What is a Paragraph?

What is a Paragraph?

What is a paragraph? When is a paragraph too long? When is it too short? How should one paragraph link to the others in a piece of writing? These are all good questions because, when writing a research paper, an essay, a letter, or any other prose composition, utilizing correct paragraphing skills is important.

Briefly stated, a paragraph is a group of sentences that are all about one specific idea. This paragraph, for instance, deals with the definition of a paragraph. There is no set length for a paragraph, but, generally, three full sentences is considered the minimum, and half a page is considered the maximum.

A paragraph should begin with a topic sentence, that is, a sentence which addresses the subject of the paragraph. It may, as in the first paragraph in this essay, begin with a question. The other sentences in the paragraph should supply information that helps to explain the topic.

Sometimes it is easy to determine when to end a pargraph and when to start a new one—because you have moved from one topic to another. At other times, it may not be clear. You may have, for instance, written a large number of sentences (let’s say more than twelve, or more than 200 words) about a specific topic. At that point, you may need to ask the question Is this paragraph too long? As has been stated, there is no limit in terms of the number of sentences in a paragraph, but, when a paragraph takes up about half of a page or when it looks like it is too long, then it may be too long. Of course, if, upon reading the paragraph, you find that the topic has shifted slightly, that is a good place at which to divide it. For instance, if the topic sentence is about how popular cell phones have become in the last decade, and, after a number of sentences in which you explain that many people use them now and how they are seen and heard everywhere, you realize that the topic has shifted to how people can use them as cameras and for text messaging, that may the point at which to begin a new paragraph. The new paragraph will be about alternate uses of cell phones.

Besides knowing when to end a paragraph and when to start a new one, you should also develop smooth transitions between paragraphs. Sometimes this is easy. Phrases such as “In addition to…” or “Conversely….” or “Despite….” are obvious transitional phrases. However, it is not necessary to use a transitional phrase to link a new paragraph to the previous one. Simply repeating a key word that had been used in the previous paragraph works just as well. In this essay, using the word “paragraph” or the phrase “good writing skill” helps in terms of linking paragraphs. Besides that, simply writing a topic sentence which spells out that the new paragraph is about an issue that relates to the previous one is an efficient way of creating a transition. An example of that, in that same essay about cell phones, would be the following topic sentence: “One of the problems that is associated with this electronic phenomenon is the sound of phones ringing during a movie or concert or other entertainment event.”

Good paragraphing is not a science, but it is a skill that is important in terms of good writing. To sum up, a paragraph is a group of sentences that all refer to the topic sentence. A paragraph is generally at least three sentences long, and should not, if at all possible, exceed half of a page. Transitions between paragraphs lend a fluid smoothness to the finished essay.

Like many other writing skills, understanding the basics is the first step in terms of mastery. Writing with care and then proofreading what you have written is a fine way in which to improve all writing skills, including paragraphing. After a period of time, you will find that writing solid paragraphs which link to the others in a piece of writing has become routine.