One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
On top of the underlying structure of a piece of writing, we also use various devices to link individual sentences and parts of sentences. This makes our writing flow naturally, without unnecessary repetition, and it also helps the reader to grasp the relationship between the ideas we're expressing. Here are the main ways in which we do this:
When we're writing or speaking, we use certain types of word to refer back to things that we've already mentioned or explained: this is something that we all do automatically. Pronouns have a particularly important role to play here. Take a look at this paragraph:
Hyphens are used to link words and parts of words. They are not as common today as they used to be but there are three main cases where you should use them.
If pronouns hadn't been used, the paragraph would read:
Hyphens are used to link words and parts of words. Hyphens are not as common today as hyphens used to be but there are three main cases where you should use hyphens.
Four uses of the noun ‘hyphen’ makes the paragraph repetitious and awkward: replacing the noun with pronouns results in a tighter and more elegant structure.
In general, using pronouns in place of nouns that have already been mentioned makes a piece of writing shorter and more focused. But remember to make sure your reader can follow any pronouns without losing track of who or what you're referring to: too many uses of ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘them’, etc. can become confusing.
There are many expressions we can use to link different parts of a continuous piece of writing together. These expressions work in various ways, the most important of which are explained here.
Adding or listing different points
When we are giving an explanation, for example, or developing an argument in a piece of writing, we often need to organize our points in a particular order. Using words like firstly and secondly helps indicate the relative importance of the different points, and make the piece of writing into a coherent whole. For example:
The cyclists were clearly at fault: firstly in riding straight across the road and secondly in riding two abreast.
Sometimes it's not necessary to specify the relative importance of the different points we are making, but we may nevertheless want to show that they are linked. For example:
I learned a lot about history, architecture, and literature. Also, as a single traveller, I met many other visitors to Paris.
Other words or phrases used in this way include:
at the same time
what is more
Giving examples to illustrate a point
When you are making a particular point in a piece of writing, you often need to introduce a fact or detail that illustrates your argument, e.g.:
We can find many examples of public money being wasted on projects that benefit very few people. For example, the fast ferries cost hundreds of millions of dollars and they don't even work properly.
Other expressions which can be used in the same way include:
by way of illustration
to give an example
Explaining the cause and/or result of something
One sentence in a paragraph is often the logical development of the previous one and there are various terms we can use to highlight this connection. For example:
No regulatory authority was established to control fares. As a result, bus companies are free to set fares at whatever level they believe will deliver a commercial return.
Other terms and expressions that can be used in this way include:
as a consequence
for this reason
that being the case
You can use linking words or expressions to contrast one sentence with a previous statement, for example:
Replacing draughty windows with double-glazed units will save money. Alternatively, you can fit the original wooden windows with double-glazed panes.
Other words and expressions that can be used in this way include:
all the same
in spite of this
Some of the terms in this list can also be used to concede that a fact or statement is true or justifiable, rather than to draw a contrast. For example:
Most people would agree that part of the criticism is no more than a petty backlash resulting from her snatching the gold from a more popular skater. Nevertheless, there are some valid questions to be asked about the wisdom of a 15-year-old becoming a professional.
When you are building a piece of writing, think about the relation between one idea in a sentence and the sentences that follow, and between one paragraph and the next. Then choose the appropriate linking words. This will enable your reader to move easily from one sentence or paragraph to the next, and it will enable you to get your message across in a way that is coherent, clear, and effective.
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