There are eight million posts on how to write a great headline, how to write a fantastic call to action, and how to write a good blog post.
We’ll even tell you how to write shorter sentences, snappier copy and better ebooks.
But you know what none of us tell you?
How to write the actual content.
It’s not enough to create killer headlines or spectacular introductions. Content that’s worth reading, sharing, and coming back to isn’t about how it starts or ends, but rather how it unfolds.
In other words, great content comes from knowing how to write great paragraphs.
But that isn’t sexy!
I know, I know. Paragraphs aren’t glamorous at all. No one cares about the poor things, regardless of how essential they are. They’re not a cool hack or snazzy technique, and there’s no app for them.
Great paragraphs come from plain, old-fashioned grammar school. How lame is that?
Here’s why a seamless paragraph matters so much to your writing
Your readers take in every single word you say.
Not just the words in the bullet points. Not just the words in the numbered lists. Not just the headlines or the sub-headlines or the compelling calls to action. Readers won’t skim your content looking for “the good stuff.” It’s all good stuff.
Wait a second, you say. Shouldn’t you break up content with bullet points and numbered lists? Isn’t that what people actually read? Aren’t online readers notorious for scanning past the paragraphs?
Yeah, they are. Because they weren’t that interested in the paragraphs that came before the bullet points in the first place..
People think those paragraphs are just fillers. We’ve trained them to think that—because filler is what most people put between those bullet points.
No one cares about crafting a good paragraph. Readers might as well go ahead and scan, because we’ve given them no real reason not to.
Everyone’s focusing on the stuff that sticks out.
Readers will read… if it’s worth their while.
Many bloggers and content marketers assume that scanning is just what people do. They don’t bother with honing their paragraphs the way they refine their headlines and bullet points, because they figure no one will read the paragraphs anyway.
But that’s a big assumption.
Think about that one blogger or writer whose work you read religiously—I know you have one. We all have one. You get excited when you see a new article hit your inbox because you love the way this person writes. You probably read that post more than once, and you might even save it.
You’re not reading for the headline. You’re not reading for the bullet points, or the nugget of brand-new, secret-insider knowledge. You’re reading for the words, and you don’t consider any of them “filler,” no matter how long the piece.
Which means that person—that author, that blogger—is most likely a killer paragraph writer.
Are paragraphs starting to sound a little sexier now? They should. Who doesn’t want to be one of those people whose readers hang on their every word?
No one, that’s who. So let’s get started.
1. Great Paragraphs Leave No Sentence Behind
There’s an old marketing adage that goes like this: The purpose of the first sentence is to get the reader to read the second sentence. The purpose of the second sentence is to get them to read the third sentence. And so on.
This is true, but it’s the “and so on” part most people forget to pay attention to. They focus on the first sentence or the second, and their interest starts to drop off after the fourth or fifth. Sentence thirty-six isn’t doing a thing to keep readers moving forward, but they leave it in there because they think it doesn’t matter that much.
It matters. Every single sentence matters.
If you have a sentence in your paragraph that isn’t actively moving readers to the next one, chop it out. It’s doing nothing for you—or for your paragraph.
2. Good Paragraphs Form a Chain of Thought
You don’t have to create a paragraph to adhere to the marketing adage I mentioned above. We could just snag a handful of best headlines and stick ’em in a row, and that would satisfy the “get the reader to read the next sentence” rule.
Is your tribe holding you down? You could increase your blog subscription rate by 254%. Eminem can teach you how to become a writing and marketing machine. Let’s talk 50 can’t-fail techniques for finding great blog topics.
Those are some of Copyblogger’s most popular post titles, and they’re undeniably compelling headlines. But while they satisfy the “get the reader to read the next sentence rule,” they don’t relate to one another. The second sentence has nothing to do with the first sentence.
Midway through reading that crazy paragraph, you were starting to wonder about the follow-up. You read the first sentence with the expectation that the second would expand further on the thought—and when it turned out to be an equally fine but unrelated sentence, you got confused, frustrated and bored.
That’s why every sentence in a paragraph has to refer back to the one before it.
And if it’s a new paragraph, it has to refer back to the last sentence of the previous paragraph. Your very first paragraph will refer back to your headline. Your headline introduces the idea in the first place, which means you’re going to want to make it as spectacular as possible—because everything you write afterward will depend on that one idea—and make a bunch of points to back it up.
How do you know when to end one paragraph and start the next? Well . . .
3. Good Paragraphs Know When to End
Every paragraph should last long enough to make one single point.
Some paragraphs—like the one before—only need one sentence to make the point they intended. Others, like this one, need a few sentences to discuss the point fully and explain several ways of looking at it. You might need to expand upon your thoughts or give examples to drive the point home.
When your point is made, you can move on to the next point. Which, obeying Rule #2 above, should relate back to the point that came before it, move on to make its own point, and end when that point is fully explained.
Here’s what some writers do: They string together several points in a single paragraph, which is never effective. Breaking up paragraphs gives readers a visual cue that helps them organize their thoughts. When they see a paragraph, they know they’ll get a certain amount of information, which they can then store away in their brains under the heading “point one.”
But if you give readers three distinct points in a single paragraph, it forces the reader to figure out where the separations are between those points.
That’s work. And readers, as you’ve been told, hate work.
If you don’t want your audience to start looking for the bullet points, keep your paragraphs easy for your readers to process, and let them end when their point is concluded.
4. Good Paragraphs Mix Up Sentence Lengths
You can keep your reader engaged with your paragraph by mixing up sentence lengths. Several sentence in a row with the exact same structure bores your reader. Here’s a quick example:
Last week, I went to the circus and saw a monkey. Before the show, the monkey climbed the bars and looked at me aggressively. Noticing his expression, I backed away and called the guard. Unconcerned, he waved at the monkey and rolled his eyes at me.
Each of these sentences is formed the same way, with a little intro clause and two short statements held together by an “and.” Even two sentences like that would’ve made your brain start to lag; four is way too much. Different sentence lengths help create a changing rhythm that’s interesting to your reader.
Don’t Neglect Your Paragraphs
You’ve likely already learned more than enough on how to cultivate great headlines, craft benefit-laden bullet points, and create mind-blowing introductions that make readers want to read on.
It’s time to pay attention to the rest of what you write.
Have more ideas for what should go into a great paragraph? Share them in the comments!