Your earliest language arts teacher drilled into your head how to write a paragraph. She had clear steps for writing a good paragraph that she insisted you follow. The goal? A clear, organized presentation.
Always start, she said, with a topic sentence. Then add a sentence or two or three to explain your main point further.
By all means, make sure to write at least 3-5 sentences per paragraph – up to eight – so that your content is substantial. And those sentences? Each one must have a noun and a verb. When you’ve supported your topic sentence, write a transition sentence to the next paragraph.
And then repeat the process until you finish your essay, report, or paper.
Or maybe you learned the steps in writing a good paragraph by using the TEAM acronym:
Same idea, right? Plus, by using the TEAM acronym with its four points, there’s a good chance you’ll write a minimum of four sentences. That falls smack in the middle of the 3-5 minimum-number-of-sentences zone.
To be truthful, both of those approaches work well for writing paragraphs. Most of the time, that is.
The rise of conversational writing, especially online, brushes aside one of your language arts instructor’s cardinal rules when she was teaching you how to write a paragraph.
The rule? A paragraph must have 3-8 sentences.
No longer true, say the language scholars at the University of North Carolina. “In some styles of writing, particularly journalistic styles, a paragraph can be just one sentence long,” explain the UNC Writing Center’s experts. “Ultimately, a paragraph is a sentence or group of sentences that support one main idea.”
Eureka! I don’t need to write eight sentences or even three in a block of text. A paragraph can consist of two sentences, or even just one. The deciding factor is whether or not that paragraph communicates a complete idea.
Going a step further, since a single word can be a sentence, you can literally have a paragraph that consists of a single word.
Are shorter paragraphs the “new normal”? It depends. Naturally, there are a few instances when shorter paragraphs are not only acceptable but embraced.
Yet there are clear instances when 3+ sentences per paragraphis expected.
Whether you’re writing a doctoral thesis or a quick blog post, your goal doesn’t change in writing a paragraph. It's to write a clear, organized presentation.
That can happen with well-structured, 3-8 sentence paragraphs. And it can happen with short, snappy one- or two-sentence paragraphs punctuated with longer ones in between.
The key? Clarity and organization. No matter how many sentences you write in each paragraph.
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