With new and inexperienced writers, one of the most common mistakes they make is displaying a lack of structure in how they write.
When we talk, we often jump back and forth in what we’re saying, perhaps referring back to an idea from earlier in the discussion. In writing, we need to be a lot clearer in how we set out our ideas.
One way we do this is through paragraphs – these blocks of sentences of which this is the third one in this piece – but how should we use them? How do we know we’re getting it right?
It’s not uncommon to see inexperienced writers cram together several ideas and sentences in one paragraph, thereby producing one big, uncoordinated chunk of text that’s difficult to understand and a chore to read. We all want to make our writing as clear as possible, so what steps should we take to power up our paragraphs?
Why do we use paragraphs?
Paragraphs structure written work out in a way that makes it easier on the eye and less of a challenge to read out loud. Imagine stumbling across an article that was just a page of unbroken, continuous text? Would you feel like reading it? What if you had to read it out loud? Would you know where to pause for breath?
Ending one paragraph and starting the next is a signal to the reader that one idea or point is finished with and you’re about to move onto the next.
So how long should they be?
There’s no definite answer to this, which often makes it a difficult point to coach writers on. We can often identify that a paragraph is longer than it should be, but explaining why, or identifying at which point the paragraph should have been split into two or more, is not always easy.
As a general rule, many grammarians say somewhere between two sentences and half a page of A4 paper is a sensible length for a paragraph, but this is only a guide. A skilled writer might be able to string 10 or more sentences into a paragraph and still let their paragraph flow well, while also throwing in paragraphs of just a few words that has an emphatic quality of its own.
It’s always best to read your work back to yourself at the end – out loud if you can. If you find that you’re struggling for breath with some of your paragraphs, consider whether they can be shortened or broken up.
In all forms of writing, the importance of reading cannot be overstated. To get a solid grip on how to structure paragraphs, take note of how others are doing it.
Read news reports, books, feature articles and so on. Every time you see a new paragraph, ask yourself why the writer has chosen that point to introduce one.
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