Online Writing Lab

Paragraph Length

When it comes to length, there is no definitive rule to follow when writing a paragraph for an essay.   Some paragraphs may be short while others are longer.  (Generally, a paragraph should be at least four sentences.)  Either way, it is important that the length of a paragraph in an essay matches the length of the essay.  In other words, shorter essays generally require shorter paragraphs, while longer essays often require longer paragraphs that contain more information about a particular main point.

The basic rule for determining paragraph length is to keep each paragraph to only one main idea.   If a paragraph contains multiple ideas, it is likely that the ideas aren’t fully explained or supported (in other words, the paragraph isn’t fully developed).   Instead, it is beneficial to keep the paragraph to one main idea in which most of the paragraph is dedicated to supporting this idea through a variety of evidence: examples, illustrations, statistics, quotes, paraphrases, causes, effects, and/or definitions, as necessary.  

If a paragraph begins with one idea and seems to end with another, it has lost its focus.  When this happens, check the topic sentence for effectiveness and make sure everything that follows relates to it.  (More on topic sentences)

When should a new paragraph be created?

  • Anytime a new idea or new point is being introduced
  • To provide an alternative viewpoint or an extended illustration
  • To provide further evidence that supports the thesis
  • Anytime a paragraphs looks or “feels” too long – while there is no definitive rule for paragraph use, if any single paragraph is a page or longer, there is probably a place where it can and should be broken
  • To begin the conclusion, which should always be a separate paragraph (or paragraphs)

For more information on body paragraphs, see the body paragraphs page and/or review the body paragraph exercise for help creating one.