My friend Grrly Grl recently read a blog post which contained the entire post in a single “paragraph”. She told me it was hard to read, that it was hard to focus on what the writer meant, and that it was hard to keep her place on the page. She asked me to do a post on paragraphs; what they are and how to write them properly.
I had a few ideas on what was right and wrong in the writing of paragraphs, but before publishing them, I decided to do some fact-checking. Good thing, too, as I discovered that some of my thoughts were incorrect.
Grammarly Handbook says that the general rule is to break a paragraph when it has completely developed the topic sentence. However, some topics being more complicated than others, if you need more than five or six sentences, find a logical place for a break.
About.com had some interesting things to say on what most people incorrectly believe are the rules of paragraph writing, especially as it concerns essay writing. (Essay writing is a totally different art form than research papers, nonfiction, poetry, and fiction writing, which are also distinct from each other.) One of the debunked rules is that a paragraph must contain between three and five sentences, and another is to never begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and or but. Go read the article for some eye-opening information.
I think the best advice I’ve heard on paragraph structure came from my daughter’s 7th grade teacher. “A sentence contains a thought; a paragraph contains an idea, but never write a paragraph longer than you can read aloud in a single breath.”