The paragraph is a device that aids a writer to convey to readers his thoughts combined in the same groups in which they are arranged in his own mind. Since a small group of thoughts is more easily grasped than a large one, paragraphs in journalistic writing are usually considerably shorter than those of ordinary English prose. In the narrow newspaper column, there is room for only five or six words to a line. A paragraph of 250 words, which is the average length of the literary paragraph, fills between forty and fifty lines of a newspaper column. Such paragraphs seem heavy and uninviting. Moreover, the casual reader cannot readily comprehend and combine the various thoughts in so large a group of sentences. Although there is no standard column width for magazines, the number of words in a line does not usually exceed eight. A paragraph of 250 words that occupies 30 eight-word lines seems less attractive than one of half that length. The normal paragraph in journalistic writing seldom exceeds 100 words and not infrequently is much shorter. As such a paragraph contains not more than four or five sentences, the general reading public has little difficulty in comprehending it.
The beginning of the paragraph, like the beginning of the sentence, is the part that catches the eye. Significant ideas that need to be impressed upon the mind of the reader belong at the beginning. If his attention is arrested and held by the first group of words, he is likely to read on. If the beginning does not attract him, he skips down the column to the next paragraph, glancing merely at enough words in the paragraph that he skips to "get the drift of it." An emphatic beginning for a paragraph will insure attention for its contents.
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