Is there really one? I’m guessing that in English class, if you’re in the 3rd grade there is. But let’s think about some modern literature… How about Frank McCourt‘s Angela’s Ashes. It’s one of the best books I ever read, and it had the very worst paragraphing and punctuation in the world. It’s an effect, and for that book, it worked extraordinarily well. I love all of McCourt’s books, but when I first opened that one, I balked, and I’m guessing lots of other people did, too, because in later editions, the paragraphing is proper.

Frank McCourt at New York City's Housing Works...

Image via Wikipedia

That’s how most people feel if your paragraphing is off.  Weird. They might look at your work, and no matter how great it is, they won’t read it because it looks too damned hard to read.

You need white space.

Single sentence or ever one-word paragraphs give you that.

But you might not know where to begin and end a paragraph, either. Here are Pat’s rule-of-thumb paragraph rules:

1. Always start a new paragraph when you start a new topic.

2. If you want to use a short or one-word or -sentence paragraph, do it for effect. Make sure that sentence or word is important or catchy or has a reason for being.

3. Never allow paragraphs to be more than about 5-6 lines. When they are, the text looks too chunky and hard to read.

4. Forget everything your 3rd-grade teacher taught you.

5. Write for your audience and forget everything else.

6. Make sure that if readers did no more than read the first sentence of each paragraph, that they’d understand what you were trying to say.


Those rules are very contrary to the ones you learned in grade school, I’m sure. They went like this:

1. Create a topic sentence.

2. Create an explanatory sentence or sentences.

3. Create a closing sentence.

Now, in a perfect world, that’s a method for creating paragraphs that you can hold onto. Just don’t hold too tightly. Be ready to break the rules! And allow your readers to enjoy what you’ve written.

What do you think?

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