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Curriculum and Student Achievement

Paragraph and Sentence Strategy

Moving From Known (Old) Information to Unknown (New) Information

Any piece of writing, no matter what its topic is, owes a great deal to history. Without knowing the history of something, it is difficult for a reader to comprehend its present or future conditions. Readers can better understand where a writer is going if they first know where they’ve been.

It is important, therefore, for the writer to establish the known, or old, material first. Afterward, he or she can move on to the unknown, or new, information without the fear of puzzling his or her readers.

Establishing the Known:

Let’s look at an example: It is black and white, and it circulates daily.

What is “it”? Some savvy readers may have inferred that the sentence above may be discussing a local newspaper. However, not all readers may have clearly understood what “it” is. To rule out any chance of confusion, a writer needs to make the known information apparent early in the sentence, and then he or she may proceed with the new information.

The Anytown Gazette, a local newspaper, is black and white, and it circulates daily.

The revised example above gives the reader plenty of information early on. The writer can then continue to write about the newspaper in subsequent sentences by referencing what is now known information.

Here is a list of questions that you can ask yourself to ensure that you are using this strategy as effectively as possible:

  1. Is the topic, or known information, introduced early enough in the paragraph?
  2. Does each sentence in the paragraph point back to the known information in a manner that will be clear to the reader?
  3. Does each sentence in the paragraph put forward the new information only after the known information has been clarified?
  4. Does the paragraph stay on topic from beginning to end without putting too much emphasis on either the known information or the new information?


Copyright 2006 by the Student Success Center and the University of Houston-Victoria.
Created 2006 by Kelli Trungale.