has two topic sentences), so the information in it should be split into separate paragraphs.
Problem D: No evidence is given to support the claim made in the topic sentence.

Question 2 (4 marks)

Read the paragraph about the price of halibut below. You have been provided with three ideas for stylistic ‘alterations’ that you could make to improve the paragraph. Your task is to rank these in order from the one that would make the biggest improvement to the smallest (3 marks).

Once you have done this, cut and paste the original paragraph and put your first choice alteration into practice by editing the paragraph in this way (1 mark). Bold any changes you make so that these can easily be seen in your altered version.

Reporters have been known to make some major errors when writing science articles. For example, a journalist once reported that it was becoming more expensive to eat halibut because toothpaste was also going up in price in North America. He came to this conclusion after noticing a correlation between these two variables. What he had not taken into account was that halibut was becoming more expensive due to sudden shortages that always occurred at that time of year, and that toothpaste just happened to be in temporary short supply due to import delays from China. Unsurprisingly, a few weeks later he realized his error after paying top price for a halibut steak within moments of buying two tubes of toothpaste for next to nothing; supermarkets were selling it cheaply again due to a sudden influx of the product from abroad.

Alteration A: Divide the text into separate paragraphs.
Alteration B: Improve the choice of transitional words/phrases.
Alteration C: Write a more effective topic sentence.

Questions 3, 4 and 5 (3 marks each, 9 marks total)

For each of the following topics, choose the suitable topic sentence and match the reasons that make the others unsuitable to the unsuitable topic sentences. In all cases, when choosing your suitable topic sentence, imagine that you are just beginning to write an essay on the topic.

Question 3 (3 marks)

Topic 1: Antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

Topic Sentence 1: One of the main causes of bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics is the over-prescription of drugs.
Topic Sentence 2: Bacteria can develop resistance to specific antibiotics for a variety of reasons.
Topic Sentence 3: In less than 20 years the percentage of S. pneumoniae strains that developed resistance to Penicillin-based drugs rose from 4% to 33%.

Option A: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option B: The focus is too narrow for the information that will follow about this topic.
Option C: Suitable topic sentence.

Question 4 (3 marks)

Topic 2: Plagiarism in science

Topic Sentence 1: Many people believe that plagiarism in science is a simple case of quoting someone else’s published work and passing it off as their own.
Topic Sentence 2: What does – and does not – constitute plagiarism in science is a multi-faceted issue that many scholars will debate and debate and still disagree about.
Topic Sentence 3: Plagiarism in science is a complex topic and includes many different types of academic fraud.

Option A: Too difficult to interpret.
Option B: Suitable topic sentence.
Option C: Too narrow in focus for the information that should follow about this topic.

Question 5 (3 marks)

Topic 3: Catchy headlines in science articles.

Topic Sentence 1: A recent study suggested members of the general public would be 36% more likely to read a science article if the headline was catchy and non-specific.
Topic Sentence 2: Do you think that scientists should write in a more engaging style if it would result in more people reading their articles?
Topic Sentence 3: When polling a total of 1135 New York citizens, it was discovered that these people would be 36% more likely to read a science article if the headline was written in a more catchy, accessible style than is typical for such articles.

Option A: Suitable topic sentence.
Option B: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option C: Suitable topic sentence, but there is a catchier, more attention-grabbing option.

Question 6 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below and try to fill in the blanks by using the transitional words/phrases that appear at the end (each transition can only be used once). Cut and paste the paragraph and replace the numbers with your choice of transitional word/phrase.

The global population is estimated to have doubled in the last 50 years, which has placed an extra strain on the planet’s natural resources and led to governments adopting greener policies and investing in innovative energy technologies. 1 , renewable energy sources, such as solar and tidal power have been used to power appliances and homes in parts of Europe. 2 , schools in these regions have developed workshops to educate their pupils about the importance of saving energy from an early age. 3, it is hoped kids will learn not to leave lights on when they are not using them, 4 instead they will instinctively know to switch them off. 5 , educational efforts can only go so far in the fight to conserve energy, especially if technological advances are not made to boost output.

Fill in the blanks by choosing from:

Option A: In addition/also
Option B: And
Option C: However
Option D: As a result
Option E: For example

Question 7 (5 marks)

Copy and paste the paragraph below and replace the numbered gaps with suitable transitional words/phrases that make each sentence flow into the next one and aid smooth development of the writing.

Popular since the 1970s, mood rings are made up of liquid crystals in a glass shell. [1] the mood of the person wearing the ring changes, the colour of the ring will also change (or at least that is what consumers are told). [2], the explanation for the change in colour is a deceptively simple one: [3] temperature changes, the molecular structure of the crystals also changes due to the movement of particles in them. [4] different wavelengths of light are absorbed and reflected, which in turn means we see a change in colour. [5] colour changes regularly in mood rings, there is no evidence to suggest it is closely related to a person's mood.

Question 8 (6 marks)

Combine all the skills you have learned to write a very well structured paragraph. To get you in the habit of editing your work to improve it, revisit the paragraph you wrote for the pre-class activities to complete this task. You should have made a copy of this paragraph when you completed the pre-class activities.

You can add more detail and should change some of the wording to improve your paragraph, but you must ensure the final piece still has five different sentences that are separated into two paragraphs.

Your aim is to improve your work by (1) writing more effective topic sentences, (2) using more effective transitions to make it flow more smoothly from sentence to sentence, and (3) improving the cohesion/ordering of information. To show improvement, you will need to copy and paste your original paragraph (make sure you note which one this is) before writing a new, improved version.

Note: If you did not make a copy of your original paragraph, you should write a new one (about a science subject that interests you) to attempt this question. It should be 100-200 words in length and feature five sentences separated into two paragraphs. Please note, however, that to obtain maximum possible credit, you must copy and paste your original paragraph before editing it so that you can show how your skills have improved.

Version 4

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions: Student Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities have been designed to give you further practice in spotting paragraphs with a good structure, that feature appropriate topic sentences, and which are bound together by effective transition words and phrases.

Question 1 (5 marks)

Below are five paragraphs that all feature one different basic error. These errors relate to paragraph structure and/or the logical development of ideas in a piece of writing. You must match the main problem to the paragraph in which it is present.

Paragraph 1: An adult red squirrel weighs approximately 300 g, whereas the much heavier eastern grey squirrel weighs nearer 600 g when mature. Red squirrels are also much smaller in terms of length, measuring approximately 20 cm as opposed to the 30 cm that is typical of a grey squirrel. Grey squirrels tend to be more competitive and bully red squirrels away from suitable habitats when the two species co-exist because of their greater size.

Paragraph 2: Competition tends to be more intense between individuals of the same species than between members of different species. The main reason for this is that members of the same species have more similar resource requirements, whereas different species typically evolve to exploit slightly different resources. For example, finches on the Galapagos Islands have evolved different beak sizes so as to make use of a variety of different seed sizes as food resources. Although different bird species will eat more than one type of seed, and thus compete with each other, each one has evolved to specialize in eating one seed type. Thus, when that particular size of seed is very scarce, competition will be higher between members of the same species. Evolution of beak sizes takes a considerable amount of time and occurs constantly over thousands of generations. Natural variation in the beak sizes of individuals leads to certain birds being more competitive than others. Over time, these birds are more likely to pass on their genes to the next generation, which in turn means it is more likely that birds with similar beak sizes will populate each species.

Paragraph 3: Children born from the same parents can have very different physical characteristics, such as eye and hair colour, height, and muscle definition. Similarly, fish that hatch from eggs produced and fertilized by the same breeding pair will differ in the shape of their fins and the patterns on their scales. Dogs, too, despite being part of the same litter, will have different body shapes and sizes.

Paragraph 4: It can be argued that statistical tests of data should only be used to provide support for certain hypotheses if they are simple enough to be understood by the person that designed the initial experiment. Tests that compare differences in averages seen in different treatment groups are straightforward enough but others, such as Principal Components Analyses, are very complex. Many published journal articles rely on very complicated statistical tests to garner support for the conclusions drawn by the author(s).

Paragraph 5: If you ask someone which animals they like least, this person will probably provide a list of non-pet species that they come into contact with on a regular basis. For example, rats are one of the most disliked animals on the planet, but I argue this is just because they are successful and so numerous that their habits bring them into material conflict with people, and not because there is anything inherently dislikeable about them. For example, rats have conquered a wide range of habitats and regularly damage buildings where people live as they make their own homes in limited space. They can also carry agents of disease that affect people, and they have an unwarranted reputation for being dirty animals as a result. Yet they are actually very clean, intelligent and friendly; these attributes are usually present in other animals that people describe as being among their favourites (such as monkeys). Also, cats are very popular animals but they are typically known as pets. In comparison to rats, monkeys are considerably more dangerous to be around, also carry agents of disease, and can be destructive due to their size. However, because they do not co-exist with people in many societies, these potential conflicts are overlooked when people assess how well liked they are.

Problem A: This paragraph is lacking a topic sentence (and transition).
Problem B: This paragraph includes information that is unrelated to the topic.
Problem C: Paragraph begins with very specific information before turning more general.
Problem D: This paragraph addresses more than one main point (and has two topic sentences).
Problem E: No evidence is given to support the claim made in the topic sentence.

Question 2 (5 marks)

Study the five paragraphs from Question 1 again. You have just matched the problems with the paragraphs. Now you must alter the paragraphs to remove the different problem affecting each one. To save time, simply cut and paste the original paragraphs into your answer before making the alterations to each one.

As a hint, you will need to make one of the following five 'Alterations' to each paragraph (and make sure you say which of these you have done to each paragraph, e.g. Paragraph 1 = Alteration B):

Alteration A: Divide the text into separate paragraphs.
Alteration B: Add some evidence (you can make it up for this activity, rather than having to research the topic).
Alteration C: Swap the order of the sentences around.
Alteration D: Add a topic sentence and a transition word/phrase.
Alteration E: Remove unnecessary and unrelated information.

Questions 3, 4 and 5 (3 marks each, 9 marks total)

For each of the following topics, choose the suitable topic sentence and match the reasons that make the others unsuitable to the unsuitable topic sentences. In all cases, when choosing your suitable topic sentence, imagine that you are just beginning to write an essay on the topic.

Question 3 (3 marks)

Topic 1: Antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

Topic Sentence 1: One of the main causes of bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics is the over-prescription of drugs.
Topic Sentence 2: Bacteria can develop resistance to specific antibiotics for a variety of reasons.
Topic Sentence 3: In less than 20 years the percentage of S. pneumoniae strains that developed resistance to Penicillin-based drugs rose from 4% to 33%.

Option A: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option B: The focus is too narrow for the information that will follow about this topic.
Option C: Suitable topic sentence.

Question 4 (3 marks)

Topic 2: Plagiarism in science

Topic Sentence 1: Many people believe that plagiarism in science is a simple case of quoting someone else’s published work and passing it off as their own.
Topic Sentence 2: What does – and does not – constitute plagiarism in science is a multi-faceted issue that many scholars will debate and debate and still disagree about.
Topic Sentence 3: Plagiarism in science is a complex topic and includes many different types of academic fraud.

Option A: Too difficult to interpret.
Option B: Suitable topic sentence.
Option C: Too narrow in focus for the information that should follow about this topic.

Question 5 (3 marks)

Topic 3: Catchy headlines in science articles.

Topic Sentence 1: A recent study suggested members of the general public would be 36% more likely to read a science article if the headline was catchy and non-specific.
Topic Sentence 2: Do you think that scientists should write in a more engaging style if it would result in more people reading their articles?
Topic Sentence 3: When polling a total of 1135 New York citizens, it was discovered that these people would be 36% more likely to read a science article if the headline was written in a more catchy, accessible style than is typical for such articles.

Option A: Suitable topic sentence.
Option B: Information is too specific for a topic sentence.
Option C: Suitable topic sentence, but there is a catchier, more attention-grabbing option.

Questions 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

In this complete set of questions (questions 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10), you must consider the transition words/phrases in the paragraph below (the transition word to focus on for each question is underlined and bolded). For each transition, you must agree (or disagree) as to whether it is effective.

Question 6 (1 mark)

The global population is estimated to have doubled in the last 50 years, which has placed an extra strain on the planet’s natural resources and led to governments adopting greener policies and investing in innovative energy technologies. Moreover, renewable energy sources, such as solar and tidal power have been used to power appliances and homes in parts of Europe. As a result, schools in these regions have developed workshops to educate their pupils about the importance of saving energy from an early age. Thus, it is hoped kids will learn not to leave lights on when they are not using them, but instead they will know to instinctively switch them off. Nevertheless, purchasing energy saving light bulbs can help reduce losses even more.

Question 7 (1 mark)

The global population is estimated to have doubled in the last 50 years, which has placed an extra strain on the planet’s natural resources and led to governments adopting greener policies and investing in innovative energy technologies. Moreover, renewable energy sources, such as solar and tidal power have been used to power appliances and homes in parts of Europe. As a result, schools in these regions have developed workshops to educate their pupils about the importance of saving energy from an early age. Thus, it is hoped kids will learn not to leave lights on when they are not using them, but instead they will know to instinctively switch them off. Nevertheless, purchasing energy saving light bulbs can help reduce losses even more.

Question 8 (1 mark)

The global population is estimated to have doubled in the last 50 years, which has placed an extra strain on the planet’s natural resources and led to governments adopting greener policies and investing in innovative energy technologies. Moreover, renewable energy sources, such as solar and tidal power have been used to power appliances and homes in parts of Europe. As a result, schools in these regions have developed workshops to educate their pupils about the importance of saving energy from an early age. Thus, it is hoped kids will learn not to leave lights on when they are not using them, but instead they will know to instinctively switch them off. Nevertheless, purchasing energy saving light bulbs can help reduce losses even more.

Question 9 (1 mark)

The global population is estimated to have doubled in the last 50 years, which has placed an extra strain on the planet’s natural resources and led to governments adopting greener policies and investing in innovative energy technologies. Moreover, renewable energy sources, such as solar and tidal power have been used to power appliances and homes in parts of Europe. As a result, schools in these regions have developed workshops to educate their pupils about the importance of saving energy from an early age. Thus, it is hoped kids will learn not to leave lights on when they are not using them, but instead they will know to instinctively switch them off. Nevertheless, purchasing energy saving light bulbs can help reduce losses even more.

Question 10 (1 mark)

The global population is estimated to have doubled in the last 50 years, which has placed an extra strain on the planet’s natural resources and led to governments adopting greener policies and investing in innovative energy technologies. Moreover, renewable energy sources, such as solar and tidal power have been used to power appliances and homes in parts of Europe. As a result, schools in these regions have developed workshops to educate their pupils about the importance of saving energy from an early age. Thus, it is hoped kids will learn not to leave lights on when they are not using them, but instead they will know to instinctively switch them off. Nevertheless, purchasing energy saving light bulbs can help reduce losses even more.

Question 11 (5 marks)

In this question you must correctly match the suitable transition words/phrases to the blank spaces in the paragraph below (each transition must be matched to the specific number, in bold, that corresponds to a specific blank in the text).

The global population is estimated to have doubled in the last 50 years, which has placed an extra strain on the planet’s natural resources and led to governments adopting greener policies and investing in innovative energy technologies. 1 , renewable energy sources, such as solar and tidal power have been used to power appliances and homes in parts of Europe. 2 , schools in these regions have developed workshops to educate their pupils about the importance of saving energy from an early age. 3 , it is hoped kids will learn not to leave lights on when they are not using them, 4 instead they will know to instinctively switch them off. 5 , purchasing energy saving light bulbs can help reduce losses even more.

Match to:

Option A: In addition/also
Option B: Yet
Option C: In addition/also
Option D: As a result
Option E: For example

Question 12 (5 marks)

Fill in the gaps [numbered] in the paragraph below with transition words/phrases that make each sentence flow into the next one and aid a smooth development of the argument.

Because phobias are illogical it is hard to reason with people that are scared of spiders, heights, or needles. [1] it can help to discuss things in great detail with counsellors or hypnotherapists as this can enable patients to better understand how or why the fear first originated, while giving them the opportunity to develop a long-term plan to beat it. [2], facing the respective fear head-on has often proved to be the most efficient way of permanently curing it; [3] conquering something on your own is extremely empowering, this is often the prescribed advice of friends and family members who have beaten their own phobias in the past. Forcing someone to do something they do not want to do is often the worst option, [4] such a tactic can be successful in certain circumstances, [5] if the patient with the phobia has a real desire to conquer it with the head-on approach.

Question 13 (6 marks)

Combine all the skills you have learned to write a very well structured paragraph. To get you in the habit of editing your work to improve it, revisit the paragraph you wrote for the pre-class activities (Question 8/Activity 5) to complete this task.

You should have made a copy of this paragraph when you completed the pre-class activities, so simply copy and paste it here. Your task in this exercise is to improve this piece of writing by editing it. You should add more detail and/or change some of the wording of what you have already written to improve it, but you must ensure the final piece still has six different sentences.

Your aim is to improve your work by (1) editing the content of the writing, (2) using more effective transitions to make it flow more smoothly from sentence to sentence, and (3) improving the order in which you present pieces of information.

Note: If you did not make a copy of your original paragraph, you should write a new one (about a science subject that interests you) to attempt this question. It should be 100-150 words in length and feature 6 sentences. Please note, however, that to obtain maximum possible credit, you must copy and paste your original paragraph before editing it so that you can show how your skills have improved.

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: Version 1, Version 2, Version 3, and Version 4 Solutions

Paragraph Structure, Topic Sentences and Transitions In-Class PowerPoint

Timing Guide

Pre-Class Activities: Version 1  |  Version 2  |  Version 3  |  Version 4

In-Class Activities

Post-Class Activities: Version 1  |  Version 2  |  Version 3  |  Version 4


The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for suggested solutions password protected page for: Pre-class activity, Post-class activity, and In-class activity solutions