Attack of the Megaparagraph!!

By Ryan Hickey + updated on February 24th, 2010

Over the last few weeks, this blog has presented many suggestions that have hopefully helped you effectively craft and polish your admissions essay(s). While talking with an EssayEdge editor this afternoon, however, he brought up a topic that I haven’t yet written about. We were discussing length restrictions, particularly how many of our customers struggle to meet such 500-word, 1-page, and 4,500-character limits. The editor said that in his opinion, a primary cause of this difficulty is an almost universal tendency to write in what he called mega-paragraphs.

Now, there’s nothing technically wrong with a large paragraph (provided, of course, that it’s not…well, too long). When writing an admissions essay, however, traditional paragraph length is often still too long. With only a limited amount of space in which to convey your message, you‘re much better off writing paragraphs that are only 2-3 sentences long.

So here’s today’s tip: use short paragraphs, limiting each one to its own specific detail or idea. Because they’re accustomed to writing lengthy papers, applicants oftentimes favor long paragraphs when shorter ones work better in short essays. Why? I’m glad you asked…

For one, they make an essay more readable by allowing the reader to absorb the concepts in small packages.  They also give each idea its own moment in the reader’s mind. A well-placed paragraph break can often work in lieu of a verbal transition by highlighting subtle differences or adding a dramatic pause. It saves the reader from having to think about these nuances, and can really help make a narrative that is fluid and compelling.

Secondly, short paragraphs force you to think about what you need to say and focus on it. Eliminate the fluff, make your point, and move on to the next idea. Just like I’m doing in this paragraph.

Lastly, in an essay that’s only one page long, several short paragraphs look much better than two or three mega paragraphs. That may seem unimportant, but believe me, when you’re an admissions officer reading your hundredth essay of the day and you see a page that is practically filled by one giant paragraph, something in your subconscious is going to say “Oh no…” Aesthetics matter, though not as much as other factors. They’re still worth considering, though.

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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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