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More on Unity and Focus

When you write, you have to guide and direct your reader through the relationship of your ideas. It's like you are giving some friends directions from Houston to Austin. In order for your friends not to get lost, you must give them signals and signposts that direct them to their destination. You must keep your reader focused on your thesis (your destination) and help them to see throughout the essay where they are in terms of developing and supporting this thesis. It is worth hearing a few words on following a writer's ideas from Peter Elbow:

The problem with much poor or needlessly difficult writing is the way it pretends to exist as it were in space rather than in time. Such writing is hard to read because it demands that we [the reader] have access all at once to the many elements that the writer struggled to get into the text. ...Poor writers often assume that because they are making a document rather than talking, they are giving us a thing in space rather than leading us on a journey through time, and that therefore they can pretend that we can "look at the whole thing."

One of the marks of good writers, on the other hand, is their recognition that readers, like listeners, are indeed trapped in the flow of time and can take in only a few words at a time. ... The drama of movement through time can be embodied in thinking and exposition as naturally as in stories. And the ability to engage the reader's time sense is not a matter of developing some wholly new skill or strategy, it is a matter of developing for writing that time-bound faculty we've all used in all speaking. (161-162)

One of the most important signals to give your reader in the "narrative of your ideas" is when you go from one PRIMARY SUPPORT to another. Since each Body paragraph develops one Primary Support, these signals come in the form of transition sentences. For example, notice how the topic sentences from the Model Essay help to connect the flow of ideas in the essay:

Paragraph #2

First of all, the government should crack down on TV violence because the violence is too excessive.
Paragraph #3 Secondly, the government should limit TV violence because the government is the best institution to do the regulation.
Paragraph #4 Finally, and most importantly, we must get the government to limit TV violence for the sake of our society, especially our children.

The Key to Coherence: Topic/Transition/Linking Sentences

I call this signal when you move from one primary support to the next a "Topic/Transition/ Linking" sentence. A Topic/Transition/Linking Sentence comes in the first sentence of each body paragraph and DOES three things:

1) It gives a signal word (a transition telling the reader here is a primary support)
2) It reconnects with or restates the thesis
3) It presents the primary support (reason) to be focused on in that paragraph

Look at this example from an argument/persuasion essay:


The government should not regulate TV violence.


---signal--- | ---------------link to thesis----------------------- | ------primary support (reason)-----------
P#2: First of all, I oppose this government regulation because it is censorship and violates the first amendment freedom of speech.
  Signal | ------------link to thesis------------- | ------primary support (reason)-----------
P#3: In addition, this regulation is a bad idea because it would hurt the networks' business.
  Signal | --------------------------link to thesis------------------------------------- | ------primary support (reason)
P#4: Finally, I believe the government should not regulate TV violence because it is not necessary--TV is not the cause of violence in America.

Think of these sentences like a one-two-three punch: transition-link-reason.

One more example will help you see how these transition sentences work even better. This example comes from a process analysis essay:

Essay Question:

How do you build a deck?
Building a deck falls into four distinct phases.


Signal | ---------link to thesis----------- | ------primary support -----------
P#2: The first phase of building a deck is the planning and design phase.
  Signal | --------------link to thesis------------------- | ------primary support -----------
P#3: The next phase in the deck building process is to purchase your lumber and materials.
  -signal- | ----------------------link to thesis------------------------------------- | ------primary support-----
P#4: Now, you are ready for the funnest phase of building your deck: the construction phase.
  Signal | --------------link to thesis------------------- | ------primary support -----------
P#5: The final phase in the deck building process is staining and treating your new deck.


Being Clear
I know you may be thinking, "this sounds so repetitive," or "this is too obvious," or "this is too mechanical." You are right, in a way. However, the benefits to these types of transition sentences far outweigh their negatives. These topic/transition/linking sentences help to make the main PRIMARY SUPPORTS for your point/thesis crystal clear. "Coherence," after all, means "understandability," and by creating these sentences to begin each of your body paragraphs, the main thread of your development will be quickly understandable. These type of transition sentences also have the added benefit of keeping you, the writer, well-focused too.

The most important feature of these transition sentences is the LINK back to the thesis. Always present your Primary Supports in terms of the Thesis which they are supporting or developing. You can repeat the Thesis word for word in your transitions, but in order not to sound too redundant, you would be wise to vary the way your link back to your thesis. All you need to do is remind the reader of what the whole paper is about (your thesis).

Here is an example of varying the phrasing of your link back to the thesis (links are highlighted in red below):

Thesis: Hamlet's tragic flaw is his cowardice.
P#2: First, cowardice as Hamlet's tragic flaw can be seen ...
P#3: Further evidence pointing to fear and lack of courage as his tragic flaw can be seen...
P#4: Finally, Hamlet's flaw is clearly cowardice because...

At this point, you may find it helpful to try creating some Topic/Transition/Linking sentences yourself. Do the exercises (following this link) and then be sure to check your answers.

Using Transitions to Highlight the Organization of your Ideas

Transitions are important signal words to help your reader follow the flow of your ideas whether it is between Primary Supports (as we just practiced with Topic/Transition/Linking Sentences) or within your paragraphs as you develop your Secondary Support.

As we saw in the Organization Writing Guide, there are various methods for you to organize your thoughts in writing:

Chronological or Sequential Order
Perhaps you need to sequence your ideas in a time order (yesterday, today, tomorrow) or by sequence (first, second, third).

Spatial Order
Perhaps it will be important to arrange your ideas by their relationship in space. You could move from top to bottom, inside to outside, left to right, East to West.

By Significance or Precedence
You may want to sequence your ideas by importance or quality--from least important to most important, from the least in quality to the best in quality.

Below is a list of Transition words you may find helpful as you attempt to signpost whatever particular order you are developing in your essay:

Addition and, again, also, too, moreover, in addition, besides, furthermore
Comparison likewise, similarly, also, in comparison, by the same token
Contrast yet, but, however, instead, even though, on the other hand, on the contrary, although, in contrast, whereas, nevertheless, nonetheless
Examples for example, for instance, specifically, namely, thus, in fact
Narrowing of Focus in particular, that is, specifically
Cause and Effect because, then, as a result, hence, since, consequently, therefore, so, accordingly
Concessions although, admittedly, granted, certainly, of course, indeed
Conclusion in summary, in conclusion, therefore, consequently, thus, as a result, to conclude

Notice how these transition words help to highlight the organization of the secondary support within this Body paragraph from our Model Essay:

Secondly, the government should limit TV violence because the government is the best institution to do the regulating. The government can make and enforce regulations with the weight of law behind it. For instance, a network that shows too graphic a killing with blood spattered everywhere might be fined one hundred thousand dollars. This might make them think twice about the violence they show. In addition, the government is best equipped to do the job because they already regulate TV. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) already limits the amount of obscenity and nudity that can be shown. It would be easy for them to add on violence to their list. Lastly, the government is needed because the TV industry is unable to regulate themselves. Some believe that the current warning messages are enough, but excessive violence is still being shown. The ax-murderers, gangsters, rapists and serial killers still fill the TV screen, and many times parents aren't there to prevent their children from watching it. The government is needed to get this trash off the screen.

Transition words are important also within Body paragraphs to signal the organization of your ideas.

Work Cited:
Elbow, Peter. "The Shifting Relationship Between Speech and Writing." College Composition and Communication , 36: 283-303. Reprinted in Everyone Can Write: Essays Toward a Hopeful Theory of Writing and Teaching Writing. New York, Oxford University Press: 2000.


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