January 01, 2016

On the Papers: The Progress of Thought: To Move Forward, Link Backward

For a reader the primary unit of thought is not the sentence but rather the paragraph--which requires instructions from the writer for its sentences to be properly linked together.

George D. Gopen

When a writer is in the process of writing, no matter how long or short the document will eventually be, most of the writer’s attention is focused on the creation of a single sentence. Once the sentence’s contents have been deposited on the page, without error, and with some sense of elegance, the writer can comfortably consider that task well accomplished. The same process can continue, sentence after sentence.

For a reader, however, the primary unit of thought is not the sentence but rather the paragraph. Readers do not experience sentences in isolation from one another, but rather in a flow that begins with the paragraph’s opening sentence and continues until the paragraph ends. Without explicit instructions from the writer on how to link these sentences together, 10 readers might well come away from the paragraph with 10 or more different interpretations. It is a crucial part of the writing act to send those instructions for logical connection as soon and as clearly as possible. This article attends to the instructions that help a reader connect a new sentence to the one that preceded it.

Without those early instructions, bad things can happen.

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