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Editing Strategies

Improving Flow

Flow describes the way that ideas, paragraphs, and sentences work together to create a cohesive piece of writing. A paper that has poor flow can be difficult for the reader to follow because of distracting structures or unclear connections. By improving flow, you can improve the overall readability of your writing. 

Improving Overall Flow: Unity

Overall flow, also known as unity, describes the way that all the ideas and components of a piece of writing work together to accomplish the paper's goal (in most cases, prove the thesis). 

To check that your writing has overall unity, make sure 

  • You have an introduction that provides context and background.
  • You have a clear thesis or statement of intent in your introduction that 
    • presents a clear argument or purpose and
    • introduces the paper's main supporting points.
  • All body paragraphs clearly support the thesis.
  • You have a conclusion that restates the thesis and summarizes key points.

Improving Paragraph-Level Flow

A paragraph with good flow will be have a clear focus with clear connections between ideas within the paragraph and to the rest of the paper. 

To ensure that your body paragraphs have effective flow, make sure

  • Each paragraph has a clear, focused topic sentence at the beginning that introduces the paragraph's main idea.
  • All details, including evidence and analysis, stay focused on the main idea.
  • Analysis works to prove the overall thesis.
  • When logical, there are connections between ideas presented in previous body paragraphs.
  • Each paragraph includes a concluding sentence to show the significance of the paragraph's ideas in relation to the overall thesis.
  • When logical, the concluding sentence transitions to the next body paragraph.
  • Following effective body paragraph structure can help you establish flow.

Improving Sentence-Level Flow: Cohesion

Cohesion describes how specific sentences and ideas are connected by tying ideas together and leading the reader from one idea to the next. There are various cohesive strategies and devices to help you improve this type of flow. 

You can use sentence structure to improve flow. Using too many short, simple sentences in a row can cause your writing to feel choppy and provides fewer opportunities to show connections. On the other hand, too many long, compound or complex sentences can feel overwhelming to the reader. Your goal is to use a good variety of sentence lengths and structures.

To illustrate, read the following group of sentences out loud:


Many students experience homesickness. They may be away from home for the first time. Many students do not have coping strategies. As such, colleges should improve transition programming.

All of the sentences use simple sentence structure and are around the same length, which disrupts fluency and feels awkward for the reader. Also, without conjunctions that are used in compound and complex sentences, there are fewer connections being made between ideas. 

Now compare to this group of sentences:


Many students experience homesickness. They may be away from home for the first time, so many students do not have coping strategies. As such, colleges should improve transition programming.

This example uses simple sentences and a compound sentence. Not only does it sound less choppy, the conjunction "so" shows a clearer cause/effect relationship between ideas. 


Transition words and phrases are useful tools to help create cohesion in your writing. Here are some transition words and phrases that are commonly used in academic writing:

Transition Words
Meaning Function
to introduce an additional idea Also, besides, furthermore, moreover, in addition, another (+ noun), an additional (+ noun)
to introduce an opposite idea on the other hand, however, in contrast, instead, nevertheless, nonetheless, in spite of
to introduce a comparison Similarly, likewise, also, too
to introduce an example for example, for instance, to illustrate,
to emphasize Indeed, another, even more, above all, indeed, more importantly,
to introduce a conclusion or summary in conclusion, in summary, to conclude, to summarize,
to clarify chronological order first (second, etc.), next, last, finally, first of all, meanwhile, after that, since then, previously, then, later, before, to begin,
to indicate order of importance more/most importantly, above all,
to introduce an alternative Otherwise, alternately, conversely, nevertheless, however,
to introduce a cause or reason as a consequence of…, as a result of…, the effect of x on y is…, because of…, due to…
to introduce an effect or result Accordingly, thus, as a result, therefore, as a consequence, consequently,
to introduce a concession However, nonetheless, of course,
to introduce strong contrast However, in contrast, in / by comparison, on the other hand, on the contrary,
to summarize or conclude in summary, in brief, therefore, as a result, to sum up, in conclusion, altogether, as has been mentioned,

Repeating key words helps tie together the flow of thoughts in an essay. Although repeating a few key words can be useful, don’t overdo it!

Using appropriate pronouns (he, she, it, you, they…) connects ideas while avoiding needless repetition. Check for pronoun/noun agreement to make sure you have used the correct pronoun.

Using demonstratives, or pointing words, like this, these, and those helps you refer back to concepts, ideas, research, etc. that you previously mentioned in your writing, allowing you to create more connections for your reader. Be sure to include a noun after the demonstrative so it is clear what you are referring to.


… because petting animals encourages the production of chemicals essential to brain function, like prolactin, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. These mood-stabilizing chemicals assist…

  • Spend time proofreading. Errors in grammar and punctuation can distract the reader, thereby affecting fluency and flow.
  • Read your work out loud. This strategy can help you identify issues with fluency, including sentence-level errors.
  • Include various appropriate cohesive devices to make connections between ideas more clear.
  • Learn more about sentence structure to help you use various types of sentences effectively.