July 2016 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Lead Your Readers With Flow: A Thursday Thoughts Reflection

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Last week, we concluded our five-part blog series on flow on the Walden Writing Center Blog. The aim of this series was to provide writers with the means and resources not only to understand the importance of flow in writing, but also to provide the tools to effectively create flow. We were thrilled with reader engagement with the series, and now, we reflect on the contributions to this series that inspired such engagement.

mountain range with bright, bold lettering that reads "Lead Your Readers With Flow"

In part two of the series, Basil presented the idea of using strong topic sentences. A strong topic sentence will scaffold the structure and develop flow throughout an entire paragraph. This means that writing strong topic sentences should be of high priority. 

In part three of the series, Max introduced building in transitional phrases as a means to create flow. Max compared a transition to a bridge, which brings your readers from one point to the next, creating ease of passage with words, sentences, or full paragraphs.

In part four of the series, Tara presented the importance of practicing concision to build flow. Like the topic of this part in the series, Tara's message was clear and direct. The efficacy of concision in academic writing rests on your ability to omit needless words and develop an effective revision process

In part five of the series, Tim helped us reach our conclusion, noting that writers should focus on varying their sentence structure to build flow. In this way, writers can engage their readers with sentence structure that intrigues and engages

In short, you can create flow in your writing by:

1. Creating logical connections
2. Using strong topic sentences
3. Building in transitional phrases
4. Practicing concision
5. Varying sentence structure

We at Walden University's Writing Center wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavors, and hope that - at the very least - your writing will begin to flow! If you have more questions about flow and are a Walden student, consider setting up a 1:1 appointment with one of our fabulous writing consultants

The Walden Writing Center
offers to Walden students 1:1 writing support and offers to students and non-students alike all the writing expertise, tips, and information a writer could want.

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5 Flow Part 5: Vary Sentence Structure

We are pleased to present the final post in our 5 Flow series. In today's post, we discuss how providing variations in your sentence structure can ease the reader's task and aid them in comprehension. Below you will find a discussion of three different ways you can vary your sentence structure to enhance your writing's flow.  
The title image for the Vary Sentence Structure blog post.
Vary Sentence Structure to Enhance Flow
Imagine a 4-year-old sitting up at the piano playing that same note, for the same length of time, over and over. Maddening, right? Now replace the piano with a piece of writing. How would you feel if its author used the same type and length of sentence repeatedly?

Flow is the product of the sound of words and the  patterns and rhythms they create. Sentences with flow are well crafted and thus the reader can move through a document with ease. (To see if your sentence has flow, try reading it out loud.) Flow avoids retarding a reader’s speed and comprehension. If your writing has flow, the word order and length of your sentences will exhibit variety or rhythm. You’ll write sentences that are clear and easy to read.

To enhance the flow in your writing, I suggest a regular practice of varying your sentence structure throughout your prose. Flow is a product of well-constructed sentences, and Unlike a list, which uses the same type throughout, the sentences of a paragraph require variety in type, rhythm & word order, and length. Here are my suggestions for how you can become more adept in all three variations. 

Sentence Type
Having variation in the grammatical type of your sentence will allow your reader, somewhat subconsciously, to more easily move through your text. Flow can be attained with the rhythmic combination of these primary sentence types: 

  • A simple sentence has just one independent clause: I bake bread regularly. I bake at least two loaves of bread every week.
  • A compound sentence has two or more independent clauses that are connected by a coordinating conjunction (but, and, or, so). Many people think that baking bread is difficult, but it’s not.
  • A complex sentence has one independent clause and at least one dependent clause (which starts with a subordinating conjunction, such as although, that, because, while). Although breaking bread is not as hard as some people think, it does take practice.
  • A compound-complex sentence has two or more independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. While I bake bread every week and think it’s pretty easy, it does take some time to measure the ingredients, let the dough rise, and then bake.

Good writers do not rely on any one type of sentence. Rather, they carefully weave a rhythmic mix of sentence types and lengths—from simple to compound to complex and compound–complex. All four types are needed to create flow.

Rhythm and word order
To improve the flow of a sentence, work on its rhythm. One approach is how a sentence starts. Avoid a series of sentences that start with the same subject—be it a noun, surname or pronoun. Mix it up. Use a preposition (in, to, at, etc.) or a gerund (mostly words that end in “ing”) or a dependent clause (which starts with a subordinating conjunction) instead. A lack of variety in the subject can be distracting or even irritating to a reader. (And the last thing you want to do is irritate your reader.)

Another way to improve flow through rhythm is to alternate among long, short, and medium-length sentences. If your paragraphs contain too many short sentences in a row, say, 3–6 words, readers will quickly become bored due to the repeated patterns and the fact that all ideas carry the same weight. A run of short sentences can leave a reader breathless. Short sentences allow little room for synthesis. On the other hand, if your paragraphs contain too many long sentences in a row, say, 20 words or more, readers can become confused, even overwhelmed.

Whether too short or too long, most readers will have trouble reading and retaining what you have written. Style must serve meaning in scholarly writing. Try to avoid letting a writing style get in the way of your ideas and arguments. But the answer lies not in creating all medium-length sentences (8–14 words). 

Writing requires skill. It’s not easy to create sentences that say just what you want them to say. Generally, readers should not have to work too hard to understand a piece of writing. Difficulty in reading and comprehension should reflect only the density and complexity of the subject matter, not a writer’s weaknesses. Thus, it’s important to work on clarity and flow.

This is the fifth and final part in a five-part series on flow in academic writing. If you have further questions or comments about this topic, please don't hesitate to comment on this post or any of our posts in this series.

Tim McIndoo is a Senior Dissertation Editor in the Walden Writing Center. He came to Walden University in 2007 with over 30 years of editorial experience, including work as translator and photographer. He lives in Minneapolis with four cats.

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Thursday Thoughts: Searching for Writing Center Resources

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One of our favorite practices here in the Walden University Writing Center is to provide resources to our writers. Why do we do this? Most importantly, Walden U students are online learners and are often juggling families, careers, and a rigorous class schedule. We created our resources to be accessible on-demand so they're ready to be used whenever our students need them. 

So when it comes to writing resources, it's not a question of if we have them, it's a question of how to find them. With that in mind, let's take a quick look at the best ways to access the massive library of Walden University Writing Center resources. Please note, almost all of these resources are free and open to the public. Feel free to share them widely. 

Use these two search boxes to access the library of resources available to Walden Students and the public.
To quickly access the library of Writing Center resources, use these two search options.

Step 2: Look for the two search bars: The Quick Answers search bar and the Writing Center search bar. 
  • The search bar in the upper-right hand corner will take whatever writing-related term you enter and search all of our resources. Perhaps you're looking for information on transitions. Go ahead and try using the search term "transitions". The window that pops open will give you a list of all Writing Center resources pertaining to transitions.
  • If you have a specific writing-related question, The Quick Answers search bar in the middle of the page is pre-programmed with answers to hundreds of our students' most common questions. Try out the Quick Answers search with a question like "How do I format my paper in APA?" And voila! Check out the fecundity of answers to your specific question. 

Step 3: If you still can't find what you're looking for, send an email to WritingSupport@waldenU.edu and pose your question to one of our expertly trained Administrative Writing Assistants who monitor our inbox 24 hours a day.

Happy Searching!

The Walden University Writing Center
 works to constantly improve and expand its offering of resources. Text based, multi-media, auditory, visual, and interactive resources can be found by searching our library. As a service to the academic writing community as a whole, Walden University provides nearly all of its resources free and open to the public.

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5 Flow Part 4: Develop a Clear, Concise Style

Clarity and concision are essential to having good flow in your writing. Clear, concise expression is just as critical as having logical connections between ideas, strong topic sentences, effective transitions, and varied sentence structure. In the same way that highway roadwork and related obstacles slow and frustrate motorists trying to reach their destinations, unclear and wordy writing bogs the reader down with unnecessary words and information. It impedes your ability to craft successful arguments and keep your readers engaged. In this blog post, I offer some perspective on clarity and concision in scholarly writing and strategies for making your writing more clear and concise.


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Thursday Thoughts: A Ridiculous Little Dog

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In creative and other forms of writing, descriptors or qualifiers are a great way to show your viewpoint and help communicate how the reader should see a certain object, person, or situation. In academic work, however, we need to be more concrete and objective. This basically means that if you’re describing something, it needs to be “provable”—but sometimes we slip into the opinionated by adding qualifiers. 

By “qualifier” I mean descriptors which come from a place of personal opinion rather than clear, indisputable observation.

Let’s look at a visual as an example:

A picture of a cute little dog wrapped up in a blanket looking sad.
A Ridiculous Little Dog

In this case, I could describe it as “a ridiculous little dog”.  However, someone else might describe it as a “sad little dog” or many other things. How would you describe it?

Here are examples of other dog statements with qualifiers:
The really big dog
The super small dog
The overly-large dog
The silly little dog
I could draw pictures of what I think these dogs might look like, but if you asked ten people to draw a dog based on this description, you would have ten completely different pictures, right? In academic writing, we want everyone to draw the same picture from our descriptions. In order to make these examples more professional, just remove the qualifiers! 

Here are our example statements without qualifiers:
The large dog
The small dog
The black dog
The large black dog

For the photo example I would say: “The small dog”

While there will always be slight variance in what your reader imagines based on any description, all of these are much safer and would be easily understood by your audience, whereas something that’s a qualifier, like “ridiculous” could mean a lot of different things, a word like “large” or “small” have much more generally understood meanings. Of course, it’s always best to be as specific as possible, so when describing something, try to be as detailed as you can without adding qualifiers.

Here are some specific examples without qualifiers:
The dogs with fewer than ten spots
The dogs smaller than fifteen pounds
The black dogs over the age of five
Large black dogs over the age of five compared to small white dogs of the same age
Keep these descriptive tendencies in mind when writing and, when in doubt, think about if you showed your audience a picture or statistical document about what you’re describing, would they be able to clearly identify what you mean?

Questions? Tricks and tips for avoiding qualifiers? We’d love to hear below!

Claire Helakoski
 is a Writing Instructor  at the Walden Writing Center and holds an MFA in Creative Writing. She has taught writing and Composition as well as acted as a writer and editor in a variety of mediums. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and enjoys reading, writing creatively, and board games of all kinds

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5 Flow Part 3: Transition With Words, Sentences, and Paragraphs

When Beth wrote about using transitions in your writing to enhance flow, she used a lovely metaphor to describe what transitions do for readers. These important academic writing techniques, she argued, are like bridges spanning a body of water. On one side: where you’ve been. On the other: where you’re going. Imagine a person out on a gorgeous summer day. Without a bridge, a pedestrian will at best get soggy socks that distract her and make her less likely to focus on what’s important about her walk (the sky, the trees, the person she’s hiking with). At worst, a path without a bridge will force the hiker to veer of the trail, becoming lost and helpless to follow the nuances and curves of the trail. Thus, just as we need the bridges to cross bodies of water and connect otherwise disconnected pieces of land, readers need transitions to cross through the path of the paper and connect otherwise disconnected ideas. 


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Thursday Thoughts: One of Our Most Popular Live Webinars is Tuesday

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If you've participated in course work here at Walden University, you're probably quite familiar with this common course-assignment: The Discussion Post. These assignments are a wonderful way to practice the skills of academic writing, display your understanding of course material, and interact with your peers. But completing these posts are not always easy. 
Register for the Webinar Now!

To help make your post-writing process more rewarding and efficient, join us this coming Tuesday for a live webinar hosted by the Writing Center staff of professional Writing Instructors and Editors. We'll delve into the topic of discussion posts and we'll have plenty of time for questions.

Writing and Responding to Discussion Posts
Live Webinar
Tuesday, July 12th
1:00-2:00 pm (est)

This event is popular with all types of Walden University students in coursework and with online learners in general. If you've participated in hundreds of discussion boards, this post can help gain some new insight into your process. Or if you've never been in Walden coursework, this webinar will teach you the basics. 

If you are unable to attend this webinar live in person, feel free to peruse our library of recorded webinars here.  

The Walden University Writing Center
 produces weekly Live Webinars on a whole host of writing-related topics. Participants in our webinars can expect expert writing instruction delivered by a professional Instructor or Editor, robust dialogue & interaction, and ample opportunities for practicing the strategies on display. Register Today!  

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5 Flow Part 2: Use Topic Sentences so Your Prose Flows

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Last week, Lydia wrote about how creating a logical progression of ideas enhances the flow of academic writing. For this installment in our series, let’s complicate Lydia’s ideas by adding another strategy you can use to enhance flow: providing strong and well-supported topic sentences.  
Topic sentences are one of the most important parts of academic writing. A well-written topic sentence tells your reader how to interpret what comes next. A poorly written topic sentence (or a missing one) will leave your reader confused and uncertain about why you are telling them what comes next.

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