What makes for a perfect paragraph?

Enter key

Picture by Artur Cimoch, freeimages.com

Long ago, at school, there was probably an English lesson about how and where to break text into paragraphs.

As I remember it, the idea was that one thought meant one paragraph, like this in a story from the Guardian:

“The Gambia is in financial distress. The coffers are virtually empty. That is a state of fact,” Fatty said. “It has been confirmed by technicians in the ministry of finance and the Central Bank of the Gambia.”

There are two sentences there, but they both relate to the question of how much money may be missing in The Gambia.

Compare that to the same thought in the Daily Mail:

But amid growing controversy over the assurances offered to Jammeh to guarantee his departure, Barrow aide Mai Fatty said the new administration had discovered that millions had recently been stolen.

‘The coffers are largely empty,’ he told reporters in the Senegalese capital Dakar.

Here, the Mail is applying what seems to be the modern trend, particularly in online articles: the end of every single sentence is a sign to hit the enter key and make a paragraph.

That makes for easy, fast editing and writing, and there is nothing wrong with that.

But the one-sentence-one-paragraph thing can be irritating for a reader – and that matters.

I try to vary long and short paras throughout any piece of writing, especially if it’s longer than about five paragraphs.

EXAMPLE
This bit of text (again from the Mail) is in the online, one-sentence-one-para style:
She said: ‘I was introduced to naturism in the South of France when I was on holiday with my partner.
‘We turned up at a beach, and realised in was a naturist beach. I looked at him, and he looked at me, and we thought ‘let’s do it’.
‘It turned out to be a really enjoyable afternoon. I think people are starting to embrace naturism more and more.
‘It’s interesting, because in this day and age you have on one hand pop-stars wearing scantily-clad clothing, and that being seen as quite sexual behaviour.
‘And on the other hand you have things like naked bike rides. The idea behind naturism is that it is your natural body, and there is nothing sexual about it.’

And with old-fashioned paragraphs applied:

She said: ‘I was introduced to naturism in the South of France when I was on holiday with my partner. We turned up at a beach, and realised in was a naturist beach. I looked at him, and he looked at me, and we thought ‘let’s do it’.
‘It turned out to be a really enjoyable afternoon. I think people are starting to embrace naturism more and more.
‘It’s interesting, because in this day and age you have on one hand pop-stars wearing scantily-clad clothing, and that being seen as quite sexual behaviour. And on the other hand you have things like naked bike rides. The idea behind naturism is that it is your natural body, and there is nothing sexual about it.’

One longish paragraph, one short, one quite long one – is that easier to read? I think so, but perhaps this is one of those punctuation trends that is changing irreversibly.

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