Take a moment to consider what you learned about paragraph construction from your writing and composition course work in grade school.
Did you have to write standalone paragraphs with specific formulas and requirements about some sort of topic that you thought was mundane or boring? Were you able to write about your opinions and form arguments in standalone paragraphs? Or were you required to write paragraphs about more objective information that was provided to you beforehand? And did what you learn about writing paragraphs in high school, college, or the workplace change how you understand paragraph construction?
Now, do you think that there is a “perfect paragraph” formula? And do you think there is a one-size-fits-all paragraph structure for us all to follow?
How we construct paragraphs has a lot to do with how and what we were taught in the past, as well as what we read, write, or edit on a regular basis. Keep reading to see if what you understand about constructing paragraphs coincides with your training, learning experiences, and everyday reading, writing, or editing experiences.
What Is a Paragraph?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary:
“We organise what we write into sentences and paragraphs. A paragraph begins on a new line within the text and there is often a blank line between paragraphs. A paragraph usually contains more than one sentence and it is usually about one topic.
“The first sentence in a paragraph is sometimes called the key or topic sentence because it gives us the key to what the paragraph will be about. The other sentences usually relate to the key sentence. There is usually a conclusion in the final sentence of a paragraph and sometimes there is a link to the next paragraph.”
What Paragraphs Do
Overall, paragraphs help us manage and organize our writing to make it easier to read and write. Imagine, for instance, what it would be like to read a dense philosophical essay without paragraphs separating the key points and ideas or arguments. Or imagine what it would be like to read a novel without paragraphs separating instances of dialogue.
Paragraphs also help us incorporate voice and mood into a piece of writing (especially in fictional writing). Based on how a paragraph is constructed, the reader may sense things like urgency, thoughtfulness, irony, etc.
Paragraphs in Fiction Versus Nonfiction
The structure of a paragraph also depends on whether it’s written in a work of fiction or nonfiction. Fictional works can incorporate single-sentence paragraphs and paragraphs separated and constructed in more unconventional ways for dialogue and overall flow, while essays and reports tend to have paragraphs with more conventional construction. Novels or marketing emails don’t typically have paragraphs with the traditional five-sentence formula either, where the first sentence of the paragraph is the topic sentence, the next three sentences are supporting sentences, and the final sentence of the paragraph is a conclusion or a transition.
But does this mean paragraph construction is completely discretionary? Or is there a specific paragraph formula that all writers should follow?
Sentences in Paragraphs
Paragraphs in essays, reports, etc., tend to consist of one major topic sentence that encompasses the main idea being discussed in the paragraph. And that topic sentence is followed by two to three sentences that revolve around that main idea, which are then followed by a sentence that concludes the main idea being discussed in the paragraph or transitions the reader to the information discussed in the paragraph following. Sometimes the sequence of when and where these sentences appear in a paragraph may fluctuate, but the topic sentence is typically one of the first two sentences that appears, and the concluding or transitionary sentence is usually the last sentence in a paragraph.
Do you think that there are any exceptions to this practice, other than the varied number of sentences that might be included in a paragraph?
While many of us were taught that paragraphs should be around five sentences long, or 100-150 words, we all know that many paragraphs are much longer or shorter than that. And we all know that most writers and editors don’t strictly adhere to this rule. But why is this the case? How long do you think a typical paragraph should be? Do you think that there can be a set formula for how long a paragraph should be?
Editing and Revising Paragraphs
When editing or revising paragraphs, we should consider the topic sentence or main idea being discussed in the topic sentence first, to ensure that it is clear. Then we should ensure each supporting sentence in the paragraph revolves around that main idea, and that they further clarify it. And then we should make sure the paragraph is complete, coherent, and easy to read.
What do you think? Do you think it’s possible to have a formula for a perfect paragraph’s structure? Share your thoughts in the comments below.