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Make your writing flow

Lucy Flannery

Lucy Flannery
Image credit: Liam Offord

Students often worry about paragraphs linking from one to the next. They are concerned that their work does not ‘flow’ easily. To try to avoid this, they sometimes construct elaborate linking sentences that repeat the information from the previous paragraph in the first line of the next. This only adds to the lack of fluency.

Flow is not a mystery

Flow in an essay, assignment or dissertation is never a problem if you know:

  • what your argument is;
  • what the individual points are;
  • which order they should take.

Recently I worked with Arts students using an activity about flow. I asked them to construct the argument ‘ASMR is an effective tool for advertisers’, and suggested a process to make the argument flow smoothly.

1 Summarise research materials

When writing essays or dissertations, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the volume of research. Reducing each main point to a summarising statement helps students feel in control of their material.

I gave the students a page of summarising statements about Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), some of which appear below.

  • ASMR is a physical sensation experienced by some individuals when watching or listening to certain triggers, including people tapping surfaces, stroking fabric and eating.
  • By 2018 the hashtag #asmr had appeared on Instagram 6.2 million times.
  • ASMR triggers range from crunchy sounds, such as biscuits being eaten or bubble wrap being popped, to soft sounds, like whispering or fabric being folded.
  • Synaesthesia is the phenomenon in which senses merge so that people ‘hear’ colour or ‘see’ sound.
  • People who are susceptible to ASMR experience a warm or tingling sensation in their scalp, neck, throat or back when exposed to visual or auditory cues.
  • Michelob Ultra ran an ASMR-triggering advertisement during the 2017 US Super Bowl to an audience of 100 million.
  • Subsequently, this advert was viewed over 14 million times on YouTube.
  • It was also mentioned in broadcast news and US broadsheets.
  • The first studies of ASMR took place in 2014.
  • Spotify playlists have been created of people tapping, rustling and then eating chocolate.
  • A YouTube video of a woman eating a salmon fillet was watched 20 million times in nine months.

2 List significant points

I asked the students to create a logical, flowing sequence to present the information.

First, I advised them to highlight or circle all the significant statements.

Then, I instructed them to strike through any irrelevant facts. For example, a high proportion of the statements involved synaesthesia because the first studies on ASMR came from Swansea University, born out of a researcher’s interest in this phenomenon. This material is interesting but not germane to the argument.

At the planning stage, it’s good to get rid of facts that are interesting but not relevant so that you are not tempted to include them in the finished piece.  Don’t shoehorn in such facts or quotes, however authoritative the source — this is a sure-fire means of interrupting flow. Always refer back to the assessment brief to confirm that you are on course.

3 Topic sentences

I then invited the students to use the highlighted statements to compose topic sentences. A topic sentence is a declarative statement, usually at the beginning of a paragraph, which expresses an idea that you will expand on, evidence and analyse in the paragraph. Just as your dissertation title establishes your subject matter at a document level, topic sentences do the same at a paragraph level. Here’s an example:

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a pleasurable physical sensation experienced by many people when prompted by a visual or auditory cue.

4 Order the points

Once the students had their topic sentences, I asked them to determine the order in which the points should appear. Here is one example:

  • Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a pleasurable physical sensation experienced by many people when prompted by a visual or auditory cue.
  • ASMR content is widely shared on social media platforms.
  • A potential audience of 100 million saw an ASMR-related advertisement during the US Super Bowl in 2017.
  • The reach of the advertisement, for Michelob Ultra, was significantly extended by a further 14 million views on YouTube by ASMR adherents.
  • Further exposure was gained when the advertisement was featured in print and broadcast media.
  • Michelob Ultra could not have achieved that coverage on the Superbowl budget alone.
  • Additional sales of Michelob Ultra were estimated at N as a result of the ASMR marketing.
  • Other advertising agencies are following suit.

This example is by no means definitive — and indeed, given all the original source material, you could equally construct the argument that ASMR is not an effective advertising tool. But it demonstrates that summarising the research, listing significant points, writing and ordering strong topic sentences will enable you to create a logical sequence for your paragraphs, and help them flow naturally, one to the next.

10 December 2020

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