Logical flow is one of the trickier writing skills to master, but it is indispensable for good writing. Here’s a guide to making sure your writing makes sense.
What is logical flow?
The writing skill of ‘logical flow’ can be defined as all the aspects of your writing that help the reader move smoothly from one sentence to the next, and one paragraph to another.
To illustrate, imagine that readers should ideally follow your thoughts as effortlessly as cruising down a river through the countryside. Happily sailing along, readers would hardly find it thrilling if the river unexpectedly cascaded 600 metres down a cliff, abruptly dried up, or if a massive boulder were wedged between its banks. Any of these nasty obstacles would probably make them turn around and go home.
So it is with the flow of your sentences. Readers don’t want bumps, unintended surprises or to feel threatened in any way. They don’t want to follow a train of thought, only for it to lead to a dead-end, or for a new idea to be dumped on them without some warning. Just because your sentences have a literal stop between them and a gap between paragraphs, doesn’t mean that readers want stops and gaps in the flow of logical thinking. They want an enjoyable, stress-free journey.
So how can you achieve logical flow?
There are three main ways:
- Logical layout of content, addressing one point at a time in a reader-friendly, logical sequence.
- Apt use of transitions to blend paragraphs together
- Consistency in the finer points of style, tone, tenses and punctuation.
Let’s look at each of these three ways in more detail.
1. Logical flow of content and effective transitions tend to go hand in hand, for it is when you attempt to smooth the gaps between paragraphs, using transitional phrases, that incongruent ideas will stick out, and be virtually impossible to connect.
Writer Shaun Fawcett, who runs writing workshops on www.WritingHelp-Central.com, explains in greater detail:
“One of the more common weaknesses I see in day-to-day writing is poor logical flow from one idea or point to the next. This usually takes the form of a bunch of seemingly unrelated phrases thrown together with little or no sense of sequence, continuity, or relativity…. Smooth, orderly and logical transitions from one thought to the other, one sentence to the next, and one paragraph to another are key to creating clear meaning and flow in any document.”
For example, look at this “piece” below:
A restaurant called Sehnsucht for anorexics has opened in Berlin. The restaurant employs a bulimic waitress and an anorexic chef. The restaurant deliberately uses non-food names, such as: Seele (Soul, a cappuccino crème dessert) or Hallo (a lobster bisque).
Berlin has many unusual restaurants. There are two “blind” restaurants where guests eat in pitch darkness, served by blind waiters. There is another restaurant where you eat what you’re given, then pay what you think the meal is worth.
How exciting is that? Can you see that these paragraphs are barely related to each other? Not only are transitions missing, but the flow of the paragraphs is off as well.
As we said above, transitions glue facts and explanation together, and help to keep the reader reading. Transitions can be phrases created by the writer, revealing the writer’s opinion, or even colloquialisms, like “Right?”, “No, really?”, or “Well, so you thought…”.
Here are a few examples of transition words and phrases, but remember, there are hundreds more that you could be using….
For example; for instance; in other words; put another way; seems clear from this; simply stated; stated differently; that is; to clarify; to illustrate the point, although; as opposed to; but; conversely; counter to; even so; even though; however; in spite of this; in the meantime; nevertheless; on the contrary; on the other hand; otherwise; sometimes; still; yet; again; another key point; first thing to remember; for this reason; frequently; important to realize; indeed; in fact; key point; most compelling evidence; most important information; must be remembered; on the negative side; on the positive side; point often overlooked; significant that; surprising; surprisingly enough; to emphasize; to point out; to repeat; truly; with this in mind.
Let’s have a quick look at how one of our students added transitions, details and a bit of colour to the example on unusual restaurants above, to create an opening more suitable for a magazine article.
Think Germany and you think Bratwurst, sauerkraut and red-cheeked farmers swigging a mug of beer. Think Berlin and Check Point Charlie and the wall between East and West come to mind.
So it’s a surprise that the new trend restaurant in Berlin is Sehnsucht. No traditional stodge served here, it is a restaurant aimed at the Anorexic market (sad that there is an ‘Anorexic market’, isn’t it?).
Sehnsucht employs bulimic waitresses and anorexic chefs to dish up cob salads and dry tuna. If you are into bangers and mash, this is not the place for you. On the menu you will find dishes like ‘Hallo’, a lobster bisque, ‘Goodbye’, a rice cake with vanilla ice-cream – probably the most fattening item in the restaurant. Not one dish lets slip any mention of food, for fear of putting the Anorexics off their cuisine….
Also notice the continuity in tone (slightly humorous), style (colloquial), punctuation, tenses and perspective (“You”) throughout the paragraphs. Put together, these aspects all help to create a sense of continuity in the writing.
3. Logical flow also refers to continuity of style, including tone, POV (Point of View) and tenses. For example, if you are writing from a third person perspective, and you suddenly switch to first person, you are likely to throw your reader off track. Let’s see how this could look:
Excerpt adapted here for study purposes from an article ‘Analysis Paralysis’, by Karen Rutter:
…[Janet] lies awake at night, her mind racing. She’s exhausted at work, her head still churning. It’s irrational, she realizes, but she just can’t stop thinking about her problems on the job. As a result, she’s not doing anything practical to change the situation.
Psychologists agree that this is a common situation. Analysis is a normal, healthy activity by means of which we try to break down a situation into smaller, easier-to-handle pieces. But over-analysis is often simply that – too much.
According to psychotherapist Lisa Lipani, it can happen that when we feel we are losing control over a situation, we become almost obsessive in our attempt to get a handle on what’s going on.
I can definitely relate to Janet’s hectic headspace. I had a massive blow-up with a friend yesterday, and she hasn’t called to talk things over. I keep wondering, twenty times a day, “Should I pick up the phone first?”….
Notice anything odd about this last paragraph? It doesn’t quite fit, does it? The tone of the first three paragraphs is more formal, less personal, and written in third person. It becomes inappropriate to suddenly switch to first person.
Inconsistencies in Point of View can easily creep into writing, especially if the writer uses the “We” perspective, and then gets it muddled up with the pronouns, “you” and “one”.
For example, the sentence: “The important thing for us is to be able to channel one’s anxiety into positive action, instead of brooding inaction,” is almost nonsensical. “The important thing for us is to be able to channel our anxiety into positive action, instead of brooding inaction,” works.
The same applies to tenses and language usage – they need to be consistent, from first paragraph – to last.
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