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Short Paragraphs Attract - Long Paragraphs Intimidate

Steve Osborne
 


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Paragraphs are wonderful writing tools. They help organize text into succinct units of ideas and information. They also add visual relief by inserting white space into the document and breaking up the text, making it more inviting to the reader.

Too many writers fail to take advantage of these benefits by making their paragraphs too long. Long paragraphs typically bring pieces of text together that would be better off separated for organizational purposes. They also create long chunks of text that intimidate readers. (If you want your readers not to read something, bury it in a long paragraph. )

Look at the following magazine article excerpt. . . .

If you could go to a doctor and get a prescription for the maladies of big city living, that prescription would be Orofino, Idaho.

Sick of bumping into people everywhere you go, fighting traffic, waiting in long lines? Tired of being trapped in a suffocating environment of asphalt, brick and concrete? Frustrated with the hectic pace of a life that's insulated from the natural rhythms of nature?

Take a dose of Orofino. You'll feel much better very soon.

That's because Orofino (Spanish for “fine gold") is the gold standard in small-town, western America. The community has all the potential of becoming a full-blown travel destination like Jackson, Wyoming, but has not yet lost its innocence. It remains untainted and real.

Now check out the same text, this time packed together into a single paragraph. . . .

If you could go to a doctor and get a prescription for the maladies of big city living, that prescription would be Orofino, Idaho. Sick of bumping into people everywhere you go, fighting traffic, waiting in long lines? Tired of being trapped in a suffocating environment of asphalt, brick and concrete? Frustrated with the hectic pace of a life that's insulated from the natural rhythms of nature? Take a dose of Orofino. You'll feel much better very soon. That's because Orofino (Spanish for “fine gold") is the gold standard in small-town, western America. The community has all the potential of becoming a full-blown travel destination like Jackson, Wyoming, but has not yet lost its innocence. It remains untainted and real.

Which treatment is more appealing to you? If you're like the vast majority of people, you found the multi-paragraph version much easier to read - more visually inviting. The white spaces attract the eye, breaking up the information into bite-size pieces. (This applies even if you're using the paragraph format with indented first lines and no lines between paragraphs. ) The multi-paragraph approach also allowed for more careful organization of the information the author was trying to convey, and let him visually pop out the “Take a dose of Orofino. . . . " statement, giving it more impact.

One word of caution: Don't go overboard with this! I have seen whole pages filled with long strings of tiny, one- or two-sentence paragraphs. I found myself hungering for a longer paragraph to break things up. A variety of paragraph sizes simply looks better, so don't be afraid to throw longer ones into your manuscript occasionally, as long as they make sense from an organizational standpoint.

Steve Osborne is author of “Writing Tips for the Real World, " a blog at http://www.thewritersbag.com

He is an award-winning freelance writer and writing instructor. His blog teaches writing tips, techniques and strategies designed to help people from all walks of life turn the written word into a powerful success tool in their careers and personal lives.

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