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What they do

Paragraphs create white space on the page. This space gives the reader a moment to breathe and signals that you are moving on to a new point.

Give me a break!

The reader needs a break after every idea.

How long is too long?

A paragraph is a sentence or group of sentences that deal with a single point, idea, or theme. There is no minimum or maximum sentence limit.

The shortest paragraph is a single sentence: if you can say all you need to say about a topic in one sentence, why would you write any more?

As paragraphs become longer, the reader eventually gets too tired to keep trudging through1. When your paragraph starts to reach a half a page in length, it's usually time to look critically at its length.

Paragraphs are often too long because

  1. they are too wordy
  2. they contain more than one point

Topic Sentences

Paragraphs start with topic sentences in English. These sentences serve a purpose: they tell readers what to expect in the paragraph.

Topic sentence

The reader should understand what the paragraph is about from the first sentence. The rest of the sentences in that paragraph should support the topic given in the first sentence.

For example:

There are three main limitations to our research.
First, ...
Second, ...
Third, ...

Strunk and White tell us

Again, the object is to aid the reader. The practice here recommended enables him to discover the purpose of each paragraph as he begins to read it, and to retain the purpose in mind as he ends it. For this reason, the most generally useful kind of paragraph, particularly in exposition and argument, is that in which

  • the topic sentence comes at or near the beginning;
  • the succeeding sentences explain or establish or develop the statement made in the topic sentence; and
  • the final sentence either emphasizes the thought of the topic sentence or states some important consequence.

Why does this work?

A shorter paragraph allows readers to focus on smaller bits of information at one time. It lightens the reader's mental burden so they can devote more mental energy to the content. A clear topic sentence tells the reader what they will be focusing on in the sentences to come2 so that they can comfortably read through the paragraph.

How important is it?

On a scale of 1-10, it's a 7: important. Writing shorter paragraphs with clear topic sentences will help your reader find the information that they are looking for more quickly. Are you having trouble structuring paragraphs? Ask for help!

Reader Expectations
Given to new principle


  1. So if you want your reader to keep reading, give them shorter paragraphs.

  2. In other words, a clear topic sentence sets the reader's expectations!