What is Flow?
Flow refers to
- how well a writer transitions from one idea, sentence, or paragraph to the next
- the sense an audience may feel when a text is well developed, organized, and presented as it should be.
Flow, for writers, may also refer to
- the joy a writer experiences when their thoughts are flowing, when the story is telling itself
- a stage of the writing process
Flow may also be known as fluency, smoothness, rhythm, coherence, continuity, progression, and sequence. These terms all convey a sense of seamless movement from one idea or point to the next, enhancing readability and comprehension.
Types of Flow
Global Flow (aka Macro Flow or Rhetorical Flow)
At the global level, flow in writing refers to the overarching structure and organization of a piece of text. It’s about how the main ideas, arguments, or events are sequenced and linked across paragraphs or sections, and how they all contribute to the overall message or narrative.
Global flow guides the reader through the entire piece, from the introduction that sets the context, through the development of key points in the body, and finally to the conclusion that ties everything together. It ensures that each part of the text logically builds upon the previous and leads into the next, maintaining a consistent line of thought throughout the piece.
A text with good global flow has a clear and well-structured progression of ideas that bolsters the overall argument or narrative. This not only makes it easier for the reader to follow and understand the text, but also more effectively conveys the writer’s intended message.
Writers, speakers, knowledge workers create global flow by
- keeping a focus on a specific, focused message, thesis, hypothesis, research question.
- using the genres, grammars, mechanics, research methods, citation styles, conventions, rhetorical moves, commonplace organizational schemas, and media of particular audiences and discourse communities.
Local Flow (aka the local level or the linguistic level)
Local flow in writing refers to the smooth and logical progression of ideas at the sentence-to-sentence or paragraph-to-paragraph level. It’s about how individual sentences or paragraphs connect and transition, contributing to the clarity of the text. Local flow involves the use of effective transition words and phrases, consistent tenses, and clear pronoun references. It ensures that each sentence or paragraph directly builds upon the previous one and sets up the next, creating a continuous, easy-to-follow line of thought within a section or paragraph.
A text with good local flow reads smoothly and logically, which enhances the reader’s understanding and keeps them engaged. It prevents the reader from getting lost or confused and makes the writer’s point more clear and persuasive.
Flow in Relation to Other Elements of Style
The concept of flow as an aesthetic principle is deeply intertwined with other elements of style:
- Brevity in writing refers to expressing thoughts in the fewest possible words without sacrificing clarity. Flow and brevity are closely related. An effective flow avoids unnecessary verbosity, allowing for a smoother reading experience. Brevity ensures that the focus stays on the primary ideas, helping maintain the flow by eliminating potential distractions.
- Inclusive writing aims to avoid language that might be seen as biased or exclusionary. A text that uses inclusive language tends to flow smoothly as it acknowledges diverse readers, preventing disruptions that may be caused by language that is unnecessarily exclusive or biased.
- Flow is not just about the words and sentences—it extends to how the text is presented on a page or screen. Elements such as headers, bullet points, and short paragraphs improve scannability, which in turn, enhances the flow. By effectively guiding the reader’s eyes through the text, good page/screen design supports the overall flow.
- Simplicity in writing refers to the use of clear, straightforward language. Flow is enhanced by simplicity because readers can more easily follow the progression of ideas when language is clear and unambiguous. Complex or convoluted language can disrupt the flow, making the text harder to read and understand.
- Unity in writing refers to the coherence and consistency of ideas, style, and tone. Flow and unity go hand in hand. When a piece of writing maintains unity, its flow is more likely to be smooth because the elements of the text are consistently linked and the ideas progress logically.
- Usability in writing refers to how easily a reader can understand and use the information in a text. Flow contributes to usability by making the text more reader-friendly. If a piece of writing flows well, it is easier to read, understand, and use, thereby enhancing its overall usability.
Why Does Flow Matter?
Flow — along with brevity, inclusivity, simplicity, and unity — is an essential element of successful communication. Flow enhances readability: When your writing flows, your readers can easily follow your line of thought without getting lost or confused. This makes the reading experience more engaging and enjoyable, increasing the likelihood that your message will be clearly understood and well-received. Furthermore, flow adds rhythm and balance to your writing, making it more aesthetically pleasing and compelling.
Readers, listeners, users . . . need writers to organize information/data so they know why they are being told what they’re being told. This is why writers use rhetorical moves, organizational structures, organizational patterns: they want to avoid confusion, ambiguity, and loss of the reader’s attention.
How Can I Create Flow?
Readers expect your ideas to flow easily from one thought to the next logical thought. You can make this process easier for them by maintaining a clear focus in each paragraph and by signaling the movement of your ideas with transitions and clear connections between sentences. It should be evident to your reader how each idea is connected to the last and where you’re headed next.
Flow is rooted in audience awareness. To create flow you need to understand
- what your audience knows about the topic,
- how your audience feels about the topic.
Furthermore, you can create flow
- by not flip-flopping from topic to topic;
- Rearrange the order of your sentences so that each idea connects to the others like scaffolding.
- Reword some of your sentences so that the ideas in one are linked to the ideas in the others.
- Use words like first, next, then, and finally when describing a process.
- by putting main ideas at the top; relate the following sentences to the main idea.
- by staying on message
- by using organizational schema, rhetorical moves, genres, that makes logical and rhetorical sense
- Between sentences, paragraphs, and sections, rhetors use transitional devices that highlight the logical connections between ideas.
- by developing a single topic before moving on to a new topic
- by using conventions that readers anticipate and understand
- by relating elements of discourse within a text (e.g., sentences or paragraphs) to other elements of discourse within the same text (i.e., other sentences or paragraphs) and the topic, thesis, research question, story that drives the discourse.
What’s the Difference between flow and coherence?
The terms flow and coherence are often used interchangeably; however, they are not exactly the same:
- Flow refers to the smooth progression of ideas and thoughts from one point to another, creating a sense of uninterrupted movement that carries the reader along. It involves things like sentence structure, transition words, and the logical progression of ideas.
- Coherence, on the other hand, is more about the logical consistency and connection between ideas. A piece of writing is coherent when all its parts (arguments, sentences, paragraphs, etc.) logically fit together and support the same main point or theme.