A paragraph in antiquity was typically a single thought—and often a single sentence, generally a very long one. Writers nowadays, on the other hand, do not tend to carry on in the same manner that classical authors did. Most paragraphs in academic writing have at least three sentences, and seldom more than 10. Longer paragraphs can be effective in formal writing, but they should not be expected in academic papers.
In terms of length, a typical sentence today is usually no longer than necessary. However, ancient writers would typically use long sentences, which means that some of them were quite lengthy. A sentence could be as long as needed to express an idea properly or for dramatic effect. In either case, modern writers should not feel obliged to write such long sentences themselves.
The basic unit of composition in antiquity was the poem, which could be as short as a couple of lines or as long as you wanted it to be. A poem might describe an event, offer a moral judgment, explain how something works, etc. The only rule was that each line had to be a complete thought.
Poets used various techniques to keep their poems interesting and readable. One technique was parallelism, where two similar words or phrases are placed next to each other to highlight the similarity between them. For example, "golden hair" and "green eyes" would be two phrases that could be used to describe the same person.
So, how many paragraphs are sufficient, and how many are excessive? A two-page paper should include four to six paragraphs, whereas a five-page essay should have six to twelve paragraphs. We will discuss the number of sentences in each paragraph and the number of words in the entire essay later in this chapter.
The basic unit of analysis in most essays is the paragraph. Each paragraph usually consists of between three and ten sentences, though some may be as short as two sentences or as long as twenty sentences. The goal of each paragraph is clarity and brevity--to make its point quickly and succinctly so that readers will want to continue with the essay.
In general, any piece of academic writing that exceeds five pages has many paragraphs. Longer papers often have even more than that. In reality, there are only so many ideas that can be expressed in such a limited space; therefore, most papers include several sections or topics that cannot be covered on page 5 or 6. As you write longer papers, it becomes important to divide them into meaningful parts that can stand alone. This is why most research papers have at least one appendix containing resources for further reading or material for discussion later in the paper.
The number of sentences per paragraph depends on what kind of paper you are writing.
A reasonable rule of thumb is that a paragraph should include at least two (ideally three) sentences, but a passage can be as short as one phrase. Many literary critics therefore agree with John Milton when he says in his epic poem Paradise Lost: "One simple sentence can write a volume."
The term "sentence" is used to describe a unit of language larger than a word but smaller than a paragraph. Although a sentence usually contains a subject and a verb, it can also contain other elements such as adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and articles. For example, "John likes apples and pears" is a sentence because it contains two subjects ("John" and "apples and pears") and a conjunction ("and"). In general, sentences are composed of more than one word, but words themselves can be sentences if they are part of a compound sentence.
In literature courses, students often focus on individual sentences instead of the passage as a whole. This is because sentences carry meaning by themselves, so it is important to choose them carefully if you are writing non-fiction.
As long as you keep this rule of thumb in mind when writing your own passages, you will be able to create sentences that capture the reader's interest.
Merriam-Webster defines a paragraph as "a subdivision of a written composition that consists of one or more sentences, deals with one point or conveys the words of one speaker, and begins on a new, generally indented line." That's true, a paragraph may (and frequently does) consist of only one phrase. However, two sentences do not necessarily make a paragraph; instead, it depends on their content and how they are connected to other elements in the writing.
For example, here are two sentences: "The dog ran across the street." And here are two more: "The man walked down the road." Neither set of sentences by itself is a paragraph, but when put together they create a complete thought that is coherent and flows nicely from one sentence to the next. This shows that a paragraph can be made up of one or more sentences.
In addition to sentences, paragraphs often include additional elements such as quotes, questions, problems, suggestions, claims, observations, or anecdotes. These elements can be included in any number of ways within the text and each one will make the reading process interesting and exciting for the reader.
1 A descriptive paragraph would start with a quote or observation and describe what the person said. It would then go on to explain why this information is important and maybe even give a suggestion based on what was just mentioned.
Simply defined, a paragraph should be as lengthy or as short as necessary to convey a central concept. "Some paragraphs should weigh a scant two or three phrases, while others should carry a healthy seven or eight lines," writes Barry J. Rosenberg. "A robust paragraph is one that can stand on its own as an independent unit of meaning."
Paragraphs are important in writing because they provide structure and clarity to your text. It is common practice to divide your writing into paragraphs whenever possible. Avoid dividing your narrative into smaller sections unless there is a clear break between them (for example, when you change the point of view). Otherwise, your readers will find it difficult to follow where one section ends and another begins.
Within paragraphs, keep your sentences short and simple. Use concrete words rather than abstract ones (such as "should", "could" or "may"). Avoid using conjunctions (connecting words such as "and", "but", "so") at the start of each sentence; this often indicates a run-on sentence that should be split up. Also, try not to use repetitive words in your writing. These include unneeded adjectives and adverbs, which just clutter up the sentence and make it hard to read.
Finally, write for someone else's eyes only.