In my own writing experience, as well as my experience with the writing of others, I believe there is a strong importance towards writing as a whole unit. I can remember when I was learning to write academically, and my teachers and instructors would provide feedback on my writing, telling me “it doesn’t flow well. You need to revise it.” In this situation, I would think to myself, “What do you mean it doesn’t flow well? How should I revise it?” It seemed to me this had been an unanswered question that impacted how a multitude of upcoming college students would begin to write. My guess would be that this type of feedback on an implicit knowledge of improving the flow in writing emerged with the wheel, coming with the instructions on how to use it. I assumed that many others, like me, experienced this type of feedback that was so frustrating, because it doesn’t exactly have any sense of clarity to it. Contrary to my initial feelings, this anomaly was not an experience that everyone had encountered. In many cases, this explicit information on “flow” has been provided to many students. But, not for me.
Let me also clarify by saying that I am not placing any blame on any of my previous instructors for this problematic situation. I am by no means trying to accuse or insult my previous instructors from high school. And unfortunately, I never had to take any First Year Composition classes when I entered into the university world. I was one of the unlucky students that remained unaware of tricks to improve the flow in my writing. I feel this problem is one that can affect both native and ESL students when it comes to writing academically. I would like to address this phenomena in academic writing and provide some ideas and advice that can very well improve your writing in ways that can sometimes be difficult to explain by peers and instructors.
In my own tutoring experience, it has been difficult to explain to students why their writing isn’t flowing the way it should or the way they want it to. I do believe though, that by using something called thematic choice., your ideas, arguments, and general flow will improve. Writing, among other things, relies on choices made. These choices are essential to effectively organizing and presenting your ideas. Thematic choice can be summarized by what you decide to place at the beginning of your sentences or clauses. This is how you introduce your thoughts to your readers and how you connect your thoughts. The beginning of your sentences or clauses is what makes your readers connect what they’ve read to what they are going to read. This beginning is what helps (or hinders) your writing ‘flow’.
Whatever you choose to begin your sentences with is the important part. When I write, I try to consider how I want my sentence to impact my audience. Do I want to choose a previously mentioned concept, or do I want to choose a new introduction? Nouns are the most frequent choice whereas prepositions and adverbs stand towards the more uncommon beginning. I know that this may seem a bit odd and miniscule when it comes to writing, but believe me: this will make a very big difference in your writing. I have had many opportunities to work with native and nonnative students and their writing. I have read multiple papers with the problem of uncommon themes in a clause and as a result, the overall paper “just doesn’t flow well.” However, with this writing tactic, it can drastically improve the effect of your writing.
It is also important to further clarify this usage of ‘common’ and ‘uncommon’ choices in your themes. Uncommon doesn’t exactly mean bad. I highly suggest using themes that contain adverbs or prepositions. I also highly suggest using nouns that refer to what you’ve previously mentioned or plan to introduce. What I am suggesting is that you include a variety within your writing. Too many nouns as theme can be very boring and monotonous, and can cause your readers to almost predict what you will say next. It can also make your writing sound simple, which is also not a good impact from your writing. Using uncommon themes too frequently can be a factor that makes your writing sound choppy and lack that much needed ‘flow’. Therefore, I suggest a nice balance and sense of variety. Common themes are ideal for continuing a topic and uncommon themes are in many ways, perfect to highlight a new transition in your writing. ‘Uncommon’ do not equate to bad, and in the same way, ‘common’ doesn’t always mean it’s the best choice. These ideas of thematic choice and improving the ‘flow’ of your writing correlate to the entirety of your writing and this needs to be considered. When in doubt, ask yourself why you chose that theme. If you don’t have a good enough reason, then revise it.
Let me provide the following example, to clarify my points. You may simply skim through it, but pay attention to the themes in the example. I have put the themes in this paragraph in underlined bold italics.
A second study bearing on self and voice in writing across cultures is Li’s semi-ethnographic account of what constitutes “good writing” in U.S. and PRC schools. Li asked high school writing teachers from both countries to do three things. First, she asked four teachers (two from each country) to select exceptionally well-done personal essays by their own or other students and to comment on what made them so good. She then circulated the different essays and their chooser’s comments among other teachers, asking for their reactions to both. Finally, she sent a subset of the essays to a larger group of 45 teachers, along with an open-ended survey querying their judgments in order to confirm the evaluations and their justifications she had earlier received from the group of four.
There are a few different theme choices here in this example. We can see nouns as well as adverbs that are helping to create a flow of the information. As I have previously mentioned, uncommon themes are not bad choices. In the example, the ‘uncommon’ themes include “First” and “finally”. These uncommon choices have a very important role in the flow; they present a series of steps in a process. The writer chose to make the chronological order part of the important information, to connect previous and new information. The logical reason for selecting those as themes are very important for the message of the paragraph. Therefore, logical reasons equate to good choices.
This advice can come across as being a bit too picky and pedantic. It can appear to pay too much attention to detail. I can agree with these thoughts. However, the English major mindset that I have also tells me that this writing advice is very important. It’s the type of advice that I feel I was unaware of for quite some time. I also believe that by implementing this into my own writing, my writing skills have improved and my writing for academic purposes has also improved. Just remember to always consider what you’re choosing to introduce your sentences. These introductions can either attach your multitude of thoughts into a cohesive, well organized, and fluid piece of writing, or it can make your writing seem unorganized, choppy, and without a logical flow of ideas.
A writing assignment can be daunting, and often enough, the writing process can feel like a downpour of your own words. But don’t get discouraged; this strategy of thematic choice can be your silver lining. These small choices make up your clauses and sentences. These sentences then create the building blocks of your paragraphs. And then finally, these paragraphs create a central theme for your overall paper. These choices (or themes) are what create a successful and effectively constructed paper. And so, as previously mentioned, sweet themes are made of these.
If thematic choice is something of interest to you, I suggest you look into the following:
Halliday, M. (2014). Introduction to functional linguistics (4th ed.). New York, NY:
Thompson, G. (2014). Introducing functional grammar (3rd ed.). New York, NY:
Matsuda et al., (2006). Second language writing in the composition classroom.
Urbana, IL: Bedford/St. Martin’s