I’m trying to review more, which is nice because it means reading more! Still, I’m stumbling on something that keeps coming up. I know it must be a style thing, but I don’t actually see how paragraphs and paragraph lengths are style rather than organization.

My organization stinks. It’s a major thing I need to work on if I work on any more non-fiction books. I actively lament that I didn’t have another month or two to rearrange Blessed more. (On the other hand, I daresay I’ll never have newborn twins in a NICU during a writing project!)

Still, I typically stick with short/shorter paragraphs. You know, have a topic sentence and one major idea per paragraph. It’s how I was taught (or presumed, who knows).

Academic writing seems to have crazy long paragraphs to me. I scan the page and get annoyed. Which I shouldn’t, because I am surely no expert on academic writing or academics in general.

What am I missing? I’m confident there is no rule that one paragraph in academic writing requires an entire body of argument, proof, etc.

Is it a matter of prioritization? How “big” of a topic sentence you’ll have? Is it some element of formality that was glossed over in my education? Or is it “conversational” in the sense that it mimics lectures?

I used to daydream about editing. I’m not sure I could do it anymore, and that is mostly because my pet peeves are not necessarily rule-based—such as this one.

Can anyone explain this to me?

I’ll also throw in a random tip: to get over annoyance at super long sentences, I honestly tell myself its probably influenced by German or an ancient language. That seems to substantiate the practice for me.


Filed under Writer Troubles

2 Responses to Paragraphs

  1. The focus isn’t solely on academic writing, but Grammar Girl makes some good observations here:

    I suspect that much of the impetus to write huge paragraphs comes from fear. Some fear breaking the “rules.” Many writers were taught by a well-meaning teacher that it’s necessary that every paragraph needs a mini-thesis followed by supports and data. Every paragraph should be there for a reason, but paragraphs don’t have to stand alone, and no one paragraph has to carry the full burden. Much like sentences, they work best in teams and with variety.

    Others fear that readers won’t be able to follow their related points if they’re broken into separate paragraphs. Usually, this doesn’t give readers enough credit. They’re smart people. They’re reading what that author wrote after all! Likely, the author could break it up instantly and make it a faster, easier to digest reading experience. And if the text doesn’t connect when broken into paragraphs at least once or twice a page, it probably doesn’t read well enough in a single paragraph either. That means it’s revision time.

    Extending that idea, super long paragraphs can be a result of unintentional laziness. On one hand, if a fifteen-sentence masterpiece is truly all one unwavering idea, shouldn’t be possible to express that idea in seven or eight sentences. On the other, if there are nuances and sub-points within the idea, why not break it up?

    Writers of fiction know that the first and last sentences of chapters are prime territory for getting extra attention from the reader. The same is true for the beginning and end of each paragraph in non-fiction. Trust your writing to make your points. Then, use your paragraph breaks as tools to highlight those most important moments.

    • Excellent comment. Makes me wish that I had more formal, old-school education, to be honest. 🙂 So my own paragraph length could be determined by educated choice rather than my strong preference.

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