Paragraph Writing 101

Once a week I do an impromptu 10 minute get together with our editors to talk about big picture things and get feedback about things on their mind. In this afternoon’s meeting I was mentioning about how you can tell when the content component of an article is bad by the first sentence if not by the first sentence of each paragraph because… the first sentence is suppose to be the point of the paragraph and each sentence that follows is suppose to support the first sentence.

One of our editors made the observation that many EzineArticles authors don’t have properly developed paragraphs…and thus today’s discussion on how to write a perfect paragraph:

1) Each paragraph in your article should only contain ONE thought, topic or central idea.

2) Your first sentence should be the most clear and easily understood by your reader.

3) Each sentence (typically 3-7 sentences per paragraph) reinforces the first sentence of the paragraph.

4) It’s not necessary in short article lengths (less than 1,000 words) to have the typical “Intro, Body, Conclusion” paragraph scheme, but it’s good to have a conclusion or summary at the end of each article to help the reader know what you just taught/shared them. Your conclusion paragraph should not exceed ~4-6 sentences.

5) Your paragraph development should have flow, continuity and some coherence…building in a progression rather than being scattered in thought.

6) When writing for a site like EzineArticles, keep your articles tight,…always looking for ways to say more with fewer words.

39 Comments »


1
Ann L. writes:

Thanks. A review on the basics is always good reinforcement. I read MANY poorly constructed paragraphs and articles. Sometimes it’s hard to get through even though I really need the information.

Comment provided August 7, 2007 at 4:35 PM

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2

I really want to be a GOOD writer and GOOD artist.

Each blog that comes through now, I take in. This one, yes, I am going to pay better attention to my opening paragraph.

I love these blogs! It is like getting a daily lesson plan.

I do think I am becoming a better writer as time goes by. The more I write the better everything seems to go. In some ways I want to go back over all my other articles and see how they fared. Alas though, if I am going to post 40 articles this month I can’t go backwards, right?

Yay! Onward.

Also.. so glad for the directions about putting RSS on my My Space.. will do!

Chatty Kathy

Comment provided August 7, 2007 at 4:39 PM

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3

Are we to expect a follow-up set of directives next week, suggesting the best days of the week to write articles or even a preferred time of day?

In the fullness of time, will you provide advice on the correct calorie intake for an article writing and submission day?

I think if you applied these guidelines today, you would remove two thirds of your articles – there has to be room for creativity and I for one, will not have time to benchmark or qualify my work against such a rigorous and totally objective set of criteria, or as you will no doubt point out, “set of guidelines”

I rarely feel the need to challenge your viewpoint and remain a staunch supporter, but on this occasion, I feel you really are questioning our intelligence and our literary judgement?

JF

Comment provided August 7, 2007 at 5:02 PM

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4
Jan Verhoeff writes:

I can certainly appreciate a lesson in paragraph writing, and I often teach lessons in writing. The value of learning the proper way fo writing is worthy of a few repetitive lessons over time.

I’ve never been too focused on the conclusion of my articles, because it’s generally in the functional resource box.

My resource boxes have changed over time, however.

Life education? Could be…

Jan

Comment provided August 7, 2007 at 5:12 PM

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5
Lance Winslow writes:

3 to 7 sentences seems like a good standard for paragraphing. Perviously, I have read some writers of articles recommending 2-5 sentences per paragraph, which I have been trying to follow, although the 2 sentences per paragraph I always thought was too cheap, although I see so many online news articles with only two-sentences these days.

Comment provided August 7, 2007 at 5:39 PM

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6

Jonathan, my Paris friend…you are just so cutie. I have read your work, WONDERFUL, you have also been featured on these blogs. Well written or you would not have been featured.

The title to this one is

Paragraph Writing 101

I figure everyone in every single thing has a beginning. I also figure that learning never ends. How else do we grow if we don’t keep listening?

Chris.. with that said, I think that the directions about how to put a banner and RSS feed on My Space or anywhere else, should be written as if you were giving directions to 3rd graders. Beginners are out here as well. I think there should be step by step directions, then get a small child to see if they can follow through with your directions. What seems elementary to some is not to all. Yeah?

I write what I write sometimes, even to the point of making myself appear stupid, perhaps, because there are people who might be afraid to ask, simple to some questions.

Comment provided August 7, 2007 at 6:00 PM

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7

Kathy,

Can we keep our mutual appreciation quiet please?

Chris’s post bordered on the dictatorial and on reflection, he will appreciate this – creative people cannot adhere to confines: Shall I tell you a precise canvass space to use for your next piece?

Will I limit Lance to x number of thoughts over the next week?

We need less rules, not more and this is something I really feel strongly about – keep the guidelines in that section, don’t lecture intelligent people about article writing.

This is not personal, I like and respect Chris very much but just sometimes a post appears that fails to accept our IQ!!

Comment provided August 7, 2007 at 6:16 PM

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8
Lance Winslow writes:

Jonathan,

Well please DO NOT, limit me to the number of thoughts per week, I am working to break my average of 2.9 original thoughts, innovations or invention ideas per day. I wish to be a 5 original thoughts per day by mid 2008. So, I totally see your point. And then my other reaction to this is that by Chris providing suggestions, guidance or suggestions to bettering our writing or that of the new comers is an awesome feature of this site too.

Comment provided August 7, 2007 at 6:30 PM

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9

Hello Chris and everyone!

May I continue giving directions?

7) Remember that you have to have a purpose when you write and that this purpose is defined by the article’s title.

8) Change your title when you change subject while writing.

9) Choose a title that not only describes what you are writing about but that has chances to have a good ranking on Google among your competitors.

10) Be always objective and clear.

Comment provided August 7, 2007 at 6:48 PM

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10
Lance Winslow writes:

Christina,

Those are some excellent points, where were you when I only had written 10 articles?

Comment provided August 7, 2007 at 7:59 PM

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11

Jonathan, I agree with you to a point. Yet, a child (beginner) DOES need to learn to color within the lines and know that the sky is blue, first, before they can move on to understand abstracts. Rules assist in understanding how the illusion of said lines and sky present themselves, done purposely incorrect, actually become correct, creatively. Other examples, to me, would be jazz or poetry.

EzineArticles has wonderful authors. Are they ‘always’ wonderful? No. Is there room for rules that one can listen to or not? Yup.

I think creativity is something you are most honorably standing up for here though and I do really applaud that.

We probably agree, really, but maybe quibble on just how bright the blue, should be used, for the sky we all perceive.
~~*~~

Just watched the debate.. Yummy!

Comment provided August 7, 2007 at 8:14 PM

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12

Hi Lance! I was following Chris’ style.

Comment provided August 7, 2007 at 8:27 PM

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13
Edward Weiss writes:

Seems like a pretty liberal set of guidelines to me. I don’t find them constraining nor do I find them a roadblock to creative writing.

But … the real question is, will an EzineArticles editor disallow an article from going live because it lacks coherence or any of the above guidelines?

Comment provided August 7, 2007 at 8:34 PM

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14

I just wanted to give you all an art lesson, get out your paints. This has served me well. I only just learned this ‘rule’ about a year ago. Before that I struggled and paintings took longer and became muddy. I would fret and compain,

Why won’t my image pop?~!”

Yellow is the first color you see.. green being the last. This is not steadfast of course.. there are tones and shades and stuff to consider.. but If I wanted my main subject to pop? and I only had those two colors? Ohh knowing that rule would make me darn happy.

Yet, I paint by instinct and am a believer, like you Jonathan, that you cannot direct or set boundaries around the creative heart, lest they faint away.

It is all an oxymoron.

Comment provided August 7, 2007 at 9:19 PM

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15

Hi Edward! The above guidelines are a collection of obvious rules for writers but perhaps not as obvious for marketers. Chris here gives directions for those that don’t know how to write their articles, not for us.

Are we helping you in your arduous mission, Chris?

Comment provided August 7, 2007 at 9:27 PM

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16
Lance Winslow writes:

With all these great tips, it makes complex tasks as easy as riding a bicycle:

~~~ __o
~~~ _

Comment provided August 8, 2007 at 1:50 AM

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17

JF,

This blog entry was aimed at those who don’t know how to construct a paragraph. Amazingly, seems to be a high percentage of members that write paragraphs that don’t meet the basics.

Because I know yours does, this entry doesn’t apply to you. For your instructions, I command you to be creative and live, write and play by your own rules. :))

Kathy,

I’ll create a separate blog entry today on that topic.

Edward W,

Our editors currently accept paragraphs that lack coherence as long as the overall content adds value.

Comment provided August 8, 2007 at 7:40 AM

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18

OK, sounds fair enough to me :-)

JF

(PS – Aren’t you glad that I am only a grumpy old man on the first Tuesday of every month?)

Comment provided August 8, 2007 at 7:44 AM

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19

Great advice.

Organizing points into succinct, separate paragraphs is a must, otherwise the article is just a jumble of run-on thoughts. I see so many paragraphs in copywriting that are too long and that cover about five different points in one big chunk of text.

Even more important than writing in proper paragraphs is writing a good introductory paragraph. If you don’t get this particular paragraph right, readers aren’t even going to bother with the meat of the content. Catch their interest from the start, and you’ve got the makings of some good copywriting.

James

Comment provided August 8, 2007 at 7:50 AM

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20

Chris, I am glad you are doing a blog for RSS/MySpace because I had problems loading that.

I tried to install EzineArticles icon and my RSS EzineArticles url and it locked up my MySpace page. I got the icon to show but not the link to me. Even now, since I removed it, that page is FROZEN….Waaa!

I tried it all on my blog on MySpace.

The url with my name went to a page at EzineArticles that said it had been removed .. stand by for 3 seconds.. then went to EzineArticles homepage.

So I removed it.

WAAA!

See what I mean by step by step for third graders? Maybe I can be your official tester.. ha! and gads!

Comment provided August 8, 2007 at 12:13 PM

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21

James, was that an advertisement?

We do have guidelines about that sort of thing – mercifully.

If in doubt, Chris will advise.

JF

Comment provided August 8, 2007 at 12:23 PM

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22

JF,

I did see it and his link is ‘on topic’ enough for me to let it pass.

Comment provided August 8, 2007 at 12:32 PM

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23

Wow… talk about someone trying to whack my knuckles with a big stick for trying to communicate a point.

No, that wasn’t an advertisement, that was an honest comment on something that I agree with and a related subject that I felt tied in well to what Chris’s blog post was about.

If Chris felt it wasn’t appropriate, he would’ve deleted it. I’m also aware of link etiquette, and I do respect it as much as possible.

James

Comment provided August 8, 2007 at 12:44 PM

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24
Jan Verhoeff writes:

Writing sentence structure within a paragraph is interesting. I personally prefer the first sentence to state a fact, rather than be an active voice. This happens specifically when you use “to be” verbs.

While I don’t always follow this as a RULE, I do consider it when writing. Just as I consider three or more sentences, if they fit, I use them. If not, I don’t use them.

I’ve written many paragraphs with two sentences. Although my sentences could have been cut in half, I believe there are times when the resulting product improves the grammar.

Value in an article is not necessarily a result of good grammar. I’ve noticed many articles with excellent content that demand editing. Then there are those times when I reread my own work and run crying to the grammar teacher begging for forgiveness. Which reminds me of a quote she used to use in class, “None is perfect, such as I.”

Jan

Comment provided August 8, 2007 at 12:54 PM

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25

Silly Boy!

We are testing “the system” – what is acceptable and what is not. Don’t take it personally – you will learn to accept our sense of humour.

When we keep Chris on his toes and challenged, we know we are making a real contribution to this blog.

JF

Comment provided August 8, 2007 at 12:55 PM

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26

I believe all the difficulty relies in long paragraphs.
Why does someone prefer to write something in a very long paragraph instead of sharing the information in two or more?

Because all sentences of this paragraph are strongly related.
However, are big paragraphs indicated for articles?

No, because people prefer tips and ‚¬“easy to understand‚¬ texts. This is something I’m learning on article writing, while on long book’s writing long paragraphs are necessary.

I’m learning to share the information and say a little bit of everything instead of giving a lesson about each point and then explaining the most important part. In long books we can explain everything, but when writing articles we have to write only the solutions and the conclusions, without too many explanations.

When I write short 400 words articles I feel I wrote only the introduction to something! But they are preferred by many readers that only want to have a brief idea about the matter I’m talking about.

I still prefer long 1000 words articles though! I even wrote a free report with 4871 words very easily, when I learned we could write articles using 5000 words! With many words I can explain everything.
I love to explain everything, to give real knowledge, not only a sample!

Comment provided August 8, 2007 at 1:33 PM

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27

It’s not that people want to have brief ideas on a given subject, it’s that people want fast, applicable information they can put to use right now to solve their problem.

Remember that most people are surfing for answers. They aren’t looking for the “why”; they want the “how to”.

Think of it this way: If I had a horse that bit me (the problem), I’d sure want him to stop – and fast (the solution I go searching for). Once I find what I want (the how to article on stopping a horse from biting), then I can sit back and listen to the explanations about why that horse started biting me in the first place. Or sell him :)

James

Comment provided August 8, 2007 at 1:41 PM

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28

Thank you James! Your definition is perfect!

Comment provided August 8, 2007 at 1:54 PM

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29
Chinmay Chakravarty writes:

Very refreshing discussion. Pl continue.

Just one thought. Why restrice paras to 2-5 or 2-7 sentences? Depending on the writer’s style and creative flow and type of content at times there may be several one line paras. Or it can be more than 7 lines.

Comment provided August 9, 2007 at 2:29 AM

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30

One line paragraphs aren’t effective for proper reading.

A sentence that is a paragraph isn’t a paragraph; it’s a sentence on its own.

Would you like to read a whole document laid out in this fashion?

I would prefer not to read one-liner content, thanks.

As far as long paragraphs, breaking them up makes for easier reading. People skim and scan quickly, leaping down the page to focus on what they want to know, then leaping again. Short paragraphs helps them read more effectively. They also help snag a readers’ attention.

Comment provided August 9, 2007 at 5:47 AM

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31
Vern writes:

Hi Writers,

how is it going ?

I think Chris made a point and
while paragrahping is now my
habit, there are just a few points
to be able to share with everyone.

1. You can break into smaller paragraphs
but just remember that you could vary
your article by writing small one-liners
“sparingly”.

This is like pepper on the soup.

2. The introduction has to be
lined on your main theme. I got
a little confused earlier about
what Chris shared but then this is
what he actually would have wanted us
to know.

3. Lastly, yeah you can write fluff and
fill out all those paragraphs but I try
to keep my sentences short because
that would be easy to read.

Plus, when you do this your readers
will know you want to get your point
across and not be a real ‘chatty person’ only.

Kudos and keep charging guys!

Regards,
Vern

P.S. Chris, are you going to have an
advanced article writing lesson for us
here soon?

Comment provided August 9, 2007 at 6:48 AM

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32

I love the quality of many of the commentors in this discussion because you flush out the issues, spank each other around when needed, and there is an intent to move the discussion forward with a positive tone.

One acid-test thought on paragraphs that are 8 or more sentences each: Are they really easy to read by your reader?

Single sentence paragraphs are ok once in a while, but I’ve seen complete articles that were nothing more than single sentence paragraphs and it was hard to read. Looked more like a sales pitch… ohh, and I agree with James: Single sentence paragraphs are not paragraphs… semantics. :)

Comment provided August 9, 2007 at 8:09 AM

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33
Jan Verhoeff writes:

Editorial gaffaw!

Today is the day, I have a writer’s group meeting for professional writers over breakfast at least once a mont, sometimes more often. This month that meeting was today – so I printed off this post and took it in for reveiw.

Understand, these folks all write professionally for one kind of genre or anothe. All of them have excellent grammar, and have perfected self-editing (if that’s possible). Their skills demand excellent salaries or contract pay, and most of them work for professional field positions.

Today’s assignment was: Write a paragraph that sums up the topic of how to write a paragraph.

Here are three:

1. Paragraphs are made up of word dynamics that reveal intentional placement in the story. First sentences structure the paragraph. Middle sentences offer meat and information. Last sentences sum it all up and regurgitate it for common understanding.

2. Like all good literature a quality paragraph begins with purpose. The middle of a paragraph includes supporting information including values and interests. The end of the paragraph includes the conclusion, which either proves of disproves the first sentence.

3. A paragraph is a complete thought. It encompasses the thought and gives body and substace to the story. Each sentence in the paragraph supports other sentences and gives depth to the purpose of your statement. Sentences need not be long but must include fundamental grammar and sustinance.

Notice – each paragraph is 3 sentences long, include both complex and simple sentences, and encourage paragraph formation.

Jan (who can’t type OR talk this morning)

Comment provided August 9, 2007 at 9:41 AM

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34

Jan,

You know you’re a writing geek, I mean professional, when you attend writer’s group meetings over breakfast.

Your 3 are perfect!

Comment provided August 9, 2007 at 10:12 AM

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35
Mansi writes:

I agree with Jan…though I’d like to add that paragraphs should be short, yet cover the entire content of your thought. You don’t have to break your line of thought into 2 paragraphs, but at the same time, no point in meanering and rambling about the same thing just to increase the length of your para!

-Mansi

Comment provided August 16, 2007 at 2:29 PM

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36
Jan Verhoeff writes:

Chris, I’m SUCH a writing geek!

You may toss this off the board, but I’m going to toss it out there anyways. There’s a local event called The WRITE FAIR in Lamar, Colorado at the Shore Arts Center Saturday (August 18th) from 8 AM until 5 PM. This event is for local writers, but we have space for several more, and it only cost $35.00 a person. If you happen to be in Southeastern Colorado, come on over, join us for coffee and donuts, meet some more writer geeks like me and have a great time learning about publication and how not to write run on sentences like this one. I’m MCing the event, so you’ll even get to meet me.

Jan

Comment provided August 16, 2007 at 3:41 PM

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37
Lance Winslow writes:

It is great to see writers getting together, I am working on a plan to have regional online article writer groups that meet once per week at a local bookstore or coffee shop. These would be set up like our Online Think Tank groups; online and actual meetings.

It would be cool if these groups could then use the EzineArticle Forum to post ideas that they come up with. My thoughts are to get the secluded Internet Writers and Article Author Marketers together socially to share success, improve their writing (yes paragraphing too) and learn from one another to become more efficient, improve quality and have fun doing it.

Anyway this is a thought I have been thinking of for a long time and every article author I have met seems to agree, as there are writer’s groups that meet in bookstores and such, but no real groups that meet for Online Article Niches that are regional or local.

Comment provided August 16, 2007 at 3:48 PM

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38
Scott wiseman writes:

It is great to have a plan when writing articles. Also planning your content to related to the site you are writing for helps as well. I know many article writers have found that they will learn more about the subject by writing about it. My grandmother Ruth Turk wrote 22 novels. Look her up she is famous on amazon. She passed on last year but her work lives on.

Scott Wiseman
Psuedo content writer and

computer networking
professional

Comment provided August 17, 2007 at 10:46 AM

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39
Janice Manning writes:

Hi, All:

This is my first post.

Because I am a writer and editor, paragraph and document structure are a couple of my pet peeves. Yup, they’re right up there with misspelled, missing or double words. All that came to me by way of my favorite English and Creative Writing professor in college.

All these comments on paragraph structure reminded me of my first college Creative Writing class. After instructing us in the proper structure of paragraphs and essays, the professor handed each of us an essay from a student who took the class previously. Names were crossed out for each one.

I didn’t know what to make of the one I was given, because I had to read through 2 of the 5 pages before I found the thesis statement! UGH!

Of course, “the world” is nothing like college, but I still got all over my best friend’s case for his lack of sentence and paragraph structure.

Therefore, to JF, as advanced as we all may be here, sometimes a “stroll down memory lane” can make all the difference between a good piece and a great one.

To Jan: I loved your paragraphs, especially the last one. While they all expressed essentially similar ideas, that one spoke my language.

Cheers, and Happy New Year, all.

Comment provided December 28, 2007 at 5:18 AM

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