How Many Words in a Paragraph?

How many words in a paragraph
As a writer, you may find yourself pondering the question, “How many words are in a paragraph?” Much like the number of sentences in a paragraph, there’s no single answer to this question. A rule of thumb answer is, “There are usually 100 to 200 words in a paragraph,” but a more accurate answer would be “It depends…” which isn’t particularly helpful. So let’s take a more in-depth look at word count, paragraphs and how it all works.

What does a paragraph usually consist of?

A paragraph usually deals with a single idea. In general, you’ll have an introductory sentence expressing that idea, and several supporting sentences to round it off. Paragraphs are usually about 100 – 200 words long, but there are more exceptions to this rule-of-thumb than you’d expect.

Commercial Writing

Commercial writing breaks all the rules. Whether or not you find it irritating, your task is to hold your readers’ attention and get them to read what you’ve written. The average person doesn’t like to see solid blocks of text. It looks like it’s going to be difficult to get through, and nobody likes to work harder than they have to.

“White Space” is a great way to make your information look easier to master, and one of the best ways to create “white space” is through using paragraphs. For commercial writing, it’s best to keep sentences short and punchy, and the same goes for paragraphs.

People don’t usually like to see paragraphs that are more than three or four lines long. How many words is that? Again, although it’s not helpful, the answer is “It depends…” Font styles and font size will affect paragraph length – at least from a psychological perspective.

For example, this is a blog post, and I want to keep the reader engaged. The longest paragraph under this heading is only 61 words long. This is the shortest one so far, and it only uses 37 words.

I want to get your attention!

The above paragraph is only six words long, and you can count the words in this one if you like.

Dialogues

To make things easy for your reader, you’ll switch paragraphs every time you switch speakers, for example:

“I don’t know how long a paragraph should be,” said Mary, “but I hope to find out by reading this article.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” John replied, “but don’t let that limit your creativity!”

“Really? Can I bend the rules?”

“The rules are really more like guidelines.”

“Cool!”

As you can see, I was able to stop identifying the speakers as soon as the conversation began to flow because John and Mary each had paragraphs to themselves. Neither of them said anything that was even close to 100 words, but it’s still easy to see who said what. Mary’s final paragraph was one word long.

Academic Writing

In academic writing, paragraphs will usually consist of the “standard” 100 – 200 words (Burns, 2002). You will begin the paragraph with an idea and then explain it in the light of currently accepted knowledge (Phillips, 2014) with references. Bear in mind that your tutor will want to see some original thought, but will expect it to be motivated according to your reading (Williams et al, 1994). Smith (2004) supports this concept and confirms that academic writing requires longer paragraphs than those generally found in commercial writing or even story-telling. 200 words is really a bit long for any paragraph and since this one is just over 100 words, you’ll soon see why this should be the case (Me, 2015).

Whew! That was a marathon to read, wasn’t it?

How many words per paragraph? It’s really up to you!

As a takeaway, I’d like to suggest that there are absolutely no hard-and-fast rules as to how many words a paragraph should be.

Making them too short, can look a little odd.

This is an excellent example.

But it can work in some cases.

On the other hand, having really long paragraphs might work for you, but not for your reader. A lot of text without “white space” is hard on the eyes, and the brain. I’ve seen blog posts and web pages with absolutely no paragraphs to speak of. Did I want to read them? Not really. It was too difficult to separate the ideas from one another and there just didn’t seem to be a good enough reason to read them if I could find the same information split up into bite-sized chunks that were easier to digest. So, whatever you do, don’t forget the importance of paragraphs – and keep them a bit shorter than this one, unless you’re trying to baffle the reader.

By the way, the above paragraph is “only” 122 words (656 characters) long. Do you see what I mean when I say that longer isn’t always better? I’m ready to bet that you do.

(Photo courtesy of Enokson)

43 comments

  1. So, if I have a 10 paragraph assignment, I can just write ten words with a period after each and I will have it completed?

    1. Yes, if you want to fail the assignment. While technically you could do this, it’s not in the spirit of what the teacher wanted when making the assignment (but you already knew that).

      1. This will mostly depend on the writer. Paragraphs will also differ in size due to information being written about and the type of writing being done. I don’t think anyone can say how many words will be in any given paragraph before it’s written. Even with the same topic and directions, two writers will have different results.

    2. I would not suggest trying to do this. While you may think it’s funny or clever, it’s highly doubtful that your teacher or professor will see it the same way.

  2. Is that the paragraph sign in the photo in this article? I’ve never seen it look like that before. The one I know sort of looks like a “P”

    1. Does anyone know what the “paragraph sign” is called? Is there a proper English word for it or does everyone just call it a paragraph sign?

      1. The paragraph symbol is called a pilcrow. The symbol in the illustration at the head of this article is the section symbol (or silcrow, informally).

    1. Of course it matters. You can’t just write 1 word paragraphs. You should try to write paragraphs that have 100 to 200 words for most of them. This will make it easier for people to read them.

      1. Great guideline to use. This will always be a question that will be asked by writers and I think it is difficult to answer due to the fact that you need to know what information you want in it.

    2. No! Just write as many words as you want for each paragraph. Don’t conform to any rules and express your own thoughts and words. Rebel!

      1. Don’t listen to @artstudent — the comment is nothing more than a troll. The number of words in a paragraph does matter, and although it is fine to rebel, you need to rebel once you have learned how to write your graphs properly. Trying to rebuild before you know how to do that only make you look like a fool.

  3. This would seem to be such an easy question to answer, but the answer is 1 word to hundreds of words. I wish there were a more definite answer like 50 or 100 so I could just use that. Why does all aspects of writing have to be so difficult?

    1. Language would be so much more boring if everything was defined like that. What makes English so beautiful is that it isn’t rigid with rules. It makes it fun!

  4. Who decides what the average number of words in a paragraph is? I know you said that there are usually 100 to 200 words in a paragraph, but who has decided that this is the general amount? Did someone just wake up one day and say that a paragraph should have 100 to 200 words and it? Where has there been some specific research done that indicates that most paragraphs fall within this range?

    1. It’s easy to determine a general number of words in a paragraph. All that needs to be done is take a large data set and then crunch the numbers. If you look at hundreds of thousands of paragraphs you’ll soon see a trend of how many words are in an average paragraph. Sure, there will be some with a lot less and some with a lot more, but in general an average number will appear. That’s 100 to 200 words per paragraph.

  5. SO AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!<3 (: This is exactly what I was looking for to help me out with my essay.

  6. I like to write long paragraphs. I think that too many people try to break long paragraphs into a number of shorter ones far too often. There is just something special about reading a long paragraph that conveys the essence of the story. People shouldn’t try to make their paragraphs too short. Long paragraphs are just so wonderful.

    1. Long paragraphs are difficult to read. That’s why you rarely see them in magazines and newspapers (or online) . A huge wall of text is never inviting. If you like long paragraphs, there is nothing wrong with that, but you need to be aware that fewer people will actually read what you write.

    2. I like to write short paragraphs. I think that too many people try to combine short paragraphs into a number of longer ones far too often. There is just something special about reading a short paragraph that conveys the essence of the story. People shouldn’t try to make their paragraphs too long. Short paragraphs are just so wonderful.

    1. That would depend on how many words are in each sentence which can vary greatly. Most sentences have about 6 words, so a guestimate would be 48 words. If you stick the paragraph into https://wordcounter.net/ it will tell you exactly how many words are in the paragraph.

    2. Usually, 150-180 depending on the length of your sentences. Admin said 48, but 6 word-sentences are not commonly used if you are doing an academic paper (analysis, informative, argumentative essay) rather than freelance writing for creativity or leisure. the smallest sentence in an essay I’m writing is 10 words. And there are not many of those. The rest average between 12-30 words. If you are in high school (I am a HS senior), I suggest using a more academic vocabulary that will make your sentences fuller. But, only make them longer if it is necessary and meaningful, not to reach a word count. That’s when sentences become run-ons and you lose points. If you are in Jr High, get used to being thorough yet concise. Not too verbose! Just a good medium. You’ll find a balance as you grow as a writer and form your own style. I know this is late lol, but I hope that helps 🙂

  7. Some people count proper names (e.g. New York, Thomas Alva Edison), proverbs (A stitch in time saves nine), idioms (make ends meet), titles (Little House on the Prairie), and similes (as hardworking as an ant) as one single word. Is it correct?

  8. Does anyone truly care about this? I mean, who cares how many words are in a paragraph? Name me one person who would care about this? And if you can, you have named someone who needs to reevaluate what they care about in life.

    1. I care. I have an assignment to write a paragraph and I wanted to get a general idea of how long that should be. You think I need to reevaluate my life because i want to do well in school?

  9. I think an important point that hasn’t been mentioned in the comments is that a paragraph should be about a single idea. That means that the number of words in a paragraph will depend on how long you spend on that single idea. If you have a lot to say about that single idea, the paragraph will be long. If you don’t have a lot to say about that idea, the paragraph will be short. I don’t think you should be concentrating on how many words are in the paragraph as much as are you still on the same topic within the paragraph.

    I see so many students who don’t understand this and break up a single idea into several paragraphs. Then there are other students to take several ideas and lump them all into the same paragraph. If you can understand the concept of a single idea for a paragraph, it will solve a lot of your problem.

    1. You can’t write well without understanding the structure of a paragraph. I see so many students try to squeeze a number of different ideas into a single paragraph and this immediately tells me they don’t understand what it’s for and how it’s used.

  10. I don’t understand why so many people worry about things like this. If you’re trying to write well, the number of words for each paragraph should naturally take place. Trying to force a specific number of words into each paragraph will ruin your writing.

  11. I am a sixth grader. Do the same rules apply for all grades? I usually write about 250 words in each paragraph, ending up writing about 5 paragraphs.

    Helpful article.

    1. It’s a general rule of thumb, not a one that can’t be broken. So much depends on the context of what’s being written. It’s a good number to shoot for, but there are a lot of reasons to deviate from it depending on what you’re writing.

  12. You should shoot for three to five sentences in a paragraph and six to 10 words per sentence, so a paragraph should have 18 to 50 words.

    1. Those are some pretty short paragraphs. I would find it difficult to express all the information in such a short paragraph for most of my writing. There are times when they can be this short, but I would say most should be a lot longer.

  13. This is something that everyone who is commenting on seems to be overanalyzing. Don’t try to constrict yourself into a certain number of words per paragraph. If you write well, paragraphs will naturally come about and be the number of words they need to be. If you try to cram too many words into them to make them longer or cut out a bunch of words to make them shorter, in all likelihood the paragraphs won’t seem natural. Write the best thing you can in the paragraph should naturally flow.

    1. This is fine unless the assignment has a word and paragraph limit. I have an assignment that requires 8 paragraphs and 1000 words. It seems crazy for a teacher to be this specific for a paper, but she does stuff like this all the time.

  14. I just finished writing an essay. The shortest paragraph had 98 words and the longest had 367 words. It doesn’t seem that this is accurate at all.

  15. Think of a paragraph as a women’s skirt. Make sure its long enough to cover everything but make it short enough to be interesting! 😉

  16. The original definition of a paragraph is ONE OR MORE SENTENCES. I had a boss onece who had a bug up her backside about not allowing one sentence paragraphs in documents. She used to say it was grammatically incorrect, and then used to complain our documents were too wordy and long. She was 100% wrong. Grammar has to do with spelling and punctuation, and the sentence was perfectly spelled and punctuated. Usage and style have to do with form and structure. Anyone who says it is never done is wrong. God, the disciples and King James are going to be angry when someone rewrites the Bible. Shortest paragraph and verse in the King James Bible is in the New Testament: “Jesus Wept.” Two words. One Sentence. One paragraph. One sentence paragraphs are done, they are used. They have been used in very important religious books, historical books and literature. There is nothing wrong with them stylistically. If a one sentence paragraph conveys the idea, mood, emotion or purpose intended by the author, there is nothing wrong with using it. The pace and metering of what you read can be as important as the words.

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