Metalanguage

Metalanguage refers to language that helps writers explain relationships between ideas or words that explain how texts are presented. Use metalanguage to help your readers understand your organization and reasoning. Clarify logical relationships, temporal relationships, and spatial relationships by using metalanguage.

Phrases like “for example,” “as a result,” and “therefore” are examples of metalanguage. Like an impatient TV watcher clicking through hundreds of channels, readers tend to be impatient, always ready to put their work aside.

As a result, throughout a document, you must ensure that readers will understand how different ideas relate to one another. You don’t want your readers to ask

  • “So what?”
  • “Who cares?”
  • “Jeez, just what is this text about?”
  • “What’s going on in the world today?” i.e., tangential thoughts.

Successful writers attempt to be sensitive to their readers’ likely responses to their documents. Just as writers commonly summarize their message in their introductions, highlighting its significance, writers frequently repeat their main ideas throughout a document, reminding readers of what’s been discussed, what will follow, and how new information relates to old information. Your essay shouldn’t be a spinning top, wandering from one topic to another–not if you want readers (or a good grade), anyway. Of course, peppering your language with metadiscourse–such as “thus,” “therefore,” “consequently,” and so on–will not provide logic. By itself, metalanguage cannot provide missing logic; it merely provides the glue to help readers better understand how ideas cohere.

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