Section 4.2

Email Paragraph Length

Have you ever received an email message that consists of a single extremely long paragraph? If so, perhaps you will be able to sympathize with the many readers who find long, bulky paragraphs exhausting, especially on the computer screen.

A body paragraph — in other words, any paragraph falling between the introduction and conclusion — should generally contain one main idea on which the writer elaborates. There are exceptions, but many paragraphs follow this format, and many of those that don’t, should.

When you signal the start of a new paragraph (in email, by skipping a line), you are signaling to the reader the start of a new thought. Paragraphing is an example of how form — in other words, an email’s appearance — supports content. A very long paragraph suggests the writer has included too many ideas in a single block, thus leaving it up to the recipient to understand which sentences go together and how the various ideas relate to one another.

On average, email messages are shorter and more frequent than business correspondence of the past. It is not unusual to find a series of quite short paragraphs in good email messages (though it is common for people to think, mistakenly, that email paragraphs are shorter than they are, simply because of the way many email software programs display the text across the width of the computer screen).

Although an accumulation of excessively short paragraphs can sometimes be problematic, creating a choppy effect, many effective email messages consist of several short paragraphs, each in turn consisting of no more than a sentence or two.