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Paragraphs:  Size, Shape, Focus

Paragraph Size

Paragraphs in academic writing tend to be longer than those you write on the job.


Because academic writing is often about more than just reporting facts. It is about stating opinions, making and evaluating arguments, and so, to be effective, it needs to contain more information: explanations, examples, reasoning, supporting details. Estimates vary, but an average academic paragraph might contain 8 - 10 sentences, while an average business paragraph might contain 4 -5 sentences.

What does this mean to you as the writer?

It means that you should check your paragraphing after you write the first draft.

Paragraph Shape

APA guidelines require indented paragraphs (1/2") with no extra white space between the paragraphs. This too differs from business writing style, which tends to prefer block style paragraphing, no indentation and an extra blank line between the paragraph units.

To ensure that your paragraphs follow APA style guidelines, just hit ENTER once (only once) at the end of each paragraph, and then TAB to indent the first line 1/2 inch. That's all there is to it.


(first line of each paragraph starts at the left margin; an extra blank line is inserted between paragraphs to show where the paragraph break falls..)


(first line of each paragraph is indented 1/2 inch, and no extra white space is inserted between paragraphs; the indentation alone shows the paragraph break..)

block indent
indent example
Paragraph Focus

Paragraphs help the reader keep track of the main ideas in the writing. When a new paragraph begins, therefore, the reader expects to see a new idea or a new aspect of the previous idea. When you edit, check to make sure that each of your paragraphs has one (and only one) main focus. If you find that you have discussed several issues in one paragraph, either break up the paragraph so that each issue is discussed in its separate paragraph unit or consider adding a new introductory/topic sentence to your paragraph that shows how all those various issues fit into one overarching theme.

Think of the paragraph as a conversation between you and your reader.

Listener/Reader Questions  


1. What's your point? = 1. Topic sentence of paragraph
2. I don't quite understand you. = 2. Restatement of topic in different words
2. Prove it to me. = 3. Illustration, evidence, reasoning
4. Well, so what? = 4. Clincher/conclusion sentence.


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