Take a tip from the Times and keep paragraphs short
Quick! Which of these paragraphs would you rather read? This 11-word paragraph, from The New York Times?
Or this 146-word paragraph from an Amazon release?
Paragraphs are visual cues.
That’s the problem with long paragraphs: Readers make decisions about your message based not on what you said or on how well you said it but on what it looks like after you’ve said it.
And paragraph length is one of your message’s most important visual cues.
“Long paragraphs are a visual predictor that a story won’t work,” says Jon Ziomek, associate professor at the Medill School of Journalism.
So how long is too long for a paragraph?
Write like the Times.
We turned to The New York Times to find out. We analyzed 99 stories in a single edition of the paper. (We skipped the sports pages.) On that day, the Times’ average paragraph length:
- Ranged from 9.6 words long (“Turning #IllRideWithYou Into Real-World Action in Australia”) to 67.5 words long (“Russia: NATO Voices Aviation Protest”).
- Averaged 36 words per paragraph.
- Weighed in at a median of 37 words per paragraph.
Why are PR paragraphs so long?
PR pros: Take a tip from the Times and make your paragraphs short and sweet. Avoid long PR paragraphs like this 108-word paragraph from an SBA release:
And this 126-word paragraph from Fabletics:
Make ’em punchy.
While you’re at it, why not break up your copy with some super-short paragraphs like these from the Times, which weigh in at …
… 16 words
… 14 words
… 13 words
… 12 words
… 11 words
… 9 words
Now, that’s a paragraph that goes down easy.
What’s your average paragraph length?