5.1 Finishing touches

5.1.4 Does your essay 'flow'?

Examiners often complain about essays that do not 'flow'. What do they mean by this? It means they find students' writing style and structure difficult to follow, there seems to be no connection betweenone thought and the next.  Examiners cannot reward candidates for the quality of their ideas if they cannot understand the ideas that are expressed. So how do you make your essay 'flow'? That is a very difficult question to answer. Writing concisely and using connectives are good starting points. As you finish your essay, check for the following: 

  • Introduce anything that's new for the reader - Are you quoting a source or referring to the someone's research? Be sure you have introduced the researchers, sources or arguments before 'dropping' them into your essay. 
  • Stop: Grammar time! - Make sure the verbs in your sentences agree with the subjects that they use. Most people become confused with larger noun phrases. For example: 'this set of data shows...' (not 'show'). Be consistent in your use of verb tenses. When analysing the work of an author or artist (even if he or she is dead) one uses the present tense. 
  • Over-using a single word - Are you constantly using the same phrase or word? Look for synonyms to describe the idea or phenomenon in multiple ways. 
  • Spelling and grammar checkers - They do not pick up all mistakes, but they are certainly useful. Don't use an auto-corrector; auto-correctors tend to introduce more mistakes than they take out. 
  • Punctuation - Are you using apostrophes, quotations marks, full stops, commas, semi-colons and hyphens correctly? Your supervisor is not allowed to edit or annotate your work, but you can ask your English teacher how to use punctuation correctly. 
  • Take care with extremes - Be especially careful with expressions such as "never," "always," "everybody knows," "totally unknown," "impossible," and so on.  If the reader can think of just one exception then that part of your argument is blown apart.
  • 'Borrowed' thoughts - Is it clear where your ideas end and someone else's begin? Is it clear where their ideas finish and yours begin again?  Linking expressions (eg "She goes on to say that ...") can help when your paraphrase is long. Consider using a new paragraph to distinguish between your thoughts and someone else's.