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How Long Should a Paragraph Be?
There’s no hard and fast rule for the exact number of sentences a paragraph should be. Everyone has a different writing style and approach to paragraph construction. As a general guideline, the length of a paragraph is three to five sentences. That said, one-sentence paragraphs are acceptable and often welcome when paired with longer paragraphs.
In more formal writing—like expository writing, essay writing, and academic writing—there is a general rule of thumb to keep topics clustered together by paragraph. The first sentence of each paragraph is a topic sentence; this first line establishes the main idea of the paragraph. Supporting sentences provide more detail. The concluding sentence is the last sentence and wraps up the topic before moving on to the following paragraph.
4 Reasons to Write Short Paragraphs
How a writer breaks up their thoughts on a page is highly subjective, but there are some benefits to breaking thoughts up into succinct, readable, short paragraphs. Here are a few of those benefits:
- Less text keeps readers’ attention. Content that is broken up into more digestible groups of sentences keeps readers engaged. Large chunks of text on a page can turn readers away, but shorter paragraphs with white space between is more welcoming for readers.
- Short paragraphs have a dramatic effect. Writers will sometimes isolate a thought that is significant to their text. They’ll create a one-line paragraph that stands out on the page in order to place extra emphasis on their statement.
- Short paragraphs are more readable on a screen. The digital age has changed how people read. Today, people consume online content over all sorts of devices—from computers to tablets to smartphones. Condensing ideas into shorter paragraphs makes it easier for your target audience to read and scroll.
- Variable paragraph patterns illustrate a writer’s point of view and voice. Every writer has a unique way of presenting their story or ideas. They do this through the words they choose and how they put them together. A writer can further define their voice by how they break their thought up into paragraphs to create a rhythm, including how and when they use a shorter paragraph.
How to Write Short Paragraphs
To master the art of paragraphing, follow your creative instincts as well as these six writing tips:
- Break long paragraphs up. When you have a single paragraph that feels long and heavy, dissect the thought and create separate paragraphs. The first paragraph in a series should start with a topic sentence to introduce the main point you’re writing about. When you start the next paragraph, even though it’s a new paragraph, readers will understand it’s a continuation of the previous thought.
- Go really short when you want to make a point. If you have a specific line that you want to highlight, separate it into its own entire paragraph. While this might not work in professional papers or business writing that requires more formal paragraph structure, tiny paragraphs are perfect for blogs, online posts, and any writing that gives an author a bit of creative leeway. In these scenarios, an author can go as short as they wish. Surrounded by white space, that extra-short paragraph will pop off the page and make the reader take notice.
- Shorten your sentence length. Review the collection of sentences you have in a paragraph. Go line by line to find areas where you can trim longer sentences down. Remember that it’s okay to have a long sentence in there, as long as the following sentence is shorter. Having a variety of sentence lengths is good for reading comprehension, but overall, shorter sentences will build shorter paragraphs.
- Review your word choices. Look at every word you use in a paragraph. Determine which words you can drop—like adverbs or fluff words that don’t contribute to the main idea you’re trying to convey. Swap out long words for shorter, simpler synonyms. Use single words instead of phrases when you can.
- Use rhythm to guide your paragraphs. As you discover your voice and tone, your writing process will become more rhythmic. Follow that rhythm as you write and your paragraphs will develop organically. You’ll know where in your train of thought to end one and begin the second paragraph. It helps to read it aloud, pausing between paragraphs to hear how the passages sound and where a break should fall. When writers follow this line of thinking, they often end up with shorter, clearer passages of text.
- Look at your paragraphs on the page. Scan your story. Without even looking at the details of the lines and words, you can easily tell when a section is too long simply by the lack of white space on the page. As your writing skills sharpen, you’ll learn to craft short paragraphs as you type. In the meantime, make sure to go back and do a visual edit of your page to make sure your writing is appealing to the eye.
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