If you like chocolate chips, use more paragraph breaks

I approach paragraph breaks in writing the same way I approach chocolate chips in cookies: Always use more than the prescribed amount, because they not only make the finished product look more appealing, but make it more rewarding to dive into.

In school, you were taught that a paragraph needs to be anywhere from 3-6 sentences long, with a topic sentence at the beginning to focus the… Oh, I’m sorry, is this boring? Does this description make your eyes glaze over? This regimen for formal essays is drilled into us so relentlessly from such a young age that I can almost hear a faint chorus of British schoolchildren shouting back, “Hey! Teacher! Leave us kids alone!” every time I discuss it with my own students. It’s no wonder they don’t trust me when I tell them a paragraph can be so much shorter than that; it can even be a sentence fragment.

Like this.

There! You jumped to the “Like this” paragraph/sentence (or at least you were tempted to) because it stood out. It was an oasis of brevity, an opportunity to come up for air, an easy foothold nestled between the previous long paragraph and this mid-sized one.

Every paragraph break is an entry point for readers, an opportunity to re-engage them if their attention spans start to trail off. If a page in a book or article has only one or two paragraph breaks, the text appears dense, impenetrable, dull. A mass of words without any indentations to break it up will leave the reader feeling lethargic. Intimidated. Maybe even a little angry at the writer.

But divvy those same sentences up into shorter paragraphs, and suddenly the page is more active. More dynamic. More digestible. Tastier.

Like a chocolate chip cookie with extra chips.


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