Listing paragraphs

This lesson talks you through one way to write your paragraphs: one possible solution is to choose the listing paragraph method. To help you to learn how to write this type of paragraph, you will find below instructions on how to write them, useful vocal to do this and examples of what works and doesn’t work.

A quick reminder about paragraphs

Before I go any further, I’d like to remind you of some of the keys to writing a good paragraph. These are:

  1. a paragraph should be organised around one idea
  2. the main idea should be clear to the reader: this means boring old topic sentences
  3. the idea should be well developed in the paragraph

What is a listing paragraph?

Put simply a listing paragraph is a paragraph containing different ideas that all connect to one main idea. It is perhaps easiest to think of this as the “Firstly” “Secondly” “Thirdly” paragraph. A key to making them work is to make sure that different ideas connect to one central idea. Take a look at this very simple example to see what I mean:

There are at least three different ways to organise a paragraph. The first is to follow a structure where where you make a main point, develop it with an explanation and then illustrate it with an example. The second is to list separate points that connect to the main idea stated in the topic paragraph. The third is the compare and contrast paragraph in which you examine the relationship between two different ideas.

Do you see how the “ideas”  contained in the content sentences all link back to the main idea in the topic sentence, highlighted in red?

When you should consider a listing paragraph

The next step is to decide when you should use the listing paragraph structure. Here are some ideas for you to consider:

  • you have a series of connected ideas (reasons/examples/explanations etc) that relate to one main idea
  • these connected ideas are balanced (equally relevant)
  • it makes sense  in that essay to give different reasons (ie the essay asks you to write about the reasons why something is the case)
  • perhaps it is simpler to list rather than explain in detail (this is particularly the case in exams where you under time pressure)

Getting the topic sentence right

One of the keys to making this listing paragraph structure work is to get the topic sentence right. These are not rules, but think about these general guidelines:

  • the topic sentence should come first and be simple: you want the reader to see immediately what your para is about
  • it should ideally say that you are going to list different reasons etc. If you don’t do this, the reader may not understand your structure and how the points relate to each other

What to avoid and how to fix it

This type of paragraph can often go wrong. One particular problem is that the list ideas do not relate to the main idea in the topic sentence. Look at this example:

There are a number of reasons why animals should not be kept in captivity. This is wrong because zoos are often unsanitary and the animals suffer unnecessary pain and suffering because they easily become sick and die. In many cases zoos do not have effective breeding programmes and they actually contribute to the decline in numbers of certain endangered species. Moreover, in many countries zoos have become less and less popular because of the influence of natural history programmes on television.

Do you see the problem? The final sentence doesn’t really relate to/balance the other ideas – it is about something else altogether.

I have two suggestions about how to avoid this problem. The first is to consider adding a concluding sentence to the paragraph that summarises the ideas. That should help you to avoid this kind of irrelevance by showing you how one sentence doesn’t relate to the others. The other idea is not to be afraid of using listing language.

The language of listing paragraphs

Using listing language helps the reader understand the train of your thoughts and see how the ideas connect. it can also help you write more accurately: if you use this language, you are much less likely to go wrong.

Topic sentence language

Here the goal is to show the reader that you are about to make a number of connected points. Here are some ideas to get you going. obviously, you will need to adapt them to your topic.

There are at least three [reasons] why…. (ie use a number – and traditionally three is the magical number)

There are a variety of [reasons] why

There are several causes for this

There are a number of different of ways in which

The most basic listing language

If this is a new technique for you, this language is a good place to start. Though I would add that you should aim for some of more advanced language as you progress. It is also sensible to be fairly consistent with the language. The moment you say “Firstly,”, the reader automatically looks for “Secondly,” and may be confused if they do not find it (or something very similar to it)

Firstly,      Secondly,     Thirdly/Finally      (note the comma)

One [reason] is     A second reason is  A third/final [reason] is

Some more advanced variations

Here are some slightly more advanced ways of linking your ideas. The point is to start with the biggest/best and then add other ideas using phrase with “Another” and “Also”. This way the connection should still be plain.

The most significant [reason] is

The primary [reason] why

Equally significant is

Another connected [reason] is

A linked reason is

It is also the case that

It is also sometimes suggested that

To keep the connection between your ideas clear use the linking language at the beginning of your sentence

See some examples of listing paragraphs – and test yourself

These paragraphs are based on an essay question asking why people are moving from the countryside into cities and whether that is a positive trend. If you want to test yourself, see if you can complete them. Possible ideas include loss of agricultural land/farming culture, better jobs in cities, better lifestyle and amenities in cities, better infrastructure and transport makes it easier

Simple version

There are three main reasons why people are abandoning the countryside and moving  to cities. Firstly,

Secondly,

Thirdly,

 More advanced

There are a number of reasons for this migration from the countryside to urban centres. Perhaps the most significant of these is that

Another connected reason is that

It can also be caused by

 Expert

Close examination shows that there are a variety of causes for this migration. The primary reason why

Perhaps as significant as this is the fact that

It is also sometimes suggested that

Footnote on IELTS

Can you use this structure in IELTS essays. Most definitely. In fact, you would be foolish not to practise this form of paragraph, it works very well in exam circumstances when you may not be able to think of fully developed ideas but have lots of “little” ideas.

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2 Responses to Listing paragraphs

  1. leila February 26, 2013 at 12:24 am #

    dear dominic cole,
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  2. priya February 26, 2013 at 6:58 am #

    Dear Dominic,

    This is very much helppful.

    Thank you.

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