A paragraph is a meaningful, purposeful gathering of sentences.
They are placed together in the order that you need to make – persuade, explore, sell, substantiate – a point.
Regardless of the audience – fiction, descriptive, argumentative, expository, pitching, selling or reporting for business – the right collection of the right sentences makes all the difference.
However, a good paragraph can be one or ten sentences long. You know it’s unlikely to be much more than that, but definitely won’t be twenty in length. So how do you know how many sentences you need to gather together?
The art . . . is knowing exactly when you’ve gathered enough of the right sentences together, to say the exact point that you set out to make. It’s something that you need to keep working on.
Unfortunately it’s not a recipe format.
There is no golden number of sentences.
Practice. That’s the best way of learning the how and why. That sounds very glib I know, but sadly it’s the truth.
However as some kind of guidance what I can say, is remember that’s it’s more a question of having only the right ones, in the right order to say what you are aiming to say. That will get you close to your target.
Think of each paragraph – especially as you edit your work – as a cobblestone in a path. Together the stones make a solid path that leads somewhere… to the place you want to take your reader or audience.
When looking at good business writing, notice how paragraphs vary in length and form – depending on what the writer had in mind and the manner of work (or the job) the piece has to do.
Just as it’s important to vary the structure and style of paragraphs (as it is with sentences), you need to learn to tame the paragraph, as well as master the sentence.
The audience you are writing for also affects the number of sentences in a paragraph. In a world of short attention spans, rampant skimming and information overload, paragraphs are generally shorter than ever before.
For web formats – short, one or two sentence paragraphs are a must – to allow information ‘chunks’ to be easily taken in and digested online and onscreen.
Even some print formats – such as four column layouts in magazines – warrant shorter than the norm paragraphs, so that the text doesn’t run on for lines, again making it easier to read.
Readability is immeasurably improved by shorter sentences, within the paragraph. Long sentences lower the absorption of content by your reader; they can’t quickly understand what’s been written.
In business and persuasive writing this is a big communication issue. It means the reader takes far longer to get the whole point of what you’ve written. The message can easily be lost.
With the growing amount of content that people regularly absorb each day, 20-word sentences are now considered ideal for comprehension.
But remember that the true readability of any business writing you do is in the editing done on your work before finishing. That’s’ when you need to judge not only your mastery of sentences, but the also the taming of the sentences that have rallied together to form a paragraph.
In reality, paragraphs are – like sentences – a living, breathing beast that can walk, run and even eat the page away. They are rarely orderly or perfect.
Only practice can bring them close to that.