the paragraph

In school we are taught about how important the paragraph is, and how important it is to get our paragraphs correct. But the paragraph is not the cohesive unit that English teachers would have us believe. A lecture series from The Great Courses taught me that the concept of the paragraph didn’t show up until 1795. And in a study a group of English teachers were given a block of writing with all the paragraph breaks removed and were told to reassemble the paragraphs. No one matched the original paragraphing exactly.

I like Stephen Pinker’s comment in The Sense of Style:SenseofStyle

quoteMany writing guides provide detailed instructions on how to build a paragraph. But the instructions are misguided, because there is no such thing as a paragraph. That is, there is no item in an outline, no branch of a tree, no unit of discourse that consistently corresponds to a block of text delimited by a blank line or an indentation. What does exist is the paragraph break: a visual bookmark that allows the reader to pause, take a breather, assimilate what he has read, and then find his place again on the page.



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