Paragraph length is important. Too many long paragraphs in a document may make it difficult to read. Too many short paragraphs and it could seem disjointed. But how long should a good paragraph be?
1. Paragraph Length Depends on Document Type
If you look online, you’ll find advice saying that paragraphs should be between 100 and 200 words long. And as a guideline on paragraph length, this is fine for most documents.
However, paragraph length also depends on the type of writing. Some paragraphs may be a single sentence. Some may spread across more than one page. In this blog post, for example, most of the paragraphs are under 100 words because shorter paragraphs are easy to read on screen. But the paragraphs in an academic textbook would be longer to offer more depth.
As such, you should tailor your paragraphs to suit the document and the subject matter. But to do this, you need to consider why we use paragraphs in the first place…
2. The Purpose of a Paragraph
Paragraphs help us organize the information in a document. Consequently, each paragraph should cover one main idea. Try thinking about a paragraph like a tiny essay:
Use the main body of the paragraph to expand upon this idea
End with a concluding sentence that leads on to the next paragraph
If you find yourself covering multiple ideas in a single paragraph, especially if there’s no direct connection between them, consider separating them into distinct passages instead.
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3. Consistency vs. Mixing It Up
Most of the paragraphs in a document should be a roughly similar length. If you find that they vary a lot, it may be sign that some ideas in your document are underdeveloped and need expanding.
However, in longer documents it is a good idea to mix things up a bit, especially if you have a lot of long paragraphs. One way to do this is to bookend each section with short introductory and concluding paragraphs, setting out and then summarizing what you’ve discussed.
4. Editing Long Paragraphs
While editing your work, you may want to break longer paragraphs down into shorter ones. Look for a point where the focus changes, even if only slightly (e.g., shifting from introducing an idea to giving an in-depth example). You can then add a line break and, if necessary, a linking sentence.
5. Editing Short Paragraphs
If your document contains too many short paragraphs, particularly in succession, you can look for passages that cover similar topics and combine them into a single longer paragraph.
This may simply involve deleting a line break, but you might also have to consider the overall structure of your document. If you have several short paragraphs touching on the same topic in different places, think about whether they should all be part of one section instead.