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Organizing Your Essay to Create "Flow"

When we talk about "flow" in an essay, we are talking about the presentation and movement of an author's ideas from the introduction to the conclusion. A strong, essay flows as a river flows within its banks, and the reader is carried along on the current of the author's ideas. Good writers strive to create this kind of movement in their writing.

1. Having a Sense of Purpose

The most important thing you can do to create this flow is to have a strong sense of purpose. If you know from the start what you want to say and feel that it is important to say it, you will be more inclined to write an essay that moves steadily and powerfully forward. Your writing will feel energized; it will have that feeling of "current" that I mentioned above. So, good planning before you start to write is essential. Those prewriting, thesis development, and outlining strategies we talked about a few weeks ago should lead you to that sense of purpose.

2. Outlining to create movement

In Unit 1, you learned about creating an outline that comes out of the language of your tentative thesis. This technique helps you create a unified essay and meet the needs of your reader. But you should also be concerned with building momentum in your argument. You want your idea or argument to become more and more irresistable as the reader moves along! To achieve this impact, present each new supporting point to build upon the last one, saving your most powerful points for last. And don't discount the importance of a good conclusion! Be thoughtful at the end about the journey you've just taken your reader on (take a look at the lesson on conclusions at the SRJC Online Writing Lab for a discussion of conclusions)

3. Revision: Strategies to Improve Unity and Coherence

When you have completed your first draft, you are ready to turn your attention toward revision. Take this step in the writing process literally: focus on re-vision. It is time to re-see your work. Your goal should be to begin to see what you have written as a reader will see it, and to make the needed changes to improve the reader's experience.

Though clear sentence structure and correct grammar and punctuation are important and deserve your serious attention during the revision process, the first thing you should be concerned with is the overall flow of your argument, whether the essay holds together and carries the reader along to its conclusion. Step 1 in the revision process is to "test" your essay for unity and coherence and then make the necessary improvements.

Test For Coherence:

  1. Underline (or highlight or circle) transitions between paragraphs showing how each new paragraph connects to the thesis and to the previous paragraph
  2. Underline words that indicate relationships between ideas ("in general," "nevertheless," "for example," etc.)
  3. Write "transition needed" or "TR?" beside paragraphs that lack transitions or directions.
  4. Within paragraphs, make sure that each sentence leads logically into the next one, or that there are appropriate direction words to indicate relationships between sentences.
  5. Circle the "key" words in your essay; i.e., words that are central to your thesis, or that echo the idea of the thesis and that are repeated throughout the essay)
  6. Look at your outline for your essay. Did you follow it? If not, write a new outline of what you have ACTUALLY written.

Improving Coherence:

  1. Decide if your transitions adequately express the connections between ideas and if they show how each new idea supports the thesis. If not, make changes to the sentence to improve the connections.
  2. Decide if your transition words are used properly. If not, find a word to better express the relationship, or else use logic to create clear sequence.
  3. Provide transitions where transitions are missing.
  4. Examine your use of key words throughout the essay. Are these words used effectively to remind the reader of the argument and keep the reader on track? If not, introduce key words or echo words at significant points in your argument where reminders might be useful to the reader.
  5. Look at your outline of what you have actually written. Does each paragraph support the thesis and make sense in its location? If not reorganize the essay to ensure you have a logical sequence of ideas.

Test for Unity:

  1. Underline the thesis
  2. Underline the key point of each paragraph
  3. Underline the sentence in your conclusion that most clearly pulls the essay together

Improving Unity:

  1. Go through the essay paragraph by paragraph. Does each paragraph clearly support the thesis? If not, revise the paragraph so that it supports thesis and moves the essay forward.
  2. Within paragraphs, look at each sentence (out of order, perhaps). Ask yourself if each sentence supports the topic sentence or main point of the paragraph. If not, revise for unity in the paragraph.

When you finish revising for unity and coherence, take a break if possible. You may be doing more harm than good if you don't step back from your work and rest your brain before attempting to work on the next stages of revision: revising for sentence level clarity, grammar, and punctuation.