Monday, November 05, 2012

Key Sentences

The key sentence expresses the central claim of a paragraph. The rest of the sentences in the paragraph elaborate or support this claim; that is, they either proceed from or tend toward it—centrifugally or centripetally, if you will. Either way, the center of a well-written paragraph should be immediately apparent; there should be no mystery about what constitutes the core and what constitutes the periphery. If you were to pare it down to its essential content, to what it is basically trying to say, you would arrive at the key sentence. All the other sentences are there to help that central sentence deliver its message. They are gathered around it.

I've promised one of my weekly coaching groups that I will write about key sentences all this week. I'll try to compose my own paragraphs so they always have one and you can play the game of identifying it in every paragraph of every post. (Keep in mind that blogging does not always produce rigorous "scholarly" prose, but this week, like I say, I'll try to compose myself in proper paragraphs. Feel free to speak up in the comments if you think I've written a paragraph that lacks focus, i.e., does not have a clear key sentence.) Every night, before I go to bed, I'll decide on a couple of things to say about key sentences and then write them down in the morning. Hopefully, my posts will be both informative and exemplary.

Consider the two paragraphs I've just written. In both cases, the first sentence is the key sentence. Notice that the first paragraph does not just define the term "key sentence", it emphasizes the centrality of key sentences in their paragraphs. And this then is the theme of the rest of the paragraph. All the other sentences tend toward this point about the central claim. If I had instead talked about the "point" or "focus" of the paragraph, the other sentences could have been written with that image in mind. Notice also that the second paragraph actually has two claims in the first sentence, only one of which is properly speaking the main claim, and therefore the key sentence. It says, first, that I've made a promise to one of my weekly coaching groups and, second, that I will write about key sentences all week. The latter is the point elaborated by the paragraph, which talks about my plan for the week, you'll notice. I could have broken that sentence into two, like I did in this (third) paragraph. "I made a promise to one of my coaching groups on Friday," I might have said. "I'll be writing about key sentences all this week." Here the first sentence is not essential to the claim of the paragraph. It just gets us going.

No comments: