‘Sculpting’ your paragraphs so that a reader really wants to hear what you have to say.

Yes, it’s the examiner’s job to read whatever you write, but why not make that an inviting task?  It’s probably true that when you see great blocks of print (long paragraphs) you are less enticed to read on; learning to write effective paragraphs can invite the reader in. There really is a visual dimension to a piece of writing.

What do good journalists (who want to capture their readers) do? They aim for one idea per paragraph. And overall, paragraphs whose length both completes the task (usually an essay) and keeps the reader engaged.

So what norms are useful as to the length of paragraphs? What are the pitfalls of too long or too short?

A paragraph that is too short might not be fleshed out enough (needs more examples that relate to the leading idea or argument) OR might not belong in the essay or commentary at all (off-topic or redundant, or not a strong example) OR the idea or example would really serve as another subset of your argument and is just not enough to constitute a paragraph.

A paragraph that is too long might contain extraneous words or examples that weaken the argument and slow the pace … and bore the reader. OR (and this is common in student essays) include two ideas that are good enough to stand alone in their own paragraphs.

Take a look at a piece of writing – in any IB subject that involves essays –or even several pieces and see if you can get a sense of what you habitually do in producing paragraphs. Then give it a think: are you serving your own best interests in that aspect or just following old habits?