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This chapter is from the book

Writing Shorter Sections

Let’s start with the macro and move down to the micro. That means starting with the overall sections within your writing.

If you’re used to writing papers for educational or professional use, you’re also used to organizing your work into sections, with level one heads, level two heads, and such, kind of like a big outline. That’s good because your content online should also follow this sort of sectioning.

What’s different about sections online is that they should be shorter. In professional and educational papers, a given section might run a full page or more; online, a section should probably be only a few paragraphs in length. In fact, it’s okay to have a section with just a single paragraph.

As previously noted, the goal is to chunkify your text to make it easily scanned. Employing lots of shorter sections (with the corresponding more frequent headings) does just that.

What’s the right length for a section of text—that is, how many paragraphs should you have between headings? There is no hard-and-fast rule, but I’d say about three or four paragraphs, even fewer if the paragraphs themselves are long. People jump from section to section, often reading just the section headings, so give them a lot of headings to read.

You can shorten your sections a number of ways. First is to delete extraneous text from longer sections, although that might deprive readers of valuable content. A better approach is to insert descriptive headers every two or three paragraphs as the content dictates. This results in the headings creating a kind of running commentary on the underlying text; an impatient reader could read just the headings to get the gist of what you’re trying to impart.

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