With the pandemic and people working from home, we’ve all heard about the empty highways and lack of traffic. At my house, I have probably heard more about it than most because my husband was commuting each day—and enjoying the easy drive. (He works in aircraft maintenance, so WFH was not an option.)

As our stay-at-home order ends and people hit the road once more, my husband’s commute is clogging up again, and that got me thinking about paragraphs.

Yes, paragraphs.

When paragraphs don’t flow, when writing lacks transitions or ideas are jumbled, your reader gets “stuck” and has to work harder—and take longer—to get through. It’s just like dealing with traffic congestion on the freeway. A poorly written document lacking flow between paragraphs reads like this looks:

without flow between paragraphs writing is like crowded freeway

On the other hand, a clearly written document with flow between paragraphs is like a wide-open freeway. Your reader can easily get from point A to point B, from the beginning of your message to the end. And they can arrive at that end with a solid understanding of your message and their next step, if there is one. This kind of writing reads like this looks:

with flow between paragraphs writing is like empty freeway

Your paragraphs must flow
You want flow so you want to write as well as you can, right? Because your writing at work is part of your brand at work.

For your writing to read like a wide-open freeway and not a congested mess, you need paragraph flow. You want each paragraph to be limited to one idea, thought or point, but you need flow between those ideas, thoughts or points—literally flowing from one paragraph to the next.

Here’s an example of no flow that I pulled from real-life (although I tweaked it). These two paragraphs apparently have nothing to do with each other but appeared one after the other in print so you’d think they’d be connected:

Beginning gardeners are often challenged because they don’t know what to grow in the first place, especially when garden space is limited. So what are the best ways for beginning gardeners to make the most of garden space?

 

Plants like corn and pumpkins take up a lot of space and they need a long growing season to produce only a few edible fruits per plant. With enough garden space, they can be delightful.

The first paragraph is about making the most of limited space as a beginning gardener. It ends with a question that leads the reader to believe the next paragraph will have the answer. However, the second paragraph is about crops that take up a lot of space, which has absolutely nothing to do with the first paragraph, nor does it have anything to do with beginner gardening skills. There is no flow.

The paragraphs on their own might be correct and clear, but if the order isn’t, the writing fails to communicate quickly and clearly. And the whole point is communicating in the fastest, clearest way possible, right? In this case, I am reading along thinking I’m about to get advice for beginning gardeners with limited space, and I crash into a paragraph about crops that take up a lot of space.

How to go with the flow between paragraphs
If you’re not sure about the flow after you’ve written something, summarize each paragraph as a statement or phrase and list them. For example, a follow-up email or memo after a meeting might look like this:

  1. We agreed to cancel the contract with Vanity Vendor.
  2. We discussed the quality issues we’ve been having with them.
  3. Joe, John, Mary, Sue and Bart attended the meeting.
  4. Joe summarized the costs we have incurred due to the poor quality.
  5. We met on Tuesday, January 20, at 2:00 p.m.

Seen in that way, it’s obvious the flow is illogical, and the email or memo was probably written in a stream-of-consciousness way—which is fine, but you must go back and edit it later.

How do we get the wide-open freeway effect? We reorder the paragraphs so they can flow. The information in the email or memo makes much more sense when ordered like this:

  1. We met on Tuesday, January 20, at 2:00 p.m.
  2. Joe, John, Mary, Sue and Bart attended the meeting.
  3. We discussed the quality issues we’ve been having with Vanity Vendor.
  4. Joe summarized the costs we have incurred due to the poor quality of Vanity Vendor’s merchandise.
  5. We agreed to cancel the contract with Vanity Vendor.

Can you see the difference? And the fix is easy: Reorder the paragraphs based on this numbering…and then see if you need transitions between to help guide the reader along from one paragraph to the next.

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Avoid congestion and crashes!
You know what you’re intending to communicate, and therefore a lack of flow might not be obvious to you. You might see endless asphalt extending to the horizon. Your reader, on the other hand, does not know your intentions. That’s why they are reading what you wrote. And they might be honking their horns and sighing in frustration as they try to navigate paragraphs without flow.

After you write, review your flow. Move your paragraphs around if you need to, so your content and ideas have a logical order. If you numbered your paragraphs and considered the content of each, would they be sequential?

Is your reader going to cruise right on through your writing? Or stare into the taillights of illogical order?

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