A paragraph is a visual cue for readers. The indentation at the beginning, like the capital letter at the start of a sentence, signals your reader that a new thought unit is about to begin. Just as sentences gather words and phrases into units of meaning, these sentences are gathered into paragraphs. The paragraphs, in turn, may be gathered into major subdivisions.
Therefore, it's good to give some thought to paragraphing as you consider overall organizational design. Let your paragraph divisions point up your organization.
Let your paragraph divisions point up your organization.
Since paragraphs help readers see important thought units, a general guideline would be to start a new paragraph whenever you begin writing about a new organizational topic. But this won't always work. In practice, you may find that two or three minor points can be treated in a single paragraph, or you may discover that what at first looked like a single sub point is growing so big that it needs to be broken up.
Even so, if you remember that paragraphs cue your readers to important thought units below the level of your lowest subheading, yet above the level of the sentence, you'll have a good basis for deciding how many paragraphs you need.
Because paragraphs are visual groupings, you also need to consider what your reader will actually see on the page. Longer paragraphs slow the tempo, asking readers to bear down and concentrate while a complex issue is discussed. A series of short paragraphs picks up the tempo and invites readers to browse or skim lightly.
A single, unbroken page of text appears under-differentiated. Readers may wonder what the point is and why they can't find it. A whole page of single sentence paragraphs appears over-differentiated. Here, too, readers may wonder what the point is and why they can't find it.
So, what is your font size? Are you double spacing? In a standard format of double-spaced Courier 10, you should get about 250 words per page. This means you might want your average paragraphs to run about 175 words. Longer paragraphs will give a feel of thoroughness and complexity but may bog readers down. Shorter paragraphs will move briskly but may fragment your readers' perceptions. You may want to vary your paragraph length. Use long paragraphs to explore and develop ideas and shorter ones to summarize or make transitions.
You may want to vary your paragraph length. Use long paragraphs to explore and develop ideas and shorter ones to summarize or make transitions.
Briefly, there's no set rule for how long a paragraph should be. Consider your important divisions. Consider how the paragraph will look on the page. Consider your reader and your purpose in writing. Make the best decision you can. If you need suggestions for fully developing your paragraphs, check Thesis/Support Essays.
2.7 Choose a sequence of four or five paragraphs from a textbook and another sequence from a popular magazine. Study the paragraphing in each; consider the writing's audience and purpose as well as its subject and format. Then write your own paragraph explaining the similarities and differences you see in the paragraphing.