We have all been told that our paragraphs need to flow. Okay, so in theory we get that our papers should be well organized with smooth transitions. Yet, somehow when we actually sit down to write, our sentences are choppy and we have no clue how to “flow” in our paragraphs. Over the years I have heard a number of suggestions for writing organized, fluid papers. While these suggestions were helpful, none of them quite helped me “get it” until this year. Dr. Moroney made me realize that no matter how we organize our paragraphs or how many transitional words we use, our papers will not flow unless our readers can clearly understand our messages by only reading the first and last lines of every paragraph.
Skeptical? Let me explain.
The first and last lines of paragraphs should be the meat of our papers. They’re the sentences which introduce our points, wrap them up, and introduce our next points. The sentences in between are the seasonings, which give our papers color and flavor. Readers can grasp the concept of our papers from the first and last lines of each paragraph, but the sentences in between strengthen our positions.
Now, I think there is some flexibility with this rule. For instance, maybe it is your first two sentences rather than just your first sentence which wrap up your previous thought and transition into the next. The point is, if your reader can easily follow your train of thought by reading the first and final few sentences of each paragraph, then you have done a great job introducing your ideas, wrapping them up at the end of their paragraphs, and simultaneously introducing your next idea.
One danger of transitional sentences is repetition. Often, in their attempt to wrap up their ideas, students become repetitive. Since I began reading through just my first and last sentences as part of my proof-reading process, I have found that my papers are clearer and less repetitive. This technique also helps eliminate the awkward phrasing that is so typical with transitions. When you read the first and last lines of your paragraphs as though they were the entire paper, you can easily identify and correct the awkward, choppy phrasing.
I won’t say this technique should be used for all forms of writing, but it is definitely useful for the organized, clear, and explanatory style of academic writing. Don’t let the words “paragraph flow” overwhelm you. You’ll be surprised how easy it can be to craft fluid papers when you focus on making your first and final sentences fit together.
Sheelagh Jackson is a sophomore majoring in English Professional Writing and minoring in Business. This is Sheelagh’s first year as a Writing Center consultant!