by Richard Nordquist
“Consider the postage stamp," advised humorist Josh Billings. "Its usefulness consists in the
ability to stick to one thing until it gets there.”
The same might be said about an effective paragraph.
is the quality of sticking to one idea
from start to finish, with every sentence contributing to the central purpose and main idea of that
contains the main idea upon which a paragraph is developed. In a unified
paragraph, all of the supporting sentences serve to:
the main idea set forth in the topic sentence.
The best way to demonstrate the importance of unity is to show how the intrusion of
can disrupt our understanding of a paragraph. The original version of the following
passage, taken from
The Names: A Memoir
, by N. Scott Momaday, vividly illustrates how people
in the Pueblo of Jemez in New Mexico prepare for the Feast of San Diego. We've upset the unity
of Momaday's paragraph by adding one sentence that's not directly connected to his main idea.
See if you can spot that sentence.
The activity in the pueblo reached a peak on the day before the Feast of San Diego, November
twelfth. It was on that day, an especially brilliant day in which the winter held off and the sun
shone like a flare, that Jemez became one of the fabulous cities of the world. In the preceding
days the women had plastered the houses, many of them, and they were clean and beautiful like
bone in the high light; the strings of chilies at the vigas had darkened a little and taken on a
deeper, softer sheen; ears of colored corn were strung at the doors, and fresh cedar boughs were
laid about, setting a whole, wild fragrance on the air. The women were baking bread in the
outdoor ovens. Here and there men and women were at the woodpiles, chopping, taking up loads
of firewood for their kitchens, for the coming feast. Year round, the artisans of Jemez, known
internationally for their crafts, would create beautiful basketry, embroidery, woven cloths,
exquisite stone sculpture, moccasins, and jewelry. Even the children were at work: the little boys
looked after the stock, and the little girls carried babies about. There were gleaming antlers on
the rooftops, and smoke arose from all the chimneys.
Write the sentence that doesn’t belong here: