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Getting Smarter through Language

Myths about Sentences, Paragraphs, and and Essays

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The Problem

As we learn skills throughout our lives, we sometimes learn tips on how to do something. Instructors tell us how to accomplish a task efficiently by practicing a certain way of doing it. The problem is that we often take these tips and instructional recommendations as a steadfast “rule."

We then pass them on to others or get locked into a way of thinking. We believe that “that’s just the way it is.”


Here are common misconceptions about writing that we need to think through.

The Sentence

Myth: Do not write short sentences.

Myth: Do not use the first person.

Myth: Do not use phrasal verbs in formal writing.

The Paragraph

Myth: Each paragraph must have a topic statement (or main idea sentence).

It is true that a well built paragraph should have a main idea, which you support with details. It is also true that a paragraph having a topic statement is generally easier for your readers to understand. However, a well written paragraph can also have an implied main idea, in which case the writer may choose to leave out the topic statement (or the main idea sentence).

The Essay (or any Text)

text here


How many sentences does a paragraph need to have? Many people hesitate when asked this question. They try to remember some rule that they may have learned in school. Oddly, others may come up with very specific numbers: “A minimum of three” or “At least 5!” (For some reason, odd numbers come up frequently as if there were some magic powers behind them.)

Many people believe in this myth that a paragraph must have multiple sentences. A paragraph can actually have as few as one sentence.

To have a well built paragraph, you must have a specific topic and something to say about it. Once you know what your topic is and what you want to say about it, you build a paragraph by explaining, clarifying, describing, illustrating, arguing the point, and so on.

What if all you have to say about the topic can be covered in one sentence? Do you have to make up things to say when one sentence says it all? No.

Online publications often use one- or two-sentence paragraphs because it is easier to read an online document with a lot of white space rather than a block of text.

Then, you may say that, that does not really count. Well, I think it does, but let me give you an example that does not have to be printed online.

A Tribute to John Ecks

John Ecks had a full life. (1‑sentence introduction)

John earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of Michigan, where he was known for his intelligence, curiosity, and professionalism. He was active in student life and served as community liaison for two years. (2 sentences)


He was married to Ariana Ecks for over 40 years and had two children, Zachary and Elizabeth Ecks, and two grandchildren. (1 sentence)

After a short career as a researcher, he got involved with writing. He quickly became a prize-winning novelist and published 45 books during his writing career. He also frequently contributed to the Jackson News. His opinion pieces resonated with people of all political persuasions. (4 sentences)

He will be greatly missed by all whose lives he touched. (1‑sentence concluding paragraph)

As you can see, the above passage has a clear outline where the writer elaborates on distinct topics.

  • Paragraph 1. (Introduction) Mr. Ecks’s full life is main premise for whole passage (the thesis statement).
  • Paragraph 2. His educational experience
  • Paragraph 3. His family life.
  • Paragraph 4. His writing career.
  • Paragraph 5. (Conclusion) This sums up Mr. Ecks’s legacy.

If you examine the one-sentence paragraphs above, you see that the writer chose to keep paragraphs 1, 3, and 5 short. These were deliberate choices. Sometimes one sentence says it all. Do not ruin it because of a myth that you have to have more than one sentence to build a paragraph.

Do Not Start Writing One-Sentence Paragraphs Now

Do not start writing one-sentence paragraphs unless you know what you are doing. Experienced writers know when a one-sentence paragraph is enough. Sometimes they even use one-sentence paragraphs as literary device because one-sentence paragraphs stand out on the page.

Write one-sentence paragraphs not just because now you know you can but because you know when and where they are just right.

Related Materials

Basic: What is a paragraph? And how do you write a good paragraph?

Intermediate: What is a paragraph? And how do you write a good paragraph?

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