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The Paragraph: Don’t Always Obey The Paragraph Police

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

An online devotional for writers

A Word From The Word

Test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21, NLT)

A Word For Writers

Do you follow traditional rules when writing paragraphs? 

The paragraph: an online #devotional for writers based on 1 Thess 5:21 with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #FreelanceWriting #ChristianWriting

For instance, your language arts teacher insisted that you communicate one idea per paragraph, preferably in a topic sentence. Additional sentences develop or support that idea. You close the paragraph with a transitional sentence that leads to the next paragraph. 

Speaking of sentences, you make sure each paragraph has three to five – no more than six. And according to the Paragraph Police, each paragraph in your piece should take up a uniform amount of space. 

But who follows those rules anymore? In today’s “anything goes” content, it can be tempting to throw out the instruction book and write simply the way you talk.  

But before you do so, consider this. 

Breaking content into paragraphs has been around since Old Testament times when scribes copied the original scriptures. They included natural spacings in the text, called parashah. These early “paragraphs” were different lengths.  A parashah could be just a sentence or two … or a page or two. The scribes inserted breaks when the content indicated a new topic or the need to emphasize a new thought.

Wait a minute. That’s a lot like today’s “one idea per paragraph” principle, which wisely guides readers through a piece thought by thought, idea by idea.  

The scribes – and your language arts teacher – had it right. Test grammar rules and hold onto what is good. Maybe you don’t need to have a certain number of sentences or words for each paragraph. But you certainly don’t want to present your ideas in a jumbled mishmash. 

One rule has stood the test of time: communicate one idea per paragraph. (Preferably in a topic sentence!)

A Wise Word

Communicate one idea per paragraph.

A Word To Pray

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the clarity you present in scripture. You guide us through your Book thought by thought, idea by idea. Help me have wisdom to know which writing rules to break and which ones to keep. 

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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