Writing shorter paragraphs: why and how

The readability check in the Yoast SEO plugin tells you to write shorter paragraphs when they are too long. But why is this important? What does a good paragraph even look like? And lastly, what should you do to keep your paragraphs concise? Let’s explore!

Why your paragraphs shouldn’t be too long

Properly sized paragraphs play an important role in making your text readable and scannable. Let’s start with the readability aspect. Big walls of text are not very readable and tend to scare off your readers. Imagine this entire article being just one big paragraph! You’d probably have left the page before even reading the introduction. Paragraphs help break down your text into bite-size and easy-to-understand chunks, which puts your readers at ease. Every time you end a paragraph, you give your readers the opportunity to relax and think about what they’ve just read. This really helps them make sense of the entire text.

Paragraphs also help readers to scan your text more easily. When people end up on a page, they rarely just start reading the article from start to finish. They first want to see what they can expect before spending a lot of time reading the entire text. People tend to scan headings and the first sentences of every paragraph. By breaking up your text into paragraphs that reflect the topics you’re addressing, people will be able to get a good grasp of what your article is about in no time.

What does a good paragraph look like?

A good paragraph provides information on one single, well-defined aspect of the topic you’re discussing in your article. Consider the two paragraphs under the first heading in this article, for example. The first addresses why paragraphs make your text more readable, the second discusses why they make your text more scannable.

Your paragraphs should start with a core sentence that summarizes the content of the paragraph. Just check every first sentence in this article. They all give the reader an idea of the message of the entire paragraph. These sentences help the reader to decide whether the paragraph will be worthwhile to read.

But how long should your paragraph be? That depends on the context, but it should be more than two sentences long at the very least. If your paragraph is over 200 words, it’s almost certainly too long. At that point, it becomes difficult for most readers to understand and you’re probably better off breaking it up into different subparagraphs. Long paragraphs are more difficult for highly skilled readers as well. This is often underestimated. Sure, if you’re writing for a more proficient audience, they’ll tend to be a bit more forgiving. That doesn’t mean, however, that your text wouldn’t benefit from shorter paragraphs. Presenting complex information in an accessible form is an art, not a shortcoming.


Learn more about this check in Yoast SEO in our explanation of the paragraph length assessment.

How do I keep my paragraphs short and crisp?

If you have trouble limiting the length of your paragraphs, take a look at the entire text. Try to write down the main topics and then all individual aspects you’re discussing in your article. Let’s break down the heading and paragraph structure of this article as an example:

  1. Why shouldn’t paragraphs be long?
    – Why long paragraphs are bad for readability
    – Why long paragraphs make it difficult to scan a text
  2. What does a good paragraph look like?
    – A paragraph addresses one specific aspect of the topic
    – Paragraphs start with a core sentence.
    – How long should you paragraph be?
  3. How do you keep paragraphs short?
    – Look at the entire text
    – Example
    – Example analysis
  4. Conclusion

As you can see, this allows you to break down the text neatly into different parts. You can address them in separate paragraphs. It’s probably a good idea to do this even before writing your article. If you notice one specific aspect is taking up more space than you expected, just consider whether you can break it down into two separate aspects. This will almost always be possible. If it isn’t, you can get away with a long paragraph here and there.

Conclusion

You should avoid long paragraphs because they make it for readers to read and scan your text. Good paragraphs discuss one single well-defined aspect of the topic at hand. They start with a core sentence and generally shouldn’t exceed 200 words. If you tend to struggle with limiting the length of your paragraphs, consider breaking your article down into a schematic view. Then, consider whether you can break up larger paragraphs into shorter ones.