discourse- paragraph – sentence – clause – phrase –word –letter
The discussion about paragraph
- “A new paragraph is a wonderful thing. It lets you quietly change the rhythm, and it can be like a flash of lightning that shows the same landscape from a different aspect. There are writers, even good ones, who scatter paragraphs and punctuation marks all over the place. They can write good prose, but it has an air of muddle and carelessness because of this.”
(Isaac Babel, interviewed by Konstantin Paustovsky in “Isaac Babel Talks About Writing.” The Nation, March 31, 1969)
- “As an advanced writer, you know that rules are made to be broken. But that is not to say that these rules are useless. Sometimes it is good to avoid a one-sentence paragraph–it can sound too brisk and implies a lack of penetration and analysis. Sometimes, or perhaps most of the time, it is good to have a topic sentence. But the awful fact is that when you look closely at a professional writer’s work, you will see that the topic sentence is often missing. In that case, we sometimes say it is implied, and perhaps that is true. But whether we want to call it implied or not, it is obvious that good writers can get along without topic sentences most of the time. Likewise, it is not a bad idea to develop only one idea in a paragraph, but frankly, the chance of developing several ideas often arises and sometimes doing so even characterizes the writing of professionals.”
(Lee A. Jacobus, Substance, Style, and Strategy. Oxford Univ. Press, 1998)
- “19c writers reduced the lengths of their paragraphs, a process that has continued in the 20c, particularly in journalism, advertisements, and publicity materials.”
(Tom McArthur, “Paragraph,” in The Oxford Companion to the English Language, 1992)
- “The paragraph is a device of punctuation. The indentation by which it is marked implies no more than an additional breathing space. Like the other marks of punctuation . . . it may be determined by logical, physical, or rhythmical needs. Logically it may be said to denote the full development of a single idea, and this indeed is the common definition of the paragraph. It is, however, in no way an adequate or helpful definition.”
(Herbert Read, English Prose Style. Beacon, 1955)
- Paragraph Length
“How long is a paragraph?
“As short as that.
“Or as long as it needs to be to cover a subject. . . .
“But there is a complication. Writing that aims to be inviting, like the writing in newspapers, popular magazines and books, uses shorter paragraphs than more ambitious and ‘profound’ writing. New paragraphs are begun before a topic is exhausted.
“For no reason at all.
“Because each new paragraph lightens the tone, encourages readers, offers a foothold down the page.
“When paragraphs are short, writing does seem easier. Less happily, it also seems disjointed and superficial–as though the writer can’t concentrate on a subject.
“Thus paragraphing, like so much else, is a matter of tone. You want to have a proper paragraph length for your subject, your audience, and your degree of seriousness (or frivolity).”
(Bill Stott, “Write to the Point.” Anchor Press, 1984)
- “Paragraph lengths, like sentence lengths, give an essay a kind of rhythm that readers can feel but that is hard to talk about . . .. A very short paragraph can be just the right kind of pause following a long and complex one. Or a series of paragraphs of about the same length can give the reader a very satisfying feeling of balance and proportion.”
(Diana Hacker and Betty Renshaw, Writing With a Voice, 2nd ed. Scott, Foresman, 1989)
- “In general, remember that paragraphing calls for a good eye as well as a logical mind. Enormous blocks of print look formidable to readers, who are often reluctant to tackle them. Therefore, breaking long paragraphs in two, even if it is not necessary to do so for sense, meaning, or logical development, is often a visual help. But remember, too, that firing off many short paragraphs in quick succession can be distracting. Paragraph breaks used only for show read like the writing of commerce or of display advertising. Moderation and a sense of order should be the main considerations in paragraphing.”
(William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White, The Elements of Style, 3rd ed. Allyn & Bacon, 1995)
- Scott and Denny’s Definition of a Paragraph (1909)
“A paragraph is a unit of discourse developing a single idea. It consists of a group or series of sentences closely related to one another and to the thought expressed by the whole group or series. Devoted, like the sentence, to the development of one topic, a good paragraph is also, like a good essay, a complete treatment in itself.”
(Fred Newton Scott and Joseph Villiers Denny, Paragraph-Writing: A Rhetoric for Colleges, rev. ed. Allyn and Bacon, 1909)
- Development of the Paragraph in English
“The paragraph as we know it comes into something like settled shape in Sir William Temple [1628-1699]. It was the product of perhaps five chief influences. First, the tradition, derived from the authors and scribes of the Middle Ages, that the paragraph-mark distinguishes a stadium of thought. Second, the Latin influence, which was rather towards disregarding the paragraph as the sign of anything but emphasis–the emphasis-tradition being also of medieval origin; the typical writers of the Latin influence are Hooker and Milton. Third, the natural genius of the Anglo-Saxon structure, favorable to the paragraph. Fourth, the beginnings of popular writing–of what may be called the oral style, or consideration for a relatively uncultivated audience. Fifth, the study of French prose, in this respect a late influence, allied in its results with the third and fourth influences.”
(Edwin Herbert Lewis, The History of the English Paragraph, 1894)
Scrapbook of Styles (Paragraphs)