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TIP 4: Verbally Link Your Ideas in a Paragraph Together

Verbally link your ideas in a paragraph together, using summative references to preceding ideas, repetitions and parallel constructions, and transitional linkages. [These terms are defined and illustrated below.]

Under TIP 3, we compared a paragraph composed of sentences to a chain composed of links, where the links are welded together by careful control of context.

A paragraph can also be thought of as a path through the woods. For the reader to follow the path, trail markers are needed to point out the way. These trail markers, which we call verbal linkages, are words that briefly and simply tell the reader about what has just been said, or what is going to be said next.

Which trail would you rather be following?



VERBAL LINKAGE 1: SUMMATIVE REFERENCES

A summative reference is a convenient label that an author attaches to an idea or set of ideas in a paragraph. The reference may refer back to the content of preceding sentences, or refer forward to an idea which is about to be presented. In the first example below, "This hypothesis" summarizes and labels the set of ideas in the sentences which came before. A summative reference is far more clear that a vague "this" which refers back to something unspecified.

Examples:

  • This hypothesis can be tested by.... Compare:This can be tested by....
  • All of these problems can be avoided when .... Compare:This can be avoided when..
  • This conclusion was confirmed by.... Compare:This was confirmed by...

The use of a vague reference to "this" confuses the reader, but when the author specifies what "this" is with words like those shown above, the reference is not only clear, it makes the whole paragraph clearer. If you conclude a passage with "This hypothesis can be tested by...," the word "hypothesis" places a very specific meaning on the preceding sentences. These are not simply a set of ideas, but a set of ideas that are going to be tested by a scientific experiment. Similarly, labeling a statement as a conclusion gives it more meaning than a simple statement of opinion.

Summative references are particularly useful in introducing a list of items.

In our revised version of Paragraph Example 1, the phrases highlighted below are summative references that are indispensable in helping us to understand the grab bag of items that follow. To verify the value of these introductory summative references, just recall the confusion created by these unlabelled lists in the original paragraph.

Summative references (highlighted) are also useful in our revision of Paragraph Example 3.

Giving readers a "capsule" version of the list allows them to skim through the list, rather than analyze it in detail to figure out what is similar among the items.

The final paragraph in our revised version of Paragraph Example 3 also illustrates the use of summative references (highlighted). The term "epidemiology of preterm delivery" summarizes the topics of the preceding paragraphs (incidence, morbidity/mortality/sequelae, and risk factors). The term "confusion" summarizes the ideas in the first half of the paragraph ("difficult," "confounded," "lack of consensus," "difficult"). Note how much clearer the finale is when we use "This confusion," rather than "This," the wording of the original paragraph.

VERBAL LINKAGE 2: REPETITIONS AND PARALLEL CONSTRUCTIONS

Repetitions are used routinely to maintain a thread of meaning throughout a paragraph. For example, recall in our revised version of Paragraph Example 1, how our repetitions of the word "sequelae" created more clarity and coherence in the paragraph.This simple device can be used very artfully, as in the example below from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, in which the repeating phrases are underlined:

Note how Lincoln's repetition of the words "war" and "field" create a zoom effect, moving our attention from the larger war, to the battle field of Gettysburg, and finally to the section of that field which is the burial ground for the soldiers who died in that critical battle. He is not just playing with words, but ensuring that his audience understands the relevance of the ceremony dedicating the burial ground to the larger conflict in which the nation is engaged.

Repetitions are often used to create parallel constructions at the paragraph level. In the following example from another section of the Gettysburg Address, we can see the power of both repetitions and parallel constructions. (I use color codes to identify words that either repeat or contrast with other words in the paragraph.)

This passage begins with paired repetitions and opposites that juxtapose "us" vs "them," i.e. the participants in the dedication ceremony vs those who fought in the battle of Gettysburg. While we are only talking, they were doing. Hence posterity will not "long remember" us, but can "never forget" their service. We are merely dedicating the ground on which they actually fought. To redress the balance, Lincoln asks us to be dedicated to "the great task remaining before us," which he sets up as a series of "that" clauses: we are asked to 1) take devotion in emulation of theirs, 2) ensure that the dead have not died in vain, 3) inaugurate a new birth of freedom, and 4) ensure that our form of government lasts forever. Thus in his series of "that" clauses, he defines the great task as an escalating set of challenges to turn around the tragic loss of life which has occurred: to turn their deaths into not only a memorial, but a chance for collective rebirth and even immortality.

More mundane uses of parallel constructions in scientific writing can be seen in our revisions of Paragraph Examples 1 and 3. In Example 1 (Rickettsial Encephalitis, see Tip 2), the two long lists of sequelae are set up in parallel, introduced by "Other central nervous system sequelae" and "Moreover, outside the central nervous system." In Example 3 (below), notice the highlighted parallel constructions. They make it easier for the reader to grasp the meaning quickly and without confusion.

VERBAL LINKAGE 3: TRANSITIONAL LINKAGES

Transitional linkages are conjunctions or phrases that help readers find their way through a paragraph, like the blaze on a trail. All authors use simple conjunctions such as "and" or "so" in their writing. Consider using more informative linkages where a "trail marker" is needed:

Simple or non-specific linkages:and, but, nor, for, yet, or,so
Complex linkages:
however, moreover, therefore, nonetheless, in contrast

Complex conjunctions offer a powerful way to signal your meaning with minimal clutter in the paragraph. When you use "however" or "in contrast," the reader is told that what is coming next is different from what came before. Without such a marker, the reader may become confused and look back to see what he may have misunderstood, because the sentence appears to be contradicting what was just said. Similarly, the word "therefore" is indispensable in introducing a logical conclusion. "Moreover" tells the reader to expect supplemental information on the same topic. Below is a table of useful transitional linkages.

Other Transitional Devices or Linkages*
addition again, also, and, and then, besides, equally important, finally, first, further, furthermore, in addition, in the first place, last, moreover, next, second, still, too
comparison also, in the same way, likewise, similarly
concession granted, naturally, of course
contrast although, and yet, at the same time, but at the same time, despite that, even so, even though, for all that, however, in contrast, in spite of, instead, nevertheless, notwithstanding, on the contrary, on the other hand, otherwise, regardless, still, though, yet
emphasis certainly, indeed, in fact, of course
example or illustration after all, as an illustration, even, for example, for instance, in conclusion, indeed, in fact, in other words, in short, it is true, of course, namely, specifically, that is, to illustrate, thus, truly
summary all in all, altogether, as has been said, finally, in brief, in conclusion, in other words, in particular, in short, in simpler terms, in summary, on the whole, that is, therefore, to put it differently, to summarize
time sequence after a while, afterward, again, also, and then, as long as, at last, at length, at that time, before, besides, earlier, eventually, finally, formerly, further, furthermore, in addition, in the first place, in the past, last, lately, meanwhile, moreover, next, now, presently, second, shortly, simultaneously, since, so far, soon, still, subsequently, then, thereafter, too, until, until now, when

* Modified from: Guide to Grammar and Writing, Coherence: Transitions between Ideas: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/transitions.htm



All of our revised paragraph examples include transitional linkages. Note in Paragraph Example 1, on rickettsial encephalitis, the revision added the word "Moreover" to add on the second list of sequelae. Note in Paragraph Example 2, the crucial use of "In contrast" when the topic switches from amphibian to mammalian experiments. In the revision below, from Paragraph Example 3, the highlighting shows examples of all three types of verbal linkages at work.

We have already studied the summative references, repetitions and parallel constructions in this passage. Transitional linkages, highlighted in yellow, further add to the coherence and clarity of the piece. "In fact" is used to add corroborative data. "Furthermore" marks the addition of supplementary information.

In the last paragraph, three transitional linkages are added. This paragraph is based on a logical principle of order, but in the original, its logic is presented in a confusing way. In the revision, verbal linkages are used to help to weld together the logical connections. "Although" marks a shift in the discussion from what is known to what is not known. "In consequence" tells the reader that the statement to come follows directly from that which precedes. Finally, "hence" is used to emphasize the beginning of a logical conclusion. Logical paragraphs often need more explicit verbal linkages to enhance clarity.