March 26, 2017

Made you look

Want to keep readers reading? Keep paragraphs short

Quick! Which of these paragraphs would you rather read?

Made you look

Easy on the eyes Want to keep readers’ attention? Write tight paragraphs. Image by Henti Smith

This 105-word paragraph?

Dr. Wolfgang Neubauer, a professor of archaeology at the University of Vienna, said that Mr. Sadik was one of his students and that the two of them had been authors of a scholarly article. He said that Mr. Sadik specialized in stratigraphy, the study of the layers of earth in which archaeological remains are found, and was working on a doctoral dissertation about an excavation at the town of Hallstatt in the Austrian Alps. Like the Nazca Lines, Hallstatt and the surrounding area have been designated a Unesco World Heritage site. He said that Mr. Sadik had put off his studies to work with Greenpeace.

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Or this 11-word one?

Until then, Mr. Stratton waits and continues his daily balancing act.

After Working in Film, a Queens Man Hopes for a Life in Technology

Paragraphs are visual cues.

That’s the problem with long paragraphs: Readers make decisions about your message based not on what you said or on how well you said it but on what it looks like after you’ve said it. And paragraph length is one of your message’s most important visual cues.

“Long paragraphs are a visual predictor that a story won’t work,” says Jon Ziomek, associate professor at the Medill School of Journalism.

So how long is too long for a paragraph?

Read full article >

“The first bite is taken with the eyes.”
— Anita Roddick, founder and CEO of The Body Shop

The problem with paragraphs

Readers avoid long ones

If your paragraph is too long, you might as well stamp on it in red ink, “Don’t bother reading this.” That’s because readers skip long paragraphs.

What's black and white and read all over

What’s black and white and read all over? Not your 200-word paragraph, that’s what! Image by Paul Bence

Assuming you actually want readers to read your paragraphs, you need to know how long is too long. What’s the average length of a paragraph that readers are willing to read?

The good news is, academics have studied this question in the lab and come up with an answer. The bad news is, that information almost never makes it into the hands of those of us who are actually writing paragraphs.

That’s where Cut Through the Clutter — our tight-writing Master Class on May 11-12 in Chicago — comes in. In this class, you’ll get proven-in-the-lab targets you can use to measurably improve your copy’s readability.

You’ll learn how long is too long — for your paragraphs, sentences, phrases and words. You’ll find out how to use a cool tool to measure, monitor and manage readability. You’ll leave with a seven-step system for making every piece you write easier to read and understand.

Our Master Classes always sell out quickly, but tickets to this one are moving really fast. You can still save $100 if you act fast: Just 8 early bird tickets remain. Don’t miss out. Register now.

Register now

“I have been a journalist for 30 years, published more than 10,000 times, and I have learned more about writing in the past two days from Ann than I have in all that time.”
— Jim Masters, internal communications specialist, Accenture

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