April 28, 2017

Quotes on paragraph length

What writers and others say

Quotes on paragraph length

“A four-word paragraph after one of 64 words can pack a punch.”
— Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar, The Poynter Institute, in Writing Tools

“The paragraph is essentially a unit of thought, not of length. … A succession of very short ones is as irritating as very long ones are wearisome.”
— H.W. Fowler, British grammarian, in Modern English Usage

“The purpose of paragraphing is to give the reader a rest. The writer is saying to him: ‘Have you got that? If so, I’ll go on to the next point.’”
— H.W. Fowler, British grammarian, in Modern English Usage

“Paragraphing is also a matter of the eye. A reader will address himself more readily to his task if he sees from the start that he will have breathing-spaces from time to time than if what is before him looks like a marathon course.”
— H.W. Fowler, British grammarian, in Modern English Usage

“Three-bowler: number of bowls of oatmeal your readers fall asleep in while reading your lead.”
— Cynthia Gorney, former Washington Post reporter

“The last word in a paragraph, chapter, or story should slam the door. Search for crisp final words with single syllables and hard consonants. Can you substitute ‘beat’ for ‘rhythm,’ as I did at the end of the first suggestion on the list? Can you figure out a way to end on a word like ‘click,’ ‘dupe,’ ‘pit,’ or ‘dead’?”
— Jack Hart, managing editor of The Oregonian, in A Writer’s Coach

“Automatically hitting the return at every period is a sad substitute for purposeful story organization.”
— Paula LaRocque, author of Championship Writing

“There were phrases that made her hold her breath. Sentences that seemed to fly from the page. Whole paragraphs that held and then scattered the light: each word strung on a thread, each word a diamond.”
— Hilary Mantel, novelist, in A Place of Greater Safety

“Paragraphs are the vocal inflections of the written word. Good writers vary the length of their paragraphs to show the reader what’s important. Some paragraphs will be 3-5 sentences, but every once in a while, they’ll throw in a one-sentence paragraph in order to emphasize a particular point. It stands out, and it tells the reader to pay attention.
“Try it for yourself.”
— Jon Morrow, associate editor of Copyblogger and co-founder of Partnering Profits

“The bottom line is that stories with shorter paragraphs got more than twice as many overall eye fixations than those with longer paragraphs. These data suggest that the longer-paragraph format discourages reading and that short-paragraph format overwhelmingly encourages reading.”
The Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack III study

“The first bite is taken with the eyes.”
— Anita Roddick, founder and CEO of The Body Shop

“An effective lead paragraph is usually either one or two sentences. Once you get to three or more, it just looks like you don’t know where the Enter key is.”
— Chris Smith, senior lead communications specialist, Entergy Communications

“The eye and the ear lie down together.”
— William Carlos Williams, American modernist poet

“Don’t get carried away with super-short paragraphs. The secret to one-sentence paragraphs is to use them like a spice: A pinch of cumin can make a meal more savory, but I don’t want to eat a plateful of the stuff.”
— Ann Wylie, writing coach and author of RevUpReadership.com

“If your paragraph is too long, you might as well stamp it with red ink: ‘Don’t bother reading this paragraph.’”
— Ann Wylie, writing coach and author of RevUpReadership.com

“Long paragraphs are a visual predictor that a story won’t work. You must cut the meat into little pieces.”
— Jon Ziomek, professor at the Medill School of Journalism
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