Paragraphs - Some Frequently Asked Questions
1. How Many Sentences Make a Paragraph?
There isn't a fixed answer to this one. Different kinds of writing use different length paragraphs. At one extreme, a tabloid newspaper tends to use very short paragraphs, and it often makes each sentence a separate paragraph of its own. In academic writing, of course, you shouldn't do this - unless you want your essay to read like something from the Sun or the Daily Star. At the other extreme, old-fashioned or very formal writing tends to use much longer paragraphs. I've just looked in Thomas Malthus's Essay on Population, a book published in 1798, and I've found a paragraph which is 34 lines long and has 15 sentences in it. This is too long for modern readers - and 'modern readers' includes the tutor who will mark your essay.
As a rough guide, you should aim to build paragraphs which are at least three sentences long, and not more than eight sentences long. As I said, there isn't a fixed rule, and you can vary the length of your paragraphs. In fact you should vary them, because if all your paragraphs are the same length, the essay will become repetitive to read. But try and stay within the 3-8 range for most of your paragraphs.
2. How Many Paragraphs per Page?
The answer to this one depends on how long your sentences are, and there isn't a fixed rule about it. This is just a rough guide, but try to break up each page of print into at least two paragraphs, and not more than five. A page which is all one paragraph would be about 500 words long (I'm assuming you're doing single-space print, like this) and that would be hard work to get through in one go. A tutor reading a page like that would be likely to think that you hadn't thought enough about how to structure your argument. At the other extreme, if you break up each page into ten or more paragraphs, it looks as if you aren't developing each point in enough detail. So try and stay within the 2-5 range for most pages.
3. How Should You Separate Paragraphs?
There are basically two ways to separate paragraphs, called line-drop
and indenting. Line-drop is where you separate paragraphs by leaving a
blank line between them. This is what I'm doing in this document now.
Look at the two paragraphs in the answer to FAQ 1, and you'll see that
they are separated by line-drop. Indenting is where you don't leave a
blank line, but you begin a new paragraph by going onto a new line and
putting in one or more spaces with the space-bar. I have started the following
new paragraph in this way.