I understand the tactic of using short sentences to make an article read faster. It brings a sense of urgency to the writing. It keeps the reader moving along at a good clip because their mind doesn’t need to pause as often as the text is pausing, which gives a sense of speed. I get that. I really do.
I also get the idea that shorter paragraphs read faster and are easier to scan, which is what people like to do on the web. We scan online, we read deeply in physical text. I get it. I’ve read countless articles about it. I’m sure you have too. It makes sense.
It seems to me that some people — big name bloggers who should know better — have taken this too far. I’m embarrassed for them. They know how sentences are structured, how our eyes bounce from word to word recognizing familiar patterns (words) and moving quickly. And they’re masters of exploiting that. But isn’t anyone knowledgeable enough, or willing, to call them out when they take this tactic too far?
I was reading an article from Copyblogger (an article about copy writing , no less) when I finally reached my breaking point. See if you can spot the problem.
What you see there are five different paragraphs. What you also see are only six different sentences. Does that seem silly to anyone else? At what point are we allowed to cry foul about treating sentences like paragraphs? Single sentence paragraphs are useful in moderation and to emphasize a point, but there’s nothing profound about these statements to warrant their own paragraphs. Imagine carrying this a step further with single word paragraphs.
It’s a bit absurd, don’t you think?
Think back to your college days. If you handed in a writing assignment with single sentences masquerading as paragraphs and the professor didn’t call you on it, would you have any respect for that professor? More so, if a grade school teacher gave her students a pass on their paragraph structures, how long would she keep her job?
And it’s not just him. All the big names in blogging do it. Some more consistently and egregiously than others, but all do it.
For those of you not in the know, paragraphs are groups of sentences about a related idea. When the idea shifts, you start a new paragraph. If every sentence you write is a new idea, you haven’t written an article, you’ve merely written an outline.
Let me take a second to head off all the grammar Nazi accusations that will no doubt flood my inbox. I understand language is fluid and constantly changing. I understand the rules of writing are different online, particularly in regards to blogging. I understand writing the way we talk is a more engaging method than strict adherence to staunch standards. That’s not the point I’m making. This isn’t about perfect grammar. It’s about trust.
If you’re an expert in your field, you have a responsibility to use the tools of the trade correctly. You wouldn’t think highly of a chef who was not skilled with his knife, an IT professional who wrote sloppy code, or a novelist who overused his adverbs. Those are rookie mistakes. Those are not the hallmarks of a thought leader.
Is it that our standards have dropped so far in the blogging world that we overlook basic mistakes, or am I missing something here? Why is the imprecision we would never tolerate in other fields so accepted, and even valued, in blogging?
If blogging is a worthy pursuit, and I think it is, shouldn’t we at least get the basics right, and demand that basic level of competence from the thought leaders we give our attention to? Or is the blog-o-sphere the kind of place where we throw out the need for craftsmanship, so long as our chosen expert has X number of followers?