Rachael on the go

Quick writing tips and ideas, but some musings too

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Can you write a perfect paragraph?

I found a flash fiction blog (http://sixsentences.blogspot.com.au/) based on the six sentence paragraph. The contributors show real skill in crafting a mini story in one paragraph. Many used the classic writing ABC, with A being a starting point or premise, B being a divergence from that point, and C being a climax (which can resolve A or leave it up in the air). Can we use that skill at work? Absolutely.

Most people don’t even know what makes up a perfect paragraph. They certainly aren’t conscious of trying to write one. No, most of us just type away and insert random paragraph breaks; some insert the break too early, and some not early enough. In my editing work, I used to find that many workplace writers would produce paragraphs of one quarter to half a page. Too long! Now, I find the opposite problem. Too many writers have what I call ‘a statement style’: they make one statement, possibly two, then insert a break. This style mirrors news writing. But trained journalists can maintain the flow and cohesiveness of their story across a string of one-sentence paragraphs; other writers are less capable.

So, for most text types at work, we want to write more than two sentences per paragraph. Ideally, we want to write five or six sentences. The trick of a perfect paragraph is that it is long enough to explore one idea in enough detail to satisfy the reader. To get back to fiction’s ABC approach, we need to pose an idea or question, then examine it in some way, and conclude what we think about it (a punchline, if you will). Sound easy? This three tiered structure is simple, but the implementation is harder.

For tips on putting the three tiers into practice, check out my Words a waiting training module on paragraphs. It covers options for starting and finishing a paragraph, and examples of the ‘flesh’ in the middle. Then, why don’t you test yourself? Choose a topic close to your heart (not work related), and write six sentences that explain that topic to someone who knows nothing about it. And, at work, take charge of every paragraph break. Aside from the odd paragraph that needs to be short (perhaps one that helps the reader navigate the document), ask yourself whether you have written enough in each paragraph.

Finally, don’t forget that each paragraph needs to link to the ones either side of it. Again, my training module on paragraphs can help you achieve this connectivity. You’re not firing paragraphs like pellets from a gun; you’re sending flowing waves of information to the reader, in an ebb and flow that you control with the simple act of hitting ‘Enter’.