“Make the paragraph the unit of composition.”
So said Strunk in The Elements of Style, and Strunk’s suggestion is really about planning.
Today, many tend to type and think at the same time, considering little of what “units” are best for composition.
How do you plan your emails? Do you tap your fingers across a keyboard and fill a screen with words? Do you jot down a few bullet points? Do you dictate your thoughts on a topic and copy and paste them into sensible order later? Any of these can be good techniques when used thoughtfully.
Here, then, is a suggestion for how to improve the structure of your writing in general:
Paragraphs are elaborations of simple ideas. When you start writing, start with simple, un-elaborated ideas. Often, these ideas will suggest actions. Consider how you might write about starting a business:
- Create a business plan.
- Contact possible partners
- Follow up with contacts
This outline suggests at least three paragraphs, where each paragraph gives the reader a good reason to think the simple action should be taken, and gives the reader a sense of how to take that action. In this way, the paragraph is our “unit of composition”.
When starting a business, one should begin by formulating a business plan. The plan should include a clear description of what the business will offer, plus how the business will deliver that offering. A comprehensive plan will include analysis of opportunities in the market and possible threats to the business’s viability.
With a good plan established, you should contact potential partners. If you are brewing beer, for example, you should contact ingredient suppliers and begin developing relationships. Also, contact distributors to determine how and to where you can deliver your product most efficiently.
In this we see how the brief bullet pointed outline is really a way to plan paragraphs. This is a useful tool that can improve your writing significantly. Focus on the paragraphs, and be sure that each paragraph develops one point. Don’t wander and ramble; keep it tight.
It might take a few minutes at the start to establish the plan, but by the end, your readers will notice that you’ve taken the time. They’ll appreciate the clarity of your communications.
In short: you should plan your writing by considering the importance of paragraphs. Don’t simply start by typing into a blank screen. Rather, start with a simple outline of a few key points you want to convey. Then fill in the details to make your case clearly and concisely.