Crafting clear paragraphs

The paragraph is the usual unit of a text. A paragraph is a logical grouping of several sentences about a topic or idea. The sentences in the paragraph should relate to one another as the idea moves logically from one sentence to the next and is developed.

This section covers:

Topic sentence and progression

Each paragraph should start with a topic sentence, which sets the reader up to understand what the paragraph will cover. Once stated in the first sentence, the topic is developed in successive sentences of the paragraph:

A cold can present with many symptoms. [topic sentence] Sneezing is a common and relatively mild symptom. Congestion can be a more serious symptom, which can lead to disturbed sleep and even sinus, bronchial or chest infections. [topic progression]

When there is a mix of items to be communicated in a paragraph, they need to be presented in a logical order (eg chronological, or their importance for the intended reader). There is no single ‘right’ way; it simply needs to be logical:

The day will start with a morning panel discussion, then move to break-out sessions with specialists, followed by Q&A and a buffet lunch. Next, we will have our keynote speech. After afternoon tea, the workshop will close with a ‘wrap-up’ session.
[This version delivers information about the components of the workshop chronologically.]

The day will include a morning panel discussion, break-out sessions with specialists, Q&A, the keynote speech, and a closing ‘wrap-up’ session. We will also have a buffet lunch and an afternoon tea break.
[This version begins by highlighting the business components of the day, and then tells readers about the catering arrangements.]

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Paragraph size

Paragraphs are most effective when they are kept to a length of around 5 sentences. But shorter and even single-sentence paragraphs can draw attention to key points that might otherwise be buried. This can be useful in writing web content or material that needs to engage the reader in a short space, such as a media release or brochure.

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