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Writing a Paper is Different from Writing on the Internet


writing-online-webIn a discussion with a graduate professor, she revealed that the most common complaint she has with her students’ writing is their inability to create paragraphs. She often has to explain to students that a sentence or even two sentences are not enough to justify a new paragraph.

In her rant, it became apparent that students are becoming more and more affected by writing on the Internet. Years ago, a usability group performed a study on “How Users Read on the Web.” Their conclusion was, “They don’t.” Instead, people scan. As such, paragraphs are discouraged and instead, bulleted lists or one to two-sentence paragraphs are preferred.

This is more than the 140-character Twitter requirement. Instead, look at how some news agencies write articles. Look at this top article on The Washington Post: “Edward Snowden faces strong extradition treaty if he remains in Hong Kong.” When we break down the number of sentences in each paragraph, the count is 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 1, and 2. The first eight paragraphs contain only one-sentence each.

The Washington Post is obviously using an approach to deal with people who scan instead of read. This style of writing is indicative of many news outlets. Given that it is a major publication, it can be deceptive to students that this is how they should write their academic papers. Students should keep in mind that papers are meant to develop and defend ideas for people who will read them in their entirety.

As such, keep in mind that any teacher will probably ding you on a paragraph with less than four or five paragraphs.

By Scott Manning
Online Learning Tips, Student Contributor