Unity in Composition

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In composition, unity is the quality of oneness in a paragraph or essay that results when all the words and sentences contribute to a single effect or main idea; also called wholeness.

For the past two centuries, composition handbooks have insisted that unity is an essential characteristic of an effective text. Professor Andy Crockett points out that the "five-paragraph theme and current-traditional rhetoric's emphasis on method reflect further the expediency and utility of unity." However, Crockett also notes that "for rhetoricians, the achievement of unity has never been taken for granted" (Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition, 1996.)




From the Latin, "one."


  • "Most pieces of effective writing are unified around one main point. That is, all the subpoints and supporting details are relevant to that point. Generally, after you have read an essay, you can sum up the writer's main point in a sentence, even if the author has not stated it explicitly. We call this summary statement a thesis." (X. J. Kennedy, Dorothy M. Kennedy, and Marcia F. Muth, The Bedford Guide for College Writers, 8th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008)
  • Unity and Coherence
    "A good check on unity is to ask yourself if everything in your paragraph or essay is subordinate to and derived from the controlling idea. Make sure that your controlling idea—the topic sentence or thesis—indicates the subject and the focus on that subject..."​ (Lee Brandon and Kelly Brandon, Paragraphs and Essays With Integrated Readings, 12th ed. Wadsworth, 2012)

Rules of Thumb for Writing Unified Paragraphs

  • Be sure your paragraphs focus on one idea and state that idea in a topic sentence.
  • Place your topic sentence effectively within your paragraph. Let the purpose of your paragraph and the nature of your evidence guide you.
  • Let your paragraph's evidence—the selected details, the examplesillustrate or clarify the idea expressed in your topic sentence.
  • Make sure you explain the relationship between your evidence and your idea so that it is clear to readers.
  • Think about unity among paragraphs when writing essays. Be sure your paragraphs are related, that they fit together and clarify your essay's idea.​ (R. DiYanni, Scribner Handbook for Writers. Allyn & Bacon, 2001)

A Note on Topic Sentences

  • "Paragraphs may not have a topic sentence, but they must have unity and purpose. All the ideas in a paragraph should relate to a clear point readers will easily understand." (Mark Connelly, Get Writing: Paragraphs and Essays. Thomson Wadsworth, 2009)

Counterviews on Unity

  • "Unity is the shallowest, the cheapest deception of all composition... Every piece of writing, it matters not what it is, has unity. Inexpert or bad writing most terribly so. But ability in an essay is a multiplicity, infinite fracture, the intercrossing of opposed forces establishing any number of opposed centres of stillness."
    (William Carlos Williams, "An Essay on Virginia," 1925)
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Nordquist, Richard. "Unity in Composition." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/unity-composition-1692572. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Unity in Composition. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/unity-composition-1692572 Nordquist, Richard. "Unity in Composition." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/unity-composition-1692572 (accessed June 2, 2023).