A few months ago, I tweeted this:*

Paragraphs tweet

Most people are able to use paragraphs very well without any help from me. But occasionally I am confronted with a solid block of words that makes my heart sink a little.

You can think of paragraphs as units of thought. There are no real rules about how long they should be, but one-sentence paragraphs should not be used too often and paragraphs any longer than a page are going to lose you readers. As usual, context will dictate what is appropriate. The best way to approach it is one idea per paragraph. (This doesn’t have to be a huge change of idea – it is usually nuanced.)

It might be helpful to consider the structure for paragraphs in essays. They should typically be structured as follows: introduce idea, elaborate on idea, reach conclusion and/or establish direction for the next paragraph. This can be applied to most other writing situations but its usefulness will depend on style and context (again).

Paragraphs are particularly important for web-based content, and they should be fairly short. Because readers tend to scan text online, gaining and keeping their attention is easier with short paragraphs.

Paragraphs break up the text, making it look less intimidating and more accessible. They make it easier to follow and understand the argument, discussion or narrative. And they will help the writer to focus on and progress through their ideas.

Use paragraphs. They’re great.

*The universe Twitter largely ignored me.


11 thoughts on “Paragraphs

  1. I’m very guilty for writing large paragraphs. A huge part of it is I write how I think and I think in large clumps. Ha ha. It’s been a work in progress.


  2. I wrote a post about paragraphs as well not long ago, but I think yours is probably more accurate and to the point.
    Mine veered off into some sort of quasi-philosophical rant about attention and how different actors compete or don’t compete about it. 😛


  3. On the subject of paragraphs and writing fiction, I refer to the great Elmore Leonard and his 10 Rules for Good Writing. Mr. Leonard said. “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Large paragraphs, especially one after the other, create the dreaded wall of text effect, and readers have a tendency to skim that stuff. So, do what Leonard did: write a lot of exceptional dialogue (small paragraphs and pretty much skim-proof). =)

    Liked by 1 person

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