Half Pages

This post isn’t going to be very deep, but I’m taking a vacation next week and I don’t want to let a whole month go by without posting anything. I thought I would reflect a little on a theme that I find myself emphasizing more and more when I talk students and scholars about their writing: a paragraph occupies roughly half a page of standard prose.

Here at CBS, a “normal page” consists of 2275 characters (including spaces) and I find that this means about 350 words to the page. Since a paragraph consists of at most 200 words, that’s roughly two paragraphs to the page. Each paragraph says one thing and supports, elaborates, or defends; it takes about one minute to read. There are two truths to the page.

Try to think of your papers (books, theses, dissertations, treatises, etc.) as a series of pages that provide a two-minute, two-truth reading experience for a qualified peer. Make sure you know what you are trying to say on each page and how you want to the reader to take it. Do you want them to believe, understand, or (dis)agree with you?

Arrange your paragraphs in a natural sequence. One way to do this is simply to list the key sentences in a separate document. Do they make sense out of the context of their paragraphs simply arranged in order? If not, rearrange them until they do, add a key sentence where a paragraph seems to be missing, remove one that breaks the sequence. Move it somewhere else or just park it at the end of the document until you can find place for it. At the end, you might find you don’t need it at all.

Like I say, I’m not trying to say anything deep here. The page is literally the surface of your knowledge. Try to treat it that way. Learn to trust that you have a lot under the surface to draw on. This is just about presentation, a half page at a time.

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