Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This study tests the relative effectiveness of the standard modern paragraph theories of A. L. Becker, Francis Christensen, and Paul C. Rodgers, Jr., three major theorists contributing more sophisiticated explanations of the form of paragraphs than that of Alexander Bain, whose theory as summarized in the familiar principles of unity, coherence, and emphasis has dominated textbook explanations of paragraphing since the late nineteenth century. In this test the three theories have been applied to fourteen selected professional essays appearing in six of the best-selling composition readers. Of these essays, seven, designated as classical, are written by the most frequently anthologized essayists, and seven, designated as ephemeral, are randomly selected essays with topical appeal. The components of the three theories tested are Becker's tagmemic patterns and four operations for variation, his lexical equivalence classes, lexical transitions, and verb sequences; Christensen's coordinate, subordinate, and mixed sequences and his dictum concerning the topic sentence in the initial position; and Rodgers' concepts of the stadia of discourse and secondary influences on paragraphing. The study presents a summary of the theoretical assumptions of Becker, Christensen, and Rodgers; a summary of the statistical findings of the applications of the three theories; a comparative summary of the conformity and non-conformity of paragraphs reflecting the application of Becker's and Christensen's theories; a justification of the 100% conformity of the paragraphs to Rodgers' theory; and finally some reflections on the applications of the findings to the teaching of college composition. In terms of the overall effectiveness of the three theories in this sample, Becker's theory works 32.8% of the time, Christensen's 30.8%, and Rodgers' 100%. The conclusion that can be drawn from the much greater effectiveness of Rodgers' theory is that, with his discourse-centered theory as opposed to Becker's and Christensen's sentence-based theories, Rodgers allows for sequences of discourse not necessarily conterminous with paragraph boundaries and for more flexible concepts of fluctuations in the abstraction levels within sequences. Another conclusion is that Becker's and Christensen's theories, with modifications, could more formally describe the reality of paragraph structure.