A paragraph (from the Greek paragraphos, "to write beside" or "written beside") is a self-contained unit of a discourse in writing dealing with a particular point or idea. A paragraph consists of one or more sentences. The start of a paragraph is indicated by beginning on a new line. Sometimes the first line is indented. At various times, the beginning of a paragraph has been indicated by the pilcrow: ¶. A written work—be it an essay or a story—is about an idea or concept. An essay explains it; a story narrates it. To help the reader understand and enjoy it, the explanation or narration is broken down into units of text, or paragraphs. In an essay, each paragraph explains or demonstrates a key point or thought of the central idea, usually to inform or persuade. In fiction, each paragraph serves to advance the plot, develop a character, describe a scene or narrate an action—all to entertain the reader. All paragraphs support each other, leading the reader from the first idea to the final resolution of the written piece of work. Many students are taught to use a minimum number of sentences in a paragraph such as three or five—although length is not a determinant in defining a paragraph.
Paragraph breaks 
Professionally printed material typically does not indent the first paragraph, but indents those that follow. For example, Robert Bringhurst states that we should "Set opening paragraphs flush left." Bringhurst explains as follows.
"The function of a paragraph is to mark a pause, setting the paragraph apart from what precedes it. If a paragraph is preceded by a title or subhead, the indent is superfluous and can therefore be omitted."
The Elements of Typographic Style states that "at least one en [space]" should be used to indent paragraphs after the first, noting that that is the "practical minimum". An em space is the most commonly used paragraph indent. Miles Tinker, in his book Legibility of Print, concluded that indenting the first line of paragraphs increases readability by 7%, on the average.
Other techniques are possible. Lines can be outdented to signify the start of new paragraphs. Another technique is to insert vertical space between paragraphs. This creates what is sometimes known as "block paragraphs". Some keyboarders use a double carriage return to create this break, whereas typists using word processing applications may use increased leading to create a more pleasing space between paragraphs.
Many published books use a device to separate certain paragraphs further when there is a change of scene or time. This extra space, especially when co-occurring at a page or section break, may contain an asterisk, three asterisks, a special stylistic dingbat, or a special symbol known as an asterism.
In literature, a "detail" is a small piece of information within a paragraph. A detail usually exists to support or explain a main idea. In the following excerpt from Dr. Samuel Johnson's Lives of the English Poets, the first sentence is the main idea: that Joseph Addison is a skilled "describer of life and manners". The succeeding sentences are details that support and explain the main idea in a specific way.
As a describer of life and manners, he must be allowed to stand perhaps the first of the first rank. His humour, which, as Steele observes, is peculiar to himself, is so happily diffused as to give the grace of novelty to domestic scenes and daily occurrences. He never "o'ersteps the modesty of nature," nor raises merriment or wonder by the violation of truth. His figures neither divert by distortion nor amaze by aggravation. He copies life with so much fidelity that he can be hardly said to invent; yet his exhibitions have an air so much original, that it is difficult to suppose them not merely the product of imagination.
See also 
- Hard return
- List of common English language misconceptions
- Section (typography)
- Schaffer paragraph
- Topic sentence
- "Paragraph Development". The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Harvey, Michael. "Paragraphs". The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing.
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Paragraph Development". The Writing Center. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 27 May 2011.
- Bringhurst, Robert (2005). The Elements of Typographic Style. Vancouver: Hartley and Marks. p. 39. ISBN 0-88179-206-3.
- Bringhurst, Robert (2005). The Elements of Typographic Style. Vancouver: Hartley and Marks. p. 40. ISBN 0-88179-206-3.
- Tinker, Miles A. (1963). Legibility of Print. Iowa: Iowa State University Press. p. 127. ISBN 0-8138-2450-8.
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 4th ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
- Johnson, Samuel. Lives of the Poets: Addison, Savage, etc.. Project Gutenberg, November 2003. E-Book, #4673.
- Rozakis, Laurie E. Master the AP English Language and Composition Test. Lawrenceville, NJ: Peterson's, 2000. ISBN 0-7645-6184-7 (10). ISBN 978-0-7645-6184-9 (13).
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