I have a draft finished, but my paper doesn’t seem to “flow.”

Many writers are often concerned about the “flow” of their paper, but what this word refers to in writing is often somewhat nebulous. Typically, flow refers to the organization and transitions within a piece of writing, but it can also refer to sentence structure and word choice. Here are some ideas for improving the “flow” of your writing:

  • To help with organization, do a reverse outline on your paper. Beginning from the last paragraph, write the main idea or claim of each paragraph in the margin. You can just use keywords. This will help you see if your paragraphs are over-filled. Also, with this reverse outline, ask yourself if this order is the best order for your points? What connections are you creating for the reader with this organization—and are those the connections you want?

  • If the organization is solid, try writing transitions between you paragraphs and/or points. Transitions are sentences that make it clear to your reader the relationships between the different points or topics you’re introducing in your writing. One tip for writing transitions is to begin the first sentence of your paragraph with a brief reference to the idea in the previous paragraph, then end the sentence by introducing the topic of that paragraph.

  • At the sentence level, “flow” can be hindered if sentences are confusing to the reader. For example, a sentence that includes many clauses could detract from the main point of the sentence. Also, sentences can become over-filled if they have a lot of prepositional phrases or if they are very long. Starting with the last sentence and moving backward, read each sentence, thinking about how long it is and how direct the information seems to be. Make edits as necessary.

  • Finally, word choice can help with the “flow” of your writing. It’s a good idea not to use the same words or phrases over and over. Still, you should be careful not to use words that are unexpected or are commonly associated with topics other than the ones you’re discussing. For example, if you’re writing a paper for philosophy and you use a word that is more commonly used by scientists, it could spice up your writing but it could also distract your reader. Sometimes you want the reader to be surprised so you can make a specific argument; just remember to be purposeful about your word choice.

What can the Writing Center do to help?

At the Writing Center, we can help you work through any of these questions. We can talk to you about the connections between your points and help develop an organizing structure. We can also help with transitions, and we have a handout you can review, if you’d like. If you’d like help identify patterns in your writing, we can help you with reviewing and editing strategies. Call us to make an appointment today!