68 THE FACTS ON FILE GUIDE TO GOOD WRITING sentence, and as a sentence might only consist of a single word, the minimum size for a paragraph is one word. However, single-sentence, let alone singleword, paragraphs are comparatively rare and not necessarily preferred. There is no upper limit on the size of paragraphs. In the hands of a skillful writer, a paragraph could be made to extend a whole page or more. The reasons given earlier for the existence of paragraphs, however, apply at all points. Text is easier to read and looks better on the page if it is broken up. If you embark on a paragraph that looks as if it is going to cover more than two-thirds of a page, it is usually wise to look for a way of dividing it into two or more smaller ones. As a very rough guide, the average paragraph should contain not less than three sentences. This is the minimum usually needed for the introductionbody-conclusion pattern. Likewise, when you have written six or seven sentences, it is usually time to think of bringing the paragraph to a close. A lot depends, however, on the length of your sentences. Similarly, you should usually aim to fit three or four paragraphs onto a standard page. But there are a number of factors that can influence the size and number of your paragraphs. First among these is the nature of your readership and of the piece you are writing. Certain types of writing, particularly tabloid journalism and writing for children, demand many short paragraphs, usually of only one or two sentences. The more sophisticated your readers, the longer you can make your paragraphs. You can safely assume that their attention span and their capacity to follow an argument will enable you to expand well beyond three sentences if you need to do so. Second is the position of the paragraph within a section. It is usually recommended that the first and last paragraphs of a section be comparatively short. A couple of sentences should suffice to set the scene or get a discussion going, and also to bring the section to a close. The third factor is the desirability of putting variety into your text. Wherever possible, you should vary the length of your paragraphs and also vary the lengths of the sentences within the paragraphs. A succession of uniform paragraphs spread uniformly across the page creates a regimented impression. For all its underlying planning and logic, a text should be something lively and not be entirely predictable. A varied arrangement of paragraphs indicates as much directly to the eye.
Paragraphing and Dialogue A particular paragraphing convention applies to the presentation of conversational exchanges. It is customary to start a new paragraph each time a person begins to speak and to include within the paragraph not only the attribution of the spoken words—that is, a phrase such as he said, she answered, or they chorused—but also any material that describes how the words were uttered or what the character was doing when he or she uttered them. The following example illustrates conventional treatment of written dialogue. “I don’t think I can stand much more of this,” said Henrietta. “If it gets any hotter I think I shall go insane! Why didn’t you tell me it was going to be so—so primitive!”