Recently, I’ve taken some time to review and read a lot of web content sites, blog sites, and article sites, and one thing I’ve noticed quite frequently is that many people don’t seem to know when to break a line for a paragraph in their content. Paragraphs are important for several reasons, and if you want your writing to be the very best, it is important to know when to add a paragraph break and why.
Web content is a bit different than print items in that the reader will be viewer the content on a screen and not on a page or in a book. Many people use reading guides or their fingers or note cards to follow along while they are reading a print item, but this is nearly impossible to do on the computer without leaving unsightly fingerprints on your monitor. That brings me to the first reason why paragraph breaks are important: to make it easier for your readers to read your content without too much eye strain.
Another reason for proper paragraph breaks is to make the writing more attractive at first glance. A page with a long scroll of writing with no breaks is not only NOT attractive, but it is a bit intimidating to read too.
Also, paragraph breaks are important to break up when thoughts flow from one to another, allowing the reader to know when a thought or mood or tone shift has occurred in the writing. This helps break the elements of the writing up into distinct sections with similar content, allowing the reader to more easily focus on the key points of your writing.
So how do you determine where to place a paragraph break?
Good question… Let me try to give you a good answer that pleases both web copy writers and editors as well as hard core grammarians. A paragraph is a group of sentences lumped together by similar meaning, intent or content. When the thought changes or a new idea or concept is introduced, a paragraph break allows for a pause to shift the reader’s mind to the new concept or idea.
Next, for web copy especially, paragraphs should be kept short. When writing for print, longer paragraphs are more acceptable, but for web copy, 3-5 average length sentences is usually a good paragraph and then a paragraph break is needed.
Paragraphs are also used to break up or accentuate something if you are trying to make a point, add impact. For example, if you have one sentence that makes a strong point and you really want to make it stand out, you could make that sentence a paragraph all by itself, with a break before and after, causing the reader to really take notice of that sentence.
For dialogue, there should be a paragraph break before each new speaker. This means that sometimes very short dialogue will be on a line all by itself. This is just proper punctuation for dialogue so that it is easy to see who is saying what. For quotes, short quotes can be included in the same paragraph as other text, but longer quotes, of more than one or two lines, should be in a paragraph by itself. (Please note that this information on quotes is best for web copy. If you write papers or magazine articles and newsprint, you should check out the AP style guide for newsprint, the Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, or APA style guides for how to properly cite quotations for other types of writing.)
Paragraphs are our friends!
When writing your copy for the web, keep these things in mind and be sure to use paragraphs properly. Doing so will make your writing easier to read, more attractive, and help it make better sense to the reader.