How to use paragraphs

A massive block of text is just no fun. Instead, try using paragraphs.

Breaking up the content of your message into more manageable sections will make your email easier to read and to understand. Plus paragraphs can help bring structure, rhythm, and flow to your writing.

Aim for one paragraph – one idea. I usually follow this general structure:

Paragraph 1: introduce yourself and the main thrust of the email
Paragraph 2: elaborate on the problem or issue at hand
Paragraph 3: suggest a solution or outline the next action step
Paragraph 4: close the email

So what does this look like in practice? Here are some model emails.

Sam,

Hello! I am writing about our meeting on Wednesday (March 3rd) at 5:00 PM. Would it be possible to reschedule?

I just spoke to Molly. It seems that she cannot make the originally scheduled time. She did suggest that we could hold the meeting without her and she could meet separately with one of us later to catch up.

If we decide to reschedule, I spoke to the other members. Thursday (March 4th) at 4:30 PM should work for everyone. The conference room is available as well. Is that time convenient for you? Please let me know.

Thanks. Best,

Alex Kim

Here’s another.

Professor Hinkle,

I am enrolled in your HIST 202 class (Monday 10:00 section). I am writing regarding the assigned textbook reading for next week (October 14th).

The syllabus lists the reading as pages 48-66, but on the handout you presented in class, the reading is listed as pages 104-160. I just want to make sure that I am reading the correct assignment. Do you mind clarifying?

Thank you,

Alex Kim

As you can see, the general four paragraph structure I outlined above is flexible and can be adapted to the content of your particular message. For example, in the second model email, Paragraphs 2 (elaborate on the problem) and 3 (suggest a solution) have been collapsed into one paragraph. In a casual keeping-in-touch email, each paragraph might introduce a different story or event that happened, or an idea that you have been thinking about. Yes, even in chatty emails, paragraphs are recommended.

I find that the majority of my emails are 2 to 4 paragraphs in length. Below is a histogram showing the paragraph number of my last 35 emails, which includes formal emails for jobs, progress reports to my adviser, and friendly correspondence emails.

Go try some paragraphs of your own now!

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