Are your paragraphs the right length?

The length of your paragraphs can help or handicap your readers.

I favor short paragraphs, especially when I’m writing blog posts for readers in a hurry. However, I also believe you should vary paragraph length according to the length demanded by your subject matter. It’s better to run too short than too long in these days of information overload.

For another perspective, here’s Roy Peter Clark quoting H.W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage:

…white space is the writer’s friend–and the reader’s. “Paragraphing is also a matter of the eye,” writes Fowler. “A reader will address himself more readily to his task if he sees from the start that he will have breathing spaces from time to time than if what is before him looks like a marathon course.”

In other words, please don’t write paragraphs that take up an entire page.

What do you think about paragraph length?

2 replies
  1. Theresa Hamacher
    Theresa Hamacher says:

    I agree with you that paragraphs should be short, especially for online reading — but I’d throw in a caution about relying too heavily on one-sentence paragraphs.

    Articles with a lot of “microparagraphs” are difficult to skim, because readers can’t just scan the topic sentences to get the gist of an article. (In these choppy articles, every sentence is a topic sentence.)

    For business writing that can be deadly. If readers can’t find what they want quickly, they’re likely to skip your piece altogether. — that’s what I do!

    In other words, paragraphs should be short, but you still need paragraphs.

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