300 Days of Better Writing

June 8, 2010

How Many Sentences in a Paragraph?

How many sentences should a paragraph contain? Previously, we discussed one-sentence paragraphs and the 3 essential components in paragraphs (i.e., context, content, and conclusion). Other than the one-sentence paragraph, a paragraph generally contains 3 to 7 sentences. But this is only a general rule of thumb.

The overall guidelines for paragraphs are these:

  1. The paragraph must be about one, and only one, idea.
  2. Everything in the paragraph must be about the one idea.
  3. The paragraph must link to prior and next paragraphs.

How the guidelines determine paragraph length:

These three guidelines give you a lot of flexibility on length. The complexity of the central idea will, ultimately, determine how many sentences you need. More complex or broad ideas will need more content to discuss them, while very narrow ideas will need only a few.

As an analogy, think about a branch on a tree. The central idea is the main branch. The supporting ideas and discussion are the leaves that grow from the branch. If you extend this analogy a bit, you see how branches (i.e., ideas) are connected to each other.

Some paragraphs are quite long because, for the purpose of this analogy, the author chose a big branch that has smaller branches growing from it. Some are quite short because the author chose the smallest identifiable branch.

Focus on your ideas, not paragraph length.

Here’s my recommendation. Follow the guidelines above, and don’t worry about the paragraph length. Focus on the structure and content of the paragraph, and the length will be appropriate.

(This is the tip for day 169 in 300 Days of Better Writing, also available at Hostile Editing in PDF and Kindle formats.

For a sample of 300 Days of Better Writing and other books by Precise Edit, download the free ebook.)

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