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The Power of Paragraphs


Do English teachers not teach about paragraphs any more?


I get research papers with paragraphs of 500 words or more. I get business writing assignments that are supposed to be persuasive message emails with only one paragraphs.


Paragraphs have power. Yes, this is nerdy. But the more I write, the more I see why paragraphs can improve your writing.


Point one: Academic writing is not the only type of writing, yet it is what is taught in schools as the model before students are untaught it in professional or business writing classes. Academics, first of all, are professional readers. They often have the leisure or motivation to read a long paragraph without being distracted, and to consider the logical development of a topic sentence or focused main idea in depth. That is their job. But, notice that this is the development of one idea. That is where students and novice writers often get it wrong. They may have twelve topic ideas in one paragraph, most or none of which are "developed" (built upon).


Point Two: Most writing is not read by people who are professional readers with less limited time to read in-depth and slowly. This is unfortunate, but realistic. That doesn't make the written message less valuable, only that it has to be reconstructed for consumption.


Point Three: We do not read well on a screen. I have been screaming this for years. We scan, for one thing. In fact, one source says we read like an F--the first line of a paragraph full, the second line half way, the next line less, etc. I know I do this, and I'm not proud of it.


Point Four: Nowadays, most of our writing is from a screen. See Point Two and Three.

Point Five: In business writing especially, the messages are somewhat formulaic with expectations of what each paragraph should do, and a person is therefore motivated to look to certain paragraphs to find what he or she is looking for. (By the way, I know I am allowed to use "they" here, and I don't like he and she, but doggone it, "a person" is singular.)

Point Six: Paragraphs allow and even cause the reader to see what is most important and not have to dig to find key ideas. Information is less likely to get lost.

Point Seven: All this being true, except in academic writing, paragraphs can be short.


Point Eight: This all can apply to fiction, also. This is not the 1850s. By the way, graphic organizers help readers, too.

I got an assignment I knew was AI. Why? It was too good, too researched, too long, too much better than the student's other work. I did not grade it, quoted the Turnitin report, and asked for an explanation. But the student did use paragraphs! So I guess ChatGPT at least knows whereof I write here.

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