Five Ways to Create Flow in Your Writing
At the Writing Center, we often talk about the flow in writing. While it’s a small word, flow incorporates many parts of writing, which can make it difficult to define and complicated to achieve. Creating flow involves using logical connections between ideas, strong topic sentences to start paragraphs, transitions to link sentences, concise wording, and a varied sentence structure.
One commonality between these parts of writing is that they make the reader’s job easier. And, that’s essentially what flow is: Techniques and characteristics of good writing that make the writing easy for the reader to navigate and understand. In this way, good flow is a lot like a good road trip.
If I was writing a paper about the advantages of online education, I might first discuss how online education can be useful to people who are working adults, as well as people who live in rural areas. But what if I then talked about how students are more engaged when they live on campus?
TransitionsTransitions create flow by linking ideas and sentences. Writers can create transitions in a couple of ways: (1) using words like additionally or however to begin sentences and (2) repeating key terms or phrases between sentences. Transitions are like bridges between roads. They help guide the reader between sentences, showing the reader how to easily get from one sentence to the next, just like a bridge can bring you from one side of the road to the other safely and easily.
Clear, concise wording.Clear and concise wording also creates flow. Take this sentence: Online education, which means education in an online format where you are not face-to-face with your teacher or classmates, can help a student become more proficient in their area of expertise or field, which in turn can also help a student show leadership skills and receive a promotion or recognition for his/her good work at their job.
Whew, that’s a long one. Note all the phrases and ideas stacked on top of one another that the reader must navigate. Instead, I could have easily said: Online education helps students become proficient in their field, which can result in recognition for students in the form of a promotion. Much clearer! This sentence has the same meaning as my previous sentence, but is more concise and easier to follow. Using concise and precise wording is like creating a direct route in a road trip. Instead of taking your reader through all the winding back roads and causing car sickness, you’re taking the reader on the most direct route to your ideas.
Varied wording and sentence structureAvoiding repetition creates flow by getting readers interested in your ideas and in the way you talk about your ideas. Think taking a long road trip through flat, rural countryside. Without variety in scenery, the drive can become boring pretty quickly. Variety in scenery—like variety in sentence structure—makes the journey more interesting.
Take these sentences, for example: Online education is beneficial for many students. Online education benefits many students in rural areas. Online education benefits many students working full-time jobs. My sentence structure is the same in each sentence (a simple subject + verb construction), and I repeat the words online education, benefit, and many students. Here’s another version that varies the sentence structure and wording, and thus is more engaging: Online education is beneficial for many students. In particular, students in rural areas and those working full-time jobs can find online education convenient and useful.
As you write, remember to use logical connections; topic sentences; transitions; clear, concise writing; and varied wording and sentence structure. If you can master these aspects, then you’re on your way to creating flow in your writing!
Editor's Note: In 2016, we expanded Beth's discussion of flow in academic writing. Our Instructors and Editors expanded on each one of these strategies in a full-length blog post. So, if you'd like more insight and instruction on any of these five categories, check out our Writing Center Greatest Hits Update: 5 Flow. Follow this link to access the expanded, in-depth discussion on increasing your writing's flow today!
Writing Instructor and Coordinator of Webinar Writing Instruction Beth Oyler writes about literature in her spare time and enjoys contemplating the possibilities writing creates.