Search for courses or information

Very clear writing

UEL east london aerial

This guide looks at ways to make the sentences within your paragraphs really clear.

Organising your sentences

To make the ideas in your paragraphs flow clearly, you need to organise the information in your sentences so that one sentence flows into the next. To start with, take a look at the following examples. Which is easier to read for you?

Example One is a lot easier to read because it flows from one sentence to the next more clearly. The flow happens because each sentence starts with something that links back to the previous sentence.

Example 1
In India, the government allowed the copying of drugs that had been patented by multinational pharmaceutical industries. This copying led to a reduction in the cost of antiretrovirals from $15,000 to $200 (Duffield, 2011). This cost, it could be argued, would have made the drugs affordable to Third World countries.

Example 2
In India, the government allowed the copying of drugs that had been patented by multinational pharmaceutical industries. The cost of anti-retrovirals reduced from $15,000 to $200 (Duffield, 2011), which was caused by copying. Third World countries, it could be argued, would have been able to afford this cost.

This idea can be seen more clearly below:

In India, the government allowed the copying of drugs that had been patented by multinational pharmaceutical industries. This copying led to a reduction in the cost of anti-retrovirals from $15,000 to $200 (Duffield, 2011). This cost, it could be argued, would have made the drugs affordable to Third World countries.

The first sentence introduces the idea of copying drugs. The second sentence connects clearly to this by starting with ‘This copying’. The second sentence introduces the idea of the cost of drugs. The third sentence connects clearly to this by starting with ‘This cost’. So, as you read, each sentence flows clearly to the next.

In contrast, look at this example

In India the government allowed the copying of drugs that had been patented by multinational pharmaceutical industries. The cost of anti-retrovirals reduced from $15,000 to $200 (Duffield, 2011), which was caused by copying. Third World countries, it could be argued, would have been able to afford this cost.

In this example, the first sentence is the same. However, the second sentence starts with another idea: ‘The cost of anti-retrovirals’. You don’t know the relationship between these ideas so you have to keep both ideas in your head until you read ‘caused by copying’ at the end of the sentence. The same problem happens with the third sentence which starts with another new idea: ‘Third world countries’. You don’t know the connection until the end of the sentence when you read ‘this cost’.

This example is more difficult to read because the sentences don’t start in a way that clearly connects them to the previous sentence. This example is only three sentences so imagine how confusing a 1,500-word essay could get if the sentences don’t flow properly!

Try the Organising your sentences exercise to practise connecting sentences in this way.

Making the start of your sentence very clear

As well as organising the information in your sentences so that your sentences connect very clearly, you can also help the reader by making sure that the subjects of your sentences are very clear. Look at this example:


Inflexible working arrangements during the 1970s often led to confrontations and tensions between unions and management representatives. These often led to prolonged strike action.

In the second sentence, ‘These’ is not clear. It could refer to ‘tensions’ or ‘confrontations’ or both. The reader, therefore, is immediately a little lost. If this happens a lot in your writing, it makes it frustrating to read.

Compare this with the example below:

Inflexible working arrangements often led to confrontations and tensions with unions. These confrontations often led to prolonged strike action.

Saying ‘These confrontations’ is much clearer as you know exactly what the subject of the second sentence refers to. You could also use ‘issues’ to refer to both ‘tensions’ and ‘confrontations’ as in this example:

Inflexible working arrangements often led to confrontations and tensions with unions. These issues often led to prolonged strike action.

Try the Starting sentences clearly exercise to practise this.

Using signposts in your writing

    In this guide so far, we have seen that the way you join sentences together within a paragraph makes your essay easier to read.

    We have looked at making sure your sentence starts with information that clearly connects with information given in the previous sentence, for example:

    It is argued that the downloading of digital material has serious implications for the music industry. One of these implications is the reduction in royalties for artists.

    Example 1

    We have also looked at making sure that the subject of your sentence is very clear, for example:

    Inflexible working arrangements often led to confrontations and tensions with unions. These issues often led to prolonged strike action.

    ‘These issues’ is much clearer than just saying ‘These often...’

    Example 2

    Now we will look at another way you can join sentences together more clearly, by using signposting words to show the relationship of one idea with the next. Here are some examples of common types of signposting words:

    Signposting examples Type Explanation
    In addition
    As well as
    Furthermore
    Similarly
    In a similar vein
    Addition
    These join similar words together.
    However
    In contrast
    Conversely
    Contrast These join different ideas together.
    Although
    Despite the fact that
    In spite of the fact that
    Concession These show two points but one point is stronger:

    Although he likes fish, he prefers cheese. He prefers cheese is the main point.
    For example
    For instance
    This is exemplified by
    Example These say that you’re going to include an example of your point.
    In general
    More specifically
    In more specific terms
    General and specific These show that you’re going to talk in general first and then more specifically after.


    Signposting

    The examples below show you how some of these signposting words work in paragraphs:

    (1) The sale and subsequent use of small arms around the world causes considerable conflict between local populations. (2) This is clearly exemplified by the current situation both in Mindova and in Hagistan. In Mindova paramilitaries use small arms to.... Example signpost
    1. The first sentence gives the general idea behind the paragraph.
    2. The second sentence gives support for the first sentence.
    You could also use:
    • For example
    • An example of this is...
    • Smith (2006) gives the example of...
    (1) Unemployment continues to be a problem in Britain and America. In the UK, the number of people on jobless benefits increased by 23,500, putting unemployment at its highest in almost 13 years (The Economist, 2010). (2) Similarly, the Economist (2010) notes that in America 25 of the last 26 months to February 2010 have been months in which US unemployment increased. Addition signpost
    1. The first sentence gives the general idea behind the paragraph.
    2. The second and third sentences explain in more detail, joined together by ‘Similarly..’
    You could also use:
    • In a similar vein
    • In addition to the UK, ...
    • Furthermore
    (1) It is often claimed that if one lives within the law, being seen on CCTV is irrelevant (e.g. Clam, 2004, Johns, 2005a). (2) This position,however, does not take into account the sense of fear that this can cause. Contrast signpost
    1. The first sentence gives a side of the argument that you don’t believe.
    2. The second sentence is your main argument – the one you are putting forward.
    • Note that ‘however’ often comes after the subject of the sentence in academic writing:

      This position, however, does not....
    (1) Although it is often claimed that if one lives within the law, being seen on CCTV is irrelevant (e.g. Clam, 2004, Johns, 2005a), (2) this position does not take into account the sense of fear that this can cause. Concession signpost

    This is the same example as above written in a different way:
    1. The sentence starts with the weaker point, using ‘Although ...’
    2. The second half of the sentence then makes your stronger point.
    You could also use:
    • Despite the fact that...
    • In spite of the fact that...

    Now try the Signposts in your sentences exercise to practise this.

    Summary

    In this guide we have looked at three ways to make your sentences flow really well:
    • Start sentences with the idea that connects to the previous sentence, e.g: ‘Unemployment fell 4% in 2010. This fall was due to a change in the method of calculation.’ rather than ‘The method of calculation led to this fall.’
    • Make sure the subject of your sentence is clear, e.g. ‘The consultations began in May. This process proved that …’ rather than ‘This proved that ...’
    • Use signposts like ‘however’ and ‘although’ to show how your points relate together.

    You might now want to read through some paragraphs of your own writing to check where you might improve the clarity of your sentences using these ideas.

    For an overview of how to organise your answer into paragraphs, see Structuring your essay.

    For detailed guidance on expressing your ideas within individual paragraphs, see Paragraphing.

    For general advice on the appropriate style to use in essays, see Academic style.