How Long Should a Paragraph Be?

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Paragraphs, and the sentences that shape them, are perhaps the most important way to give writing direction. Every paragraph needs to have a main point, idea, or focus. This applies to both fiction and non-fiction alike. While fiction will traditionally use paragraphs to direct the reader, develop characters and themes, and move the story along, non-fiction writing uses paragraphs in the same manner. Non-fiction, on the other hand, does not always need to develop characters or themes, but simply convey information. In both cases, the use of paragraphs result from the same need: to divide works of writing into separate, isolated ideas; so as to allow the reader to better understand when a point is being made, and when the author moves on to a new point or idea.

During schooling, children are often taught that a paragraph should contain a certain amount of sentences. Most often, three to six sentences are regarded as good paragraphs in a classroom setting. This may be beneficial to help students identify when a new idea comes into play, and thus a new paragraph, but in reality there are no concrete amount of words or sentences that make a paragraph correct. The only real rule of thumb is that once an idea has been explained sufficiently a new paragraph can be applied, and is appropriate.

Expanding on ideas from previous paragraphs is very common, and often helpful to the reader, but it is important to make sure that any expansion of information is new content. That is the fundamental basis of what constitutes a good, proper paragraph – an idea, point, etc. that is developed and explained. Once this has been accomplished a new paragraph, perhaps an expansion of previous content, is appropriate.

Maintaining a central focus is the most important thing to consider when writing paragraphs – as word count can vary widely from one to another. Many well wrote paragraphs often only contain a single, detailed sentence. Another paragraph may take over a dozen. The complexity of the point usually determines the length of a paragraph, and as well how much detail is spent on explaining the complexities.

Essentially, the important thing to consider when organizing a piece of writing is what points are going to be made, and how to divide them into a format that is easy to read and understand. That is what makes a proper paragraph – an idea, or point, that is developed until a new idea or point needs to be made. Isolating these ideas into paragraphs makes the work of writing easier for both the author to organize thoughts, as well as making the text and ideas within, easier to understand from a reader’s perspective.

As mentioned, there is no defintive length that a paragraph must be. It is important to consider that new writers must practice paragraph development to better understand when a point has clearly been addressed. Using outlines to define a specific point and it’s subsequent follow-up sentences can work well to help writers naturally learn when a point has been clearly addressed, and thus the paragraph complete.