|(Originally published August 2017) Sometimes it’s not worth re-inventing the wheel, like this week when I was all set to write about paragraphs and then I read this post on the topic.* Rather than rehash what Mike Blankenship so eloquently said, I’ll sum it up for you below (with his new advice, as his post is recently updated)…
In brief, Mike says long paragraphs don’t work in digital. Instead, you need to follow some “new rules”:
- New Rule #1: Write shorter paragraphs. Not always, mind you, as you’ll see in rule #2, but sometimes. Readers tend to scan what they see on a screen. Shorter paragraphs break up your copy and make scanning easier.
- New Rule #2: His updated version says Rule #2 is “Rhythm dictates the next paragraph,” but that’s a little convoluted. I like his old advice better: Mix shorter paragraphs with longer ones. When you use all short paragraphs, your writing looks and reads staccato-like. When you use only long ones, you intimidate the reader with your lack of white space.
- And his Rule #3, went away but he still covers it so I’ll leave this as is: Stay on topic but feel free to break up the topic. Remember in school when you were taught one topic per paragraph? The new rules say you can break a long paragraph into two or more shorter ones, even if they cover the same topic. However, each paragraph, no matter how short, still should be focused on just one topic!
This approach is probably not appropriate for longer pieces such as reports and proposals. It might even raise a few eyebrows if you used one-sentence paragraphs in documents like those! But these “new rules” offer a technique you could use in emails and chat to help people easily scan—and understand—your message. And make you a better writer too.
These “new rules” offer a technique you could use in emails and chat to help people easily scan your message.
*OK, so on other days, I did write more about paragraphs…a lot more. For more advice on paragraphs, learn ways to make your paragraphs seamlessly flow, and get in-depth advice with plenty of examples to show you how to master paragraph transitions!