Interesting. I don’t understand how paragraph breaks work. I was taught in school to keep a series of thoughts about a single topic in the same paragraph, but I’m starting to think that the organization considerations are not nearly as important as the readability ones. Do you have any tips? A big reason I’m barfing so much stuff onto Less Wrong (and into a notes file) is to improve my writing ability.
ETA: Moar delicious whitespace.
I’m tempted by long paragraphs and long sentences too. The technique I use is to think about structural variety more than about simply shortening the sentences and paragraphs. If I have two long, rambling sentences right next to each other, one of them needs to be cut or split, but it can be whichever will tolerate this adjustment better.
How to address the one idea per paragraph and one paragraph per idea thing depends on the overall format of your piece. If it’s fairly linear, you just break up the paragraphs if they’re too long; your reader will still go in order. If it’s in chunks instead of a neat flow from one thing to the next, then you can use other techniques than line breaks to section off each idea—horizontal rules, section headings, etc.
I think of paragraph breaks, periods, semicolons, and commas in terms of clustering; a pair of thoughts is very closely related if they’re separated only by a comma, and progressively less related if they’re separated by an emdash, semicolon, period, or paragraph break (in that order, from most to least related). If a paragraphs is too long, promote the periods which separate the least-related thoughts to paragraph breaks; if a sentence is too long, promote a semicolon, emdash or comma and adjust the grammar if needed. Conversely, if paragraphs or sentences are too short, demote from paragraph break to period and from period to semicolon.
In programming, the hierarchy instead is unspaced operator, spaced operator, semiblank line, blank line. A semiblank line is a line with only an open or close curly brace or parenthese. A spaced operator is one that looks like x + y, an unspaced operator is one that looks like x+y; and function calls can also be spaced or unspaced, eg f( x ) vs f (x) vs f(x), all of which are used in practice. The spacing hierarchy can never disagree with the order of operations.
Much better, although looooooong. Do you know how many posts this is going to be?
Perhaps it should be a sequence?
Hm, sections 7-10 are going to be the real meat of the post, and I haven’t even filled them out yet! And of course the entirety of Part Two is missing. I’m not sure how to break it up into posts yet. The sections kinda develop naturally the way they’re set up.