Artwork for podcast Rough Draft
030 The Great Paragraph Hoax
30th April 2015 • Rough Draft • Rainmaker.FM
00:00:00 00:06:34

Share Episode

Shownotes

On the Internet, there is no shortage of answers to the question “What is a paragraph?” From prestigious universities to forums. Unfortunately, they are all wrong.

The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill defines a paragraph as the building blocks of papers.”

Fair enough. What else would you expect from a college? But that won t do for us. Us, web writers.

The best answer I could find on the Yahoo Answers forum was: Usually consists of more than one sentence on the same topic.”

Again. Fair enough. But let me give you the web writer s version of what a paragraph is …

In this episode of Rough Draft you’ll discover:

  • The web writer’s definition of a paragraph
  • The scary message your 22-sentence paragraph sends to web readers (and you probably don’t even realize it)
  • The proper way to break up a 10-sentence paragraph online
  • What you need to know about dialogue

Listen to Rough Draft below ...

The Show Notes

The Transcript

The Great Paragraph Hoax

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, a digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at RainmakerPlatform.com.

Demian Farnworth: Howdy dear podcast listener, this is Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I am Demian Farnworth, your host, your muse, your digital recluse, and the Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media.

Thank you for sharing the next few minutes of your life with me.

So this is episode 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 30. And I m calling it “The Great Paragraph Hoax.” And it s a cute one. This episode is.

The natural way to start this episode is to answer the question: What is a paragraph?

The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill defines a paragraph as “the building blocks of papers.”

Fair enough. What else would you expect from a college? But that won t do for us. Us, web writers.

The best answer I could find on the Yahoo Answers forum was: “Usually consists of more than one sentence on the same topic.”

The Web Writer s Definition of a Paragraph

Again. Fair enough. But let me give you the web writer s version of what a paragraph is. A paragraph, according to a web writer, is short.

It s one word. Or two. Or three. It s one sentence. It s two sentences. But never more than three.

You might find that absurd, disgusting, or upsetting. Little fact: We adopted this definition of a paragraph from the world of journalism.

Of course, that may do nothing for you.

Mark Grabowski, a journalism professor and AOL columnist writes, “When it comes to newspaper paragraphs, remember: size does matter. And smaller is always better.”

I know that definition drives some people nuts. They hate seeing those one sentence paragraphs — especially if they are ridiculously short. Like one word short, and these people get all apocalyptic.

The Scary Message Your 22-Sentence Paragraph Sends to Web Readers (and You Probably Don t Even Realize It)

Especially our English teachers who taught us the proper way to start a paragraph was when the topic changed. Even if that meant your paragraph was twenty-two sentences long.

But that just won t do online. It can t do online. Online readers are too fickle. That s the lesson we learned back in episode 12, “The Ugly Truth About How People Read Online.”

Besides, we need to honor the white space. A block of text twenty-two sentences long is like a sign that says, “Do Not Trespass.” It chases readers away.

The same for a paragraph ten sentences long. I would even argue five sentences long.

Remember: your reader is looking for an excuse not to read what you wrote. So don t give it to her.

The Proper Way to Break Up a 10-Sentence Paragraph Online

But let s say you have a topic that is ten sentences long. It demands one paragraph. And you can feel the heat coming off your English teachers body as his spirit hovers over your shoulder

How should you break that sentence up? Should you break that sentence up? Yes, you should, and a good place to start is simply to see if you can break it up into sub topics.

Let s say your original paragraph is about the who, the why, the when, and the where of an event then each of those elements gets their own paragraph. Even if they are one sentence long.

The other thing you can do is insert dialog, which naturally demands a new line.

You are a silly man.

Well, you are a silly robot.

I only do what you tell me to do.

As it should be wait.

Now here s another way you can break up a paragraph into coherent smaller paragraphs.

On the University of North Carolina page about paragraphs, they suggest the way to develop a paragraph is to — and there are five parts to this:

  • Decide on a controlling idea and create a topic sentence out of that
  • Explain the controlling idea
  • Give an example or examples
  • Then explain the examples
  • And complete the paragraphs topic and transition into the next paragraph.

Online, each of those steps could have their own paragraph.

Do that, and your reader will love you. Maybe not your English teacher. But she s probably not reading what you write. But that s okay. She s not your target audience.

Follow

Links