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In defense of the lowly paragraph

The headline is catchy, and it promises a reward when I click on the link in the email. Just last night, in fact, I was thinking about this topic, and it’s definitely something I need to work on. I’ve read plenty of articles written by this guy, and he knows his stuff.

Eagerly, I click. Eagerly, I start to read. My eyes move quickly from left to right, left to right, left to right, left to right and down, down, down. My hand reaches for the mouse to scroll further down the page. Dark gray type sprinkled over white blurs together without meaning, like so much chicken scratch: back and forth, back and forth.

Click. Done. Good-bye. I can’t read it.

Believing that Internet readers are busy people, often with attention deficit issues who read at a 7th or 8th grade level and generally scan blog posts rather than read every word, a trend has developed. The goal is to cater to these readers by making blog posts short, simple, and “scannable.”

It’s a good thing gone way too far.

Avoiding a wall of text with few paragraphs is a good thing. Keeping paragraphs relatively short and highlighting important information with lists, bold fonts, or subheadings works.

Presenting ideas and advice in a series of single sentences does not work.

The post that I just tried to read is spread out all over the page.

My mind wants to grasp organized chunks of information and ideas—not single sentences—in an orderly fashion. I want something easy to read and understand, but this writer is asking me to digest 61 single sentences with full spaces in between.

Each of five sections—intended as containers for ideas and a nod at the concept of paragraphs, I assume—has a bold subheading, which is good. But underneath each heading are three to six separate sentences that almost suggest a formatting problem that the writer isn’t aware of (or even a browser problem on my end). This after an introduction with 22 single sentences in three sections that could have been presented as four or five easy-to-read, short paragraphs.

Dude, close it up. Organize related information and ideas in short paragraphs.

This is not freestyle poetry time. We need order, and 863 words spread out in 61 single sentences just doesn’t work. Use your subheadings as a guide for 9-10 paragraphs or so with a few sentences standing alone for emphasis—not 61 sentences that make my eyes do much more work than I’m willing to have them do.

Please. I really do want to read what you write.

This technique might work for some—I’ve seen less extreme examples lately on a couple of popular blogs—but if it’s not working for me, it’s not working for others. And I suggest that we think carefully before adopting this as the latest and greatest way to improve our writing style.

Comments are always welcome.

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