What do teachers want to see in a paragraph?
If you’re a student, your teacher or tutor may ask you to write a paragraph without telling you just how long he or she expects it to be. In general, educators like to see a paragraph consisting of at least 5 sentences. Start with a sentence that expresses an idea. Use the next 3 sentences for providing information that supports that idea, and use the final sentence to draw a conclusion.
Why do teachers expect longer paragraphs? Obviously, they want to see that you have acquired knowledge and can think critically. That’s quite difficult to demonstrate with a single sentence! Teachers will sometimes set a rule that all paragraphs should be a certain length, but it’s important to remember that specific paragraph lengths aren’t a prerequisite for acceptable writing.
When do you use shorter paragraphs?
Open just about any book, and you’ll find plenty of short paragraphs. If direct speech is used, there’ll be a new paragraph every time a new speaker starts to talk. News writers also like using short paragraphs. They have to present information in a succinct way and hold the reader’s attention.
Commercial writers know that most people don’t want to read 1,000 words of closely-spaced text in order to see what they are writing about, so they also like to keep sentences and paragraphs short. They’ll even use lots of sub-headers so you can see what each paragraph is about before you read it.
How do I know when to start a new paragraph?
Every time you begin to discuss a new thought that contributes to the overarching theme of your work, you can start a new paragraph. A paragraph will usually consist of a collection of sentences that, when considered as a group, have something in common. As soon as you move on to the next idea, you can begin a new paragraph.
Luckily, you don’t have to agonise about it too much, because as I’ve pointed out, there are no specific rules.
Tips for writing strong paragraphs
It’s best to begin a paragraph with a sentence that defines the topic that will be discussed. Try to keep it fairly simple. If you include too many ideas in your opening sentence, you run the risk of getting tangled in an overly complex and incoherent paragraph. Every sentence in a paragraph should support the first, “topic sentence.” When you begin discussing a new or related topic, start a new paragraph.
The University of North Carolina helps students with paragraph construction by providing them with a 5-step process:
- Express the idea that the paragraph will cover in a topic sentence.
- Explain the idea.
- Use an example.
- Explain why the example relates to the idea.
- Draw a conclusion.
Obviously, the recipe has been designed for those who want to write an informative and convincing work. And because these rules aren’t really cast in stone, you’ll find that different institutions give different recommendations.
The debate continues
If we look around, we’ll find that the idea of paragraphs with a minimum of 3-5 sentences and a maximum of 8 is pretty common. But there are some who say that two to three paragraphs per page are best and others who say that 5 to 7 lines will do the job. Meanwhile, journalism students are taught to keep sentences as short as possible, and one sentence paragraphs are considered perfectly acceptable.
There are those who say that using more than one paragraph to discuss an idea is perfectly alright, and since there are no hard and fast rules for paragraphs, I can’t really contradict them. I even found one recommendation that suggested a minimum of 7-10 sentences per paragraph and a maximum of a full page!
How long should your paragraphs be?
Unless you’re busy with academic writing, the length of your paragraphs is up to you. I like shorter paragraphs for informal writing such as this blog post. I like the idea of sticking to one idea per paragraph, and I think that paragraphs make reading and understanding a text a whole lot simpler. Single-sentence paragraphs are great for emphasis.
If you are writing to pass a school, college or university course, I recommend you ask your teacher or professor what’s expected of you. It’s always better to ask in these situations than to try to guess. This is by far the best way to make sure you tailor your writing to what your teacher expects rather than by going by a general rule.
(Photo courtesy of Laura)
As a rule, you’ll write your essay in three main parts. First, you’ll introduce your topic to your reader. Next, you will have body text in which you discuss the topic in more detail, and finally, you’ll have a conclusion that tells your reader what you were able to see after looking into the facts or thinking through the topic.
In its simplest form, an essay can consist of three paragraphs with one paragraph being devoted to each section. Proponents of the five paragraph essay say that the body text should consist of three paragraphs, but in reality, it’s fine to write more or fewer paragraphs in this section.
Guessing How Many Paragraphs Before You Begin
This is a rule of thumb, which means it won’t always work quite that way, but it’s handy all the same. In academic work, your paragraphs are likely to be a bit longer than most of the ones you see in this blog post. On average, there are usually 100 to 200 words in a paragraph. So if you’d like a guesstimate, you can assume that a 1,000-word essay will have between five and ten paragraphs.
What Points Do You Have to Cover?
Another, less limiting and more accurate way to work out how many paragraphs you need to cover your topic is to look at the main points you have to cover in the body text. A paragraph contains all the ideas that support or explain a single concept.
When you are planning your essay, you will think of or research the main elements that are needed in the body text. It would be safe to assume you need at least one paragraph for each of these. Of course, if there is a lot of information to cover in order to explore each area, you may need more.
For example, if you are writing an essay on childhood development and exposure to technology, you will want to look into the physical, psychological and cognitive developmental effects of tech on kids. When you research this topic, you will find that there are contrasting points of view and researchers have identified several physical, developmental, and psychological effects of technology use in children.
Assuming five psychological effects have been identified, you can assume you’ll need to write five paragraphs if you are going to write a relatively in-depth essay. But if both those who say technology is bad for kids and those who say it can be good have done a great deal of work on the sub-topic, you might want to make that ten paragraphs so that you can cover both sides of the argument and look into how earlier authors reached their conclusions.
Of course, if you have been set a relatively short word limit, you may not be able to go in-depth at all, in which case a paragraph for each of the main sub-topics (psychology, physical development, and cognitive development) will likely be adequate.
Essay Content Is More Important Than the Number of Paragraphs
Ultimately, your essay will be evaluated on the information you present, not on the number of paragraphs in the essay. Early in your academic life, teachers and lecturers may give you both a structure for your essay and a guideline on how long each part of the essay should be. I have seen essay instructions say how many marks are allocated for each section, and my trick is to take the total word count and allocate a percentage of words to each section based on the percentage of marks you can get for it. After all, if the teacher is allocating 80 marks for content in total and you can see 50% of the mark relates to a certain part of the essay, then 50% of your essay’s words should be devoted to that section.
Sometimes, you’ll just be given a topic and told to air your opinion. This gives you more freedom, but it’s a tad more difficult. The research will show you how many angles you should look at, and it’ll help you to find information that both supports and contradicts your point of view. To make a strong argument, you need to look at both supporting and contradictory information.
To avoid getting tangled up in one aspect of the discussion, you’ll have to decide how long it should be. If it’s the most important aspect informing your conclusion, you can spend a little more time (and words) on that particular point. It could run into several paragraphs rather than just one or two.
Always Remember the Purpose of Paragraphs
Paragraphs structure information into sub-topics, and they make your work easier to read and understand thanks to the structure they provide. With careful advance planning, you’ll be able to work out more or less how many paragraphs you need to complete your essay.
How many paragraphs is…
For those looking for a general rule-of-thumb, below are some estimates on the number of paragraphs there would be in an essay of different lengths based on an average length of 150 words per paragraph. Of course, the number of paragraphs for your essay will depend on many different factors. You can use the following information for a general reference, but don’t take these numbers as literal..
Basic Essay Word to Paragraphs Conversions
- A 100 word essay is 3 paragraph. (minimum for an essay)
- A 200 word essay is 3 paragraphs. (minimum for an essay)
- A 250 word essay is 3 paragraphs. (minimum for an essay)
- A 300 word essay is 3 paragraphs. (minimum for an essay)
- A 400 word essay is 3 paragraphs. (minimum for an essay)
- A 500 word essay is 3 to 4 paragraphs.
- A 600 word essay is 4 paragraphs.
- A 700 word essay is 4 to 5 paragraphs.
- A 750 word essay is 5 paragraphs.
- A 800 word essay is 5 to 6 paragraphs.
- A 900 word essay is 6 paragraphs.
- A 1,000 word essay is 6 to 7 paragraphs.
- A 1,250 word essay is 8 to 9 paragraphs.
- A 1,500 word essay is 10 paragraphs.
- A 1,750 word essay is 11 to 12 paragraphs.
- A 2,000 word essay is 13 to 14 paragraphs.
- A 2,500 word essay is 16 to 17 paragraphs.
- A 3,000 word essay is 20 paragraphs.
- A 4,000 word essay is 26 to 27 paragraphs.
- A 5,000 word essay is 33 to 34 paragraphs.
- A 6,000 word essay is 40 paragraphs.
- A 7,000 word essay is 46 to 37 paragraphs.
- A 7,500 word essay is 50 paragraphs.
- A 8,000 word essay is 53 to 54 paragraphs.
- A 9,000 word essay is 60 paragraphs.
- A 10,000 word essay is 66 to 67 paragraphs.