Making paragraphs flow

Screen Shot 2018-05-12 at 3.41.54 PMWe all know that good paragraphs cohere around a single topic and are book-ended by strong, analytical take-away sentences. But how can a disjointed, staccato-sounding paragraph be made to have flow?

Flow is an elusive quality — it’s the sense that sentences move logically and seamlessly without repetition or heavy-handed transitioning. Sometimes this flow comes from the structure of the paragraph itself, which may follow an order such as

  • general to particular (big to small),
  • particular to general (small to big),
  • question to answer, or
  • effect to cause.*

But when the paragraph as a whole doesn’t have an overarching shape, how can a writer make their ideas flow logically? If you’ve ever been told that your writing is “choppy” or “fragmented,” here’s your fix:

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Favour the active voice

Active voice sentences are shorter and clearer than passive voice ones. When you write in the passive voice, the person who is doing the action is removed from the story you’re telling. Think of the difference between these two (fictional) headlines:

  1. Funding for Scientific Research Cut (passive voice)
  2. Trudeau Cuts Scientific Research Funding (active voice)

The second sentence tells us more about the person who has cut the funding–it tells a more complete story–using the same number of words. Here’s how you can identify passive constructions in your own writing, and how you can use the passive voice strategically:

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“This” + verb = unclear

Short Tip:
Search your document for “. This” to find and remove ambiguities in your phrasing.

When you have a sentence that starts with the word “This“, I advise making the second word in your sentence a noun, not a verb. An adjective+noun pairing will also work. This sentence structure clarifies your meaning, and so makes it easier for your reader to follow your argument.

Incorrect:

  • The multitude of factors that contribute to Vancouver’s high youth homelessness rate make it difficult for healthcare providers to provide appropriate care to young, vulnerable women. This exacerbates the impact of the opioid crisis.

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