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How to Write a Great Paragraph

This guest post is by James Chartrand of Damn Fine Words.

There are eight million posts out there about how to write a great headline. Copyblogger’s written about half of them. I’ve written a few myself.

But you know what none of us tell you? What to do after the headline.

You know, the actual “content” part.

It’s not enough to create killer headlines or spectacular introductions. It’s not enough to write compelling content (and we don’t tell you how to do that either). It’s not enough to use storytelling. The only way to get your blog posts read, shared and revisited means writing great content.

Which really means you need to know how to write a stellar paragraph.

I know: paragraphs aren’t sexy

Catchy headlines sounds sexy. Storytelling sounds sexy. Paragraphs? They sound about as sexy as gramma’s underwear. They’re not a technique or a tool. They’re just plain old-fashioned grammar school stuff.

Here’s what you need to know about what a fantastic paragraph can do for you:

Your readers will take in every single word you write.

Not just the words in the bullet points. Not just the numbered lists. Not just the headlines or the sub-headers. They won’t skim looking for “the good stuff.”

It’s all good stuff. They’ll want every single word.

Here’s a thought: Online readers are notorious for skimming and scanning, running through the bullet points. But do you know why their eyes are wandering? Do you know why they skip through your posts?

It’s because they weren’t interested in the paragraphs.
The content in your paragraphs? Readers figure those are just filler. And in many cases for many, many bloggers… sadly, filler it is.

Readers read … if it’s worth their time

A lot of bloggers assume that skimming and scanning is just the way things are. Nothing they can do about it – people are lazy. Too busy. So they don’t bother putting effort into crafting carefully written paragraphs the way they do their headlines and bullet points, because no one’s going to read the content anyway.

But, as Georgina pointed out earlier today, not all readers scan the content—and that’s important to remember.

Everyone has a favorite blogger whose posts they read religiously. I’ve got one. You’ve got one. You get excited when you see a new post go live because you love the way this blogger writes. You share the posts. You read older posts from the archives. You link to these posts.

Good paragraphs make that happen.

You’re not reading your favorite blogger’s posts for the headline, the bullet points, or the nugget of brand-new secret insider knowledge. Who’s ever said, “Oooh, Darren just put up a new post – I gotta go read this; his bullet points are so hot!”

Come on.

You read for the words, and you would never consider any of the content to be “filler,” no matter how long that post ran.

That means your beloved blogger probably writes a killer paragraph.

Starting to sound a little sexier? You bet it is—who doesn’t want to be one of those bloggers whose readers hang on their every word?

No one, that’s who. So let’s get you started.

Good paragraphs leave no sentence behind

You’ve probably heard this adage: the purpose of the first sentence is to get the reader to read the second sentence. The second sentence is to get them to read the third sentence, and so on.

Most bloggers forget to pay attention after the fourth or fifth sentence, which means that by sentence 36, they aren’t doing a thing to keep their reader hooked and moving along.

So they leave sentence 36 in the post because they think it doesn’t matter that much. (And hey, it’s good filler.)

It matters. Every single sentence matters. If you have a sentence in your paragraph that isn’t actively getting people to read the next one, chop it out. It’s doing nothing for you—or for your paragraph.

Good paragraphs form a chain of thought

You could obey the above rule without actually creating a paragraph. You could just snag a handful of Problogger’s best headlines and stick ‘em in a post, and that would satisfy the “get the reader to read the next sentence” rule.

The problem comes when the second sentence has nothing to do with the first sentence. Watch as I display this technique: Is your tribe holding you down? You could increase your blog subscription rate by 254%. Eminem can teach you how to become a writing and marketing machine. Let’s talk 50 can’t-fail techniques for finding great blog topics.

Those are some of Copyblogger’s most popular headlines, and they’re undeniably compelling. But they don’t relate to one another, so midway through, the reader’s wondering about the follow-up. Eventually, he gets frustrated trying to figure out the point.
Frustrated isn’t good. Every sentence in a paragraph should refer back to the one before.

And if it’s a new paragraph, it should refer back to the last sentence of the previous one. Your very first paragraph should refer to your headline. Your headline introduces the post idea, which means everything you write afterward depends on that one idea—so you need to make a chain of thought to back it up.

How do you know when to end one paragraph and start the next? Well . . .

Good paragraphs know when to end

Every paragraph should last long enough to make one single point.

Some paragraphs—like the one before—only need one sentence to make the intended point. Others, like this one, need a few sentences to discuss the point fully and explain several ways of looking at it. You might need to expand upon your thoughts or give examples to drive the point home.

When your point is made, move on to the next point. Which, obeying the Rule #2, should relate back to the point that came before it, move on to make its own point, and end when that point is fully explained.

Nerdy, I know. But sexy? You bet. Sexy bloggers know sexy writing, and there’s nothing sexier than a well-crafted paragraph like that.

Now, a lot of people try to string together several points in a single paragraph. That’s never effective. Paragraphs help give readers visual cues on how to organize their thoughts. When they see a paragraph, they know it’s going to give them a certain amount of information on a certain point.

But if you give them three different (and often unrelated) points in a single paragraph, it forces readers to try and figure out where the distincts are between those points.

That’s work. And people hate it when reading content is work.

If you don’t want your readers just looking for the bullet points, keep your paragraphs easy to process and let them end when the point is concluded.

Don’t neglect your paragraphs

You’ve learned to write snappy headlines that get readers to come to your site and craft bullet points that draw their eye. Now it’s time to pay attention to the rest of your content.

Great paragraphs are the way to do it.

Got more ideas on what makes for a great paragraph? Shout out in the comments! And if you haven’t already, check out ProBlogger’s Anatomy of a Better Blog Post, for more specific post-writing techniques.

James Chartrand is the leading copywriter teaching people how to improve their writing skills at Damn Fine Words. It’s one of the best online writing courses for business owners and bloggers ready to boost their business success… through compelling words that get results.

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This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above. If you'd like to guest post for ProBlogger check out our Write for ProBlogger page for details about how YOU can share your tips with our community.

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Comments

  1. Hando says:

    I do like these posts that give writing tips. I can not really write properly myself so I just keep consuming all that information so maybe one day I will start my own blog.

    As a reader, I do like really short paragraphs, if there is a big block of text, I usually can not bother to red it. This article is just perfect to read in terms of the paragraph length.

  2. Hilary Johnson says:

    Personally, I think paragraphs are very sexy. ;)

    I was told the best way to become a good writer is by reading good writing. I believe this is true. People don’t read they way they used to, which is really quite sad, because the result is that people don’t write as well as they used to.

  3. S. Ann Comte says:

    These are great tips. I’ve been a writer in marketing for a few years and know the importance of paying attention to the flow of sentences. Paragraphs can definitely be sexy. I’ve seen some great ones.

  4. Alex R. says:

    I like the fact that you said to make every sentence count! As a content writer myself, I do know that it is important to fit as many keywords into blog posts as possible, but what’s the point of creating a paragraph with keywords if it is boring to read? Great article!

  5. Chris says:

    Actually, I find paragraphs sexy. But then, I was a copy editor before I decided to focus on writing.

    I love the way a three- or four-line paragraph looks next to a snappy, one-line – or even one-word – one.

    And the way ideas organised into paragraphs, of varying sizes, make reading easier and more enjoyable.

    Thanks for writing this post, James. You just made paragraphs even more sexy!

  6. Flying in the face of conventional grammar where “a paragraph is composed of [at a minimum] four to five sentences,” blogging is great because it is so flexible!

    The segway you mention is extremely import (duh) as it keeps your reader moving down the page and on target with what you want them to learn, do, know, etc.

    There’s always a pattern (formula?) and your post on paragraphs (and the way you composed it) is a great lesson to keep in mind.

    Thanks for the reminder :)

  7. Oh… and so is proofreading LOL! That should be “extremely important” (I truly hate my own typos!)

  8. Joanna says:

    This is fantastic James. All basic things we learned back in school, but somehow forget when it comes time to put pen to paper, or screen as the case may be.

    I’m often exhausted when I sit down to write in the evening, and my paragraphs suffer as a result. They become full of choppy sentences that don’t flow, and don’t make sense even to me. You know it’s a bad thing when you can’t even understand what you’re writing about.

    I always sleep on my posts, and edit them in the morning after a cup of coffee, when I have a clear head. Reading them out loud to myself helps as well. If it’s hard to read your post out loud, it’s just as hard for your readers to understand it.

  9. Andrew Hall says:

    I think it’s safe to say that any good article that helps readers and holds their attention fits into the sexy category, it’s how well the writer packages the content that makes it sexy or not and you’ve done that here James. Great article and very strong points for writers of all skill levels. It’s easy to lose focus of the basics and it’s always helpful to be reminded of the important things.

  10. easmedica says:

    i.think.need.good.mood.to.great.writing

  11. Great article, I’m spending a lot of time on developing my writing skills in hopes of creating something that people are going to admire and share with their friends. This article gave me some interesting ideas. Especially when you said that every sentence should lead readers to want to read the next sentence. I don’t think I’ve been doing this.

  12. Gjivan says:

    Does number of words also effect the reading nature of audience?? Is there any criteria of number of words to be presentex in each para??

  13. James, this is why you are such a great teacher. You clearly present the facts about paragraphs, then give examples.

    My only question would be about the transition from one paragraph to another. I know they are supposed to lead into teach other, but especially with only a sentence or two I’m not sure how that is supposed to work.

    And, since I’m now a Grandma, when I look in my drawer–I have “gramma’s underwear” Ouch!

    Note to self: write better paragraphs; get new sexy underwear:)

  14. Tim Barnes says:

    Thanks for championing “complete writing” and not just short-cuts. To me, the perfect page has not been written yet. Like an artist who works in paint, no work is truly finished. There is always something that can be tweaked. I read the reports my son got wonderful grades for in college and high school. Everything that was acceptable to the schools seemed to be taking short-cuts. I am convinced that if he has a boss who is a Baby Boomer, his written reports may come across as too trendy. Thank you for pointing out that there are no short-cuts to writing. It all starts with a solid paragraph.

  15. Aditya says:

    Problogger is my favorite blog tips blog and I’ve come back promptly ! Guest posts here are thoroughly enjoyable.

    I somehow feel a sense of guilt that for 120 odd posts (That’s the number in my blog), I wasn’t able to create one single ‘good’ paragraph. I think I’ve been enlightened now and I’ll guide my writing in the way you described above. Thank you so much for this!

  16. kishore says:

    Very useful article. Today I read two useful articles(one here and the other on google official adsense blog) helps to improve my blogs.

    Just read a post on google adsense blog about tips on creating high quality site, its all about how the content should be. This is the article how the flow should be in the articles.

    Thanks James.

  17. Ferb says:

    Finally, I figured out that a paragraph knows where to end is so important. I’ve written a lot of killer posts on my blog but post people most like to promote is my twitter tips post and I was wondering “why not others?” – so you’ve help me out, thanks.

  18. I do like these posts that give writing tips. I can not really write properly myself so I just keep consuming all that information so maybe one day I will start my own blog.

    As a reader, I do like really short paragraphs, if there is a big block of text, I usually can not bother to red it. This article is just perfect to read in terms of the paragraph length.

  19. soubhiks says:

    Hi James
    Great post. But why not write stuff that’s easy to scan through? It will save a lot of the readers time.

  20. Hi there,

    I think sticking to the point is a lot easier said than done, or maybe it is just like that for me, I am the world’s worse for going off on a tangent. I really have had to discipline myself to improve this and creating hooks can help keep your readers interested.

    Thanks
    Dave

  21. Muradali says:

    Hi, I do like these posts that give writing tips.It is really a Great and Very useful article. THANKS

  22. I think you’re right that every sentence matters, but also the subheading matter, it’s usually what will make read of skip a specific paragraph. Chances are if you write 4-5 long paragraphs in a row with no subheading I won’t take the time to read it, unless what I’ve read to date is really great.

  23. Bruce Barker says:

    As a new blogger, but well versed in the art of letter writing, it is invaluable to me to have such free advice available “on tap”. As I have discovered, copywriting is a totally different skill and I would suggest that the great Ted Nicholas is a must-read for all bloggers and website builders.

  24. Jay says:

    Great post. I think. If course I skimmed through it looking for the lists and headlines, so I’m pretty sure I missed most of it.