Too Long; Didn't ReadThe sentences developing each of the divisions of a composition make one paragraph. A paragraph, therefore, is the treatment of one of the natural divisions of a subject. The length depends on the topic to be treated. Two cautions may be given:
Do not write paragraphs containing only one sentence. Such paragraphs do not represent divisions of the subject. They are simply statements which have not been expanded as they deserve, or they are sentences that should be placed with the preceding or succeeding sentences in order to make a good paragraph. Some business men in their letters and advertisements use the one-sentence paragraph too frequently to concentrate the attention of the reader. A writer divides his composition into paragraphs in order to aid the reader to follow the thoughts he is presenting. When the reader sees the indentation that indicates a new paragraph, he thinks that the writer has said all that he intends to say on the topic in hand and now intends to open a new topic. It is confusing to find that the new paragraph is simply another sentence on the same topic as the preceding paragraph. Notice the jerky effect of the following extract from a letter:
We are sending you a copy of our latest catalogue, which gives illustrations and prices of all our stock.
The illustrations are all made from actual photographs and are faithful in representing the shoe described.
Bear Brand Shoes are shipped in special fiber cases, thus lessening freight bills and eliminating the annoyance of shortage claims because they cannot be opened without immediate detection.
Errors of any kind should be reported without delay.
Imperfect or damaged goods must be returned for our inspection; otherwise no allowance will be made.
Do not go to the other extreme, writing paragraphs of great length. Much depends, of course, on the matter to be treated, but, as a rule, in a student's theme a paragraph should be not longer than one page. If one of the divisions of your subject is necessarily long, subdivide it, allowing a paragraph to treat each of the subdivisions.
Whether it is to be long or short, a paragraph must treat but one topic; from the first sentence to the last, it should be the development of one idea. Moreover, this topic must be revealed to the reader in no unmistakable way. Sometimes the subject is so simple that the topic may easily be gathered from the details given, but usually it is well to have one sentence that in a brief or general way states the topic. This is called the topic sentence. It may be at or near the beginning; in this case the rest of the paragraph defines or illustrates what it states. It may, however, be found at almost any point in the paragraph, not infrequently acting as a sentence of conclusion, summing up the details that have been presented.
A paragraph that begins with a topic sentence sometimes ends with a sentence of conclusion. The first sentence states the topic, the following sentences explain or illustrate it, and the last sentence summarizes or otherwise indicates that the topic has been completed. This form has been called the hammock paragraph, because it has a solid "post" at each end with a mass of details "swinging" between. It is a good form to use in writing paragraphs on given subjects, when each paragraph is to stand alone, complete in itself, not forming part of a longer composition. The practice of writing such paragraphs induces clear, forceful thinking.