A DWT reader, exasperated by an online newspaper article formatted as eleven one-sentence “paragraphs,” asks for a definition of “paragraph” and wants to know how long a paragraph should be.
A paragraph is a unit of thought that develops an idea. A traditional paragraph contains a topic sentence that states the idea to be developed, plus additional sentences that develop the idea stated by the topic sentence.
A newspaper lead (or lede if you prefer) can do its job in one sentence, but with few exceptions, a paragraph will contain more than one sentence. The OWL site, aimed at college students, suggests a length of from three to five or more sentences.
We all know that online writing calls for techniques different from those of the print media. Web readers do not tolerate long expanses of text. They expect short paragraphs, subheads, and bulleted lists. Nevertheless, they require the organization and coherence that paragraphs provide.
The article that prompted this post is an instructive example of a badly-organized piece which would have benefited from placing related ideas in paragraphs. Take a look and see what you think.