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How to Write a Paragraph in 2019 (Yes, the Rules Have Changed)

Writing is tricky.

The same piece of content that earns you an A+ on your midterm
would be marked as spam or deleted from a blog editor’s

Why is that?

Well, one reason is what constitutes a good paragraph differs
from medium to medium.

How to write a paragraph for your college professor is different
than writing a paragraph for a popular blog.

The good news?

In this post, you’ll learn the differences. We’ll go over
paragraph writing for the digital age, and we’ll touch on the
basics you need to know for school, magazines, and such.

But first, let’s look at why the rules for paragraph structure
have changed…

Why Paragraph Writing Changed in the Digital Age

The main reason for the paragraph’s evolution is the way we
consume media.

When we’re online, an onslaught of ads, pop-up notifications,
cat videos, and vapid celebrity gossip are all competing for our

As a result, writers have had to adapt.

Shorter paragraphs. More transitional words
and phrases
. Variation in rhythm.

Consider the drastic differences between this teacher-pleasing
page from Habits of a Happy
(affiliate link) and this online article by Tomas
reviewing the same book:

Contrast Paragraphs in a book vs. online article.

In short:

When we open a book or magazine, we’re usually at home or
somewhere quiet. We’ll set aside some time and give it our full

But online, we scan content and decide, within seconds, whether
to stay or go.

To survive in digital media, writers have to account for shorter
attention spans and increased competition.

So, now that we understand the why, let’s look at the how.

The Rules of the 2019 Paragraph Rule #1. In Digital Media, Short
Paragraphs are Mandatory

Online, one of the easiest ways to instantly turn off your
audience is to present them with a big wall of text that has few
breaks and little white space.

We have adapted to expect and prefer paragraphs that are short
because they look and feel easier to read. Short paragraphs are
easier to scan, and they allow readers to consume the article in
bite-sized chunks, which helps maintain their focus.

Consider, for example, the ease with which you can read the
introduction to this article by Mel

Easy to read introductions

Yes, Mel Wicks uses empathetic language and
easy-to-read prose, which no doubt enhances her clarity. But you
can’t ignore the sense you get just by glancing at her article
that it will be an easy read.

This is the effect short paragraphs have on readers.

In the above article, Mel’s introduction has ten paragraphs.
The longest paragraph is 42 words, and seven of them have only 12
words or less.

So, what’s the new standard? How long is a paragraph in

Well, in digital media your average paragraph should be between
two and four lines. You can go over and under — some paragraphs
are just one powerful word long
— but stay close to that average and you should be fine.

Paragraph Length in Print Media (Or, How Many Sentences are in
a Paragraph?)

The length of paragraphs in school papers, books, magazines, and
other print media is a bit larger.

How much larger?

It’s no longer the hard-and-fast rule it used to be, but
writing paragraphs of three-to-five sentences remains the standard

Rule #2. Rhythm Dictates the Next Paragraph

Rhythm is the new arbiter of words. It determines where
paragraphs end and where new ones begin.

Rhythm in writing is hard to teach. It’s not an exact science
and doesn’t follow hard rules.

The more experienced you become as a writer, the more you’ll
develop your rhythm.
But in the meantime, you can follow these basic guidelines for when
to start a new paragraph:

1. Variation

While you want to keep your paragraphs short in digital media,
every paragraph doesn’t have to be (or need to be) short.

In fact, switching between short and long paragraphs will make
your writing sing.

Here are a few noteworthy rules of thumb. You don’t have to
follow these perfectly, but they’re worth remembering:

If you just wrote one or two paragraphs that are four lines or
more, shorten the next few paragraphs.
If you just wrote one or two paragraphs that are only one line,
lengthen your next few paragraphs.
And if you just wrote three to four paragraphs of similar
length, shorten or lengthen your next paragraph.

Too many same-sized paragraphs in a row will bore your reader.
It doesn’t matter if it’s too many small paragraphs or too many
long paragraphs.

Consider this excerpt from Jon Morrow’s post on earning passive income

Balance short and long paragraphs.

See how he perfectly balances between short and long

Now imagine if the same excerpt was structured this way:

The reason I put “passive income” in quotes is I think the
term is a little misleading.

Almost nothing is totally passive.

While you may not personally be doing any work to receive the
money, someone is.

And there’s usually at least a little bit of management

For instance, I’ve gone on record saying this blog averages
over $100,000 per month.

From that total, about $60,000 of it is technically “passive

Even though all of these paragraphs are short, this text feels

Too many short paragraphs make a reader feel like they’re on
a rollercoaster
ride with no destination
— they’re moving fast but they
quickly get confused about where they’re going.

Ultimately, you want to guide your reader. And the only way to
do that effectively is to recognize when your reader needs a few
short paragraphs, a long one, or a bit of both.

Paragraph Variation in Print Media

Varying the length of your paragraphs in school papers, magazine
articles, and books isn’t a commonly-discussed writing method,
but it’s good practice.

Whether it’s your teacher or professor, a magazine subscriber,
or a bookworm; every reader appreciates variation. Try to mix up
the length of your paragraphs.

It’s a small change that can have a big impact.

2. Topic

While topic was once the ultimate indicator of paragraph change,
it is now one of many. Topic is still critical for
. If you change paragraphs at a topically awkward time,
the split disturbs the reader.

Take, for example, this excerpt from Liz Longacre’s article:

Blogging is a battle.

A war to get your ideas the attention they deserve.

Your enemy? The dizzying array of online distractions that
devour your readers.

This battle is not for the faint of heart.

There are so many learning curves. Plugins you’ll need to
install. Social networks you’ll need to employ. Marketing
techniques you’ll need to try.

Imagine these paragraphs were structured like this instead

Blogging is a battle.

A war to get your ideas the attention they deserve.

Your enemy? The dizzying array of online distractions that
devour your readers.

This battle is not for the faint of heart. There are so many
learning curves.

Plugins you’ll need to install. Social networks you’ll need
to employ. Marketing techniques you’ll need to try.

Notice the difference in how you read the original paragraph
versus the variation.

In the original, the last paragraph tactfully emphasizes the
difficulty of learning how to start a
. But in the variation, you take a mental pause between
“There are so many learning curves” and “Plugins you’ll
need to install.”

And it feels off, doesn’t it?

The last three sentences are examples of learning curves, which
means they are topically linked to the phrase introducing them
(“There are so many learning curves”).

In digital media, readers still expect topics will — for the
most part — stick with each other.

Paragraph Topics in Schools, Colleges, and Universities

Topics play an even more important role in print media;
specifically, in academia where each paragraph has an introduction
and conclusion.

In school, we’re taught to use the following paragraph

Topic sentence (the overarching idea of the

Supporting sentences that provide detail to
support the paragraph’s idea;

Concluding sentence to repeat and/or reinforce
the topic sentence.

Here’s how it looks in practice:

Pizza is the world’s most versatile food. If you hate
vegetables, you can get pizza overflowing with different meats. If
you’re a vegetarian, you can get pizza with onions and peppers.
And if you’re daring (and a little crazy), you can get pizza with
anchovies and pineapples. Name the topping, and you can probably
put it on a pizza.

The first sentence (topic sentence) tells the reader what to
expect in the paragraph. The next three sentences (the supporting
sentences) support the topic sentence by providing additional
information. And the last sentence (the concluding sentence) wraps
the paragraph up in a bow by mirroring the topic sentence.

3. Emphasis

Short paragraphs naturally add emphasis.

They can be used to highlight ideas you want the reader to take
note of, but they can also be used for dramatic effect.

For example, check out Jon’s introduction to How to Start a Blog
in 2019: Research Reveals 20X Faster Method

What if I told you there’s a new strategy for how to start a
blog and make money, that’s 20X faster, requires no software or
technical expertise, and costs absolutely nothing up front? You’d
think there must be some hidden catch, right?

But there’s not. It’s totally real.

asks the reader a question with a long paragraph.
And then, for emphasis, he adds: “But there’s not. It’s
totally real.”

This paragraph conveys a dramatic turn of events. The shortness
of the paragraph emphasizes this.

The longer paragraph preps the reader for the punch, and the
short paragraph brings it home.

You don’t always have to go from a long paragraph to a short
paragraph to create emphasis. You can also use a gradual decline in
word count and finish with your main point. This builds the
reader up to the punchline

Here’s another example, taken from The Brutally
Honest Guide To Being Brutally Honest

The author, Josh Tucker, decreases wordcount over three
relatively short paragraphs to bring attention to his final
sentence: “How you end the discussion can make all the

Use paragraph length as a tool in writing.

Think of paragraph length in the same way you think about the
rest of your writing. Your word choice, sentence length, and
paragraph structure all have a massive impact on what your article

Paragraph Emphasis in Print Media

The need to emphasize points in your content isn’t just for
digital media. It’s great for academia and print media too.

Ultimately, paragraph emphasis is up to the creativity of the
. Paragraph length is simply one tool at
your disposal.

Another tool is italicizing or underline words in your content.
Just be sure not to overdo it.

If you use too many italics or underlines, they can overwhelm
your readers. Plus, they’ll eventually lose effectiveness.

Writing a Paragraph Readers Will Love Isn’t Hard

Not anymore, anyway.

Despite the difficulty in grabbing the attention of today’s
digital readers, you now know how to turn visitors into content
absorbers by crafting easy-to-read paragraphs — paragraphs that
are short, rhythmic, and varied.

And, you now know a few pointers for what it takes to craft
content teachers, professors, and editors in print media will

Know your audience, and know how paragraphs should be
constructed for said audience.

Do that and you’re golden.

Readers will appreciate your courteous writing and — dare I
say? — they’ll keep coming back for more.

About the Author: Lover of all things
communication — speaking, writing, and listening — Mike is
currently the founder of MB Content where he helps businesses
create significant, consistent and valuable pieces of content. You
can see more of his work at Carrot, follow him on Twitter, or join his email
list for entrepreneurs at Booktrep.

The post How to Write a
Paragraph in 2019 (Yes, the Rules Have Changed)
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