Planning for paragraphs

Planning the organizational design of your text is a very important step in the writing process. The easiest way of organizing your writing and cuing the reader about the major unit divisions in a text is by effectively using paragraphs.

Paragraphs are a group of related sentences that usually develop a single topic. As a general rule, you should start a new paragraph whenever you change the topic or direction in your writing.

This doesn’t always work and sometimes you need to pull together two or three small topics into one paragraph or break a unit that is getting too big. You should think about how many paragraphs you want remembering that this is going to tell you reader how many different important thought units they will find.

How a paragraph is constructed also dictates the tone of the text.

  1. Very long paragraphs slow down readers and ask for them to focus on a subject for a while. They give an idea of complexity and thoroughness. This can be tiring and put off some readers as they feel the reading gets to “heavy”.
  2. On the other hand a series of very short paragraphs can cue the reader to skim the text more lightly and this can make some readers to feel a bit loss and feel like the writing is too fragmented.

It is therefore very important to find the right balance when thinking about paragraph length by considering who is your audience and what you wish them to experience while reading. There is no set of rules and you can play with mixing long paragraphs with shorter ones. Use long paragraphs to develop more complex ideas and shorter ones to summarize things or make transitions. Just remember to keep your text complete, visually organized and coherent. When using long paragraphs you can begin with a sentence that summarizes the main idea you are discussing in the paragraph, this is often called the topic sentence. Then use the remaining sentences of the paragraph to explain and develop this idea or topic more in detail. Some paragraphs can also have a final conclusion sentence to recap the main idea that you discussed. This summary is not necessary if the main idea is very clear and can in fact become repetitive for the readers.

Appropriate use of paragraphs is a great tool for writers to pack ideas on a page and better communicate with the reader.