When you write a nonfiction paragraph, you’re more than just writing, you’re creating a mind-to-mind connection between you and your readers, like a bridge.
In this article, you’ll learn a how to craft sound nonfiction paragraphs by looking at their structure, length and type so that your words can flow effortlessly through this symbolic bridge.
1) Nonfiction Paragraph Structure
Let’s start by looking at the anatomy of a nonfiction paragraph:
Most nonfiction paragraphs begin by introducing a main idea in the first sentence, called the topic sentence. It’s important to only focus on one main idea per paragraph so that you don’t split your audience’s attention.
Once you’ve nailed down your topic sentence, it’s time to elaborate on your main idea. You’ll be doing so throughout the middle section of your paragraph by writing a number of supporting sentences.
This number will depend on the complexity of your main idea, but as a rule of thumb you’re a looking at no less than three and no more than five supporting sentences.
If you need more than five sentences to develop your main idea, then perhaps you need to it break down and devote a separate paragraph to each part.
Once you’ve developed your main idea through a number of supporting sentences, it’s time to bring your paragraph to a natural conclusion.
You’ll want to do so by summarizing the discussion of your main idea in a way that’s memorable to your readers. In other words, the goal of your concluding sentence is not merely to repeat your main idea at the end of your paragraph but to translate it into an “aha” moment.
While the first sentence of your paragraph might have elicited a response such as “This sounds interesting, I want to learn more about it,” the conclusion must elicit a response such as “Oh, now I get it, this is very cool!”
2) Nonfiction Paragraph Length
A reasonable paragraph length is between 100 and 200 words. Now, this isn’t based on a formula but on the simple fact that the nonfiction genre — and problem-solving nonfiction in particular — is about new ideas, and those ideas need a minimum number of words for you to be able to develop them effectively.
If your find that you paragraph idea is too complex to be digested in a single paragraph, then break it up into several sub-ideas, and devote a separate paragraph for each.
3) Nonfiction Paragraph Types
Finally, there are four types of nonfiction paragraphs that you’ll want to master. Each type has different characteristics that’ll work best in different areas of your book. A balanced nonfiction book makes use of all four types.
Expository Paragraph Type:
The expository paragraph type is used to convey well-researched findings in a way that establishes you as an expert in your reader’s eyes.
“The fundamental question of work and leisure raised by Weiss is particularly relevant as a generation called Millennials moves firmly into the workforce. Millennials in general are hard-working, passionate young men and women who are eager to work, but they want to enjoy and draw meaning from their jobs. Weiss recognizes this trend in young workers, but an interesting disconnect between Weiss’ article and today is the discussion of self-employment. Weiss notes that self-employed workers are generally most satisfied even if they earn less, but also makes the observation that self-employment has significantly declined. This observation is being challenged by trends in Millennial work choices.”
Descriptive Paragraph Type:
The descriptive paragraph type is used to paint a picture in the mind of the reader by using language that appeals to the their senses.
“Coming down to Bridge Park had been a good idea, he decided. Leaving the crowded mass of the city behind he’d ridden the train south, out onto the delta. Rice paddies stretched to every horizon, blurring the line between land, river and sea. And then, in the shadow of the ruined supports of the bridge, the park rose like a garden oasis above the lowlands. He obviously wasn’t the only person with the same idea today, and the park was lifted by the shrieks of children playing on the bridge replica fun zone behind him.”
Narrative Paragraph Type:
The narrative paragraph type is used to take your reader through an emotional journey from problem to solution, as conveyed through the stories of real or fictional characters that support your book’s main thesis.
“Christopher Reeve was one courageous person who fully accepted an unexpected change in direction in his life. The icon of superhuman strength in the 80’s, he was the quintessential Superman. An actor of great appeal and talent, he represented the ideal combination of manliness, strength, seeker of justice, and savior of humankind. In May 1995, he was riding his horse and had a serious fall. The accident damaged his spinal cord such that he was left a quadriplegic and had to use a machine to help him breathe. The accident sent shock waves around the world. How could Superman be rendered a quadriplegic? It was unfathomable.
After many months of grueling physical therapy, he learned how to function in this new altered state. The emotional toll was great as he and his family struggled with the changes this accident brought into their lives. Within a year, however, he had founded a charitable organization called the Christopher Reeve Foundation in order to raise money for research on spinal cord injuries and made it his mission to find a way for all victims of these devastating injuries to walk again.”
Persuasive Paragraph Type:
The persuasive paragraph type is used to convince your reader why the solution presented in your book is different than any other than they might have tried in the past.
“‘I’m too old’ or ‘It’s too late to change’ are nothing but limiting beliefs. Like any other beliefs, they’re fully under your control and are totally replaceable. In the end, you’re the one who truly runs the show, as much as you’re taught to believe the opposite. When it comes to making changes in your life, you have the ultimate say. If you end up doing only what others think you should, it’s because on some level you’ve made the decision to believe that their ideas are more worthy than your own. If you want to change, you have to start believing in what you want to do, no matter what other people’s ‘opinions’ are. And you have to believe that the changes you want to make are worth it, regardless of your age or your circumstances.
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
All the best!
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or need any help – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling writers (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghost writing, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.