In IELTS Reading structure of paragraphs plays a key role in determining meanings of texts.
Any grouping of sentences could be called a paragraph, but a “good” paragraph has certain features.
In terms of informative articles or essays, a paragraph should be focused on one idea only. Having multiple ideas in the same paragraph muddles the meaning.
In addition, a paragraph should clarify and expand on its main idea.
Usually, the first sentence of a paragraph should introduce the main idea. Such a sentence would be called the topic sentence. The remaining sentences should support the main idea.
However, sometimes topic sentences can appear in the middle or even the end of a paragraph depending on the writer’s rhetorical style.
IELTS Reading Paragraph Structure
Look at the example paragraph below:
|A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on.” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”|
|Taken from A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, Chapter 1 Our Picture of the Universe|
The first sentence in this paragraph is obviously the topic sentence, which introduces a story that Hawking is about to tell. The remaining sentences are the supporting details, which describe the events of the story.
This skill to identify the main idea of a paragraph by locating the topic sentence comes especially handy in the Matching Headings question type in the IELTS Reading test.
Look at the paragraph below and select the most appropriate heading:
|The success of scientific theories, particularly Newton’s theory of gravity, led the French scientist the Marquis de Laplace at the beginning of the nineteenth century to argue that the universe was completely deterministic. Laplace suggested that there should be a set of scientific laws that would allow us to predict everything that would happen in the universe, if only we knew the complete state of the universe at one time. For example, if we knew the positions and speeds of the sun and the planets at one time, then we could use Newton’s laws to calculate the state of the Solar System at any other time. Determinism seems fairly obvious in this case, but Laplace went further to assume that there were similar laws governing everything else, including human behavior.|
|Taken from A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, Chapter 4 The Uncertainty Principle|
A. Marquis de Laplace’s disagreement with Newton
B. Planetary orbits in the Solar System
C. Finding evidence for a deterministic universe
D. Human behavior predicts natural laws
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