Are Your Paragraphs Too Long?


Paragraph-(capitulum) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today Lorelle (if you blog you should be reading ‘Lorelle on WordPress’) had a post giving excellent advice on paragraph length.

To distill the post to it’s essence:

Most people find the shorter length paragraphs easier to read on the web.

In traditional writing, paragraphs could go on for pages without breaking, as could run-on sentences, taking the reader on a journey across many words and pages, turning the page as the eye scans the story, gobbling up every word.

Few writers on the web can get away with that form on their sites.

In Colorado, I found a newspaper with an editorial policy that every sentence must be a paragraph.

All the news was reported in one sentence per paragraph.

Not a single paragraph featured more than one sentence.

It was painful to read.

I felt choppy, distracting, and quite uncomfortable.

You are probably feeling that way after reading the above example sentences, one per paragraph.

While I agree with the conclusion that we should write short paragraphs I disagree that traditional writing tends to have longer sentences and paragraphs.

While this may be true of most fiction good non-fiction should subscribe to the same theory of shorter is better. For many years I edited and wrote for ‘Australian Macworld’ and my boss and copy-editors were always breaking up paragraphs and shortening my sentences until I learnt the lesson.

I also discovered that the same was true when writing for University. You might not think it would make a difference but let me assure you that when a tutor or lecturer is marking that stack something that’s easy to read is likely to get a few extra marks just because of that.

I’ve found the same in work proposals and memos, job applications and even technical documentation. Allow the reader a break for their eyes and mind. While a paragraph per sentence is almost certainly too short two or three is probably the sweet spot. Have a look at most of my previous posts and you will find most of my paragraphs are that length with rare examples out to five.

Read Lorelle’s post and then have a look at the excellent posts she points too for further advice and wherever you write keep those sentences and paragraphs short.

2 thoughts on “Are Your Paragraphs Too Long?

  1. Traditional writing often features – nay, permits is a better word – long paragraphs, sometimes crossing pages with dozens of sentences. Web writing rarely tolerates a paragraph long than a few sentences. I wish it was otherwise but the speed at which people read online, combined with the form they are reading in (big screens, little screens, mobile, tablets, etc.), dictates more breaks between points and concepts. Research has shown repeatedly this to be true.
    This is not to say that essayists, those writing fiction and forms within the traditional print media genre can’t set paragraphs to be any length they need to make their points and represent their writing styles. These blog exercises are meant to introduce blogging concepts, tips, and techniques and shorter paragraphs thrive better on the web for general publishing styles.
    As with everything, and as you learned in your editorial work, style must match presentation and media. Understanding the difference is a sign of a professional.

  2. Pingback: Writing Challenge: Papa Says -About Me | Comfortably Numb

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