The readability of your written texts relies heavily on a clear, attractive, and coherent structure of the sentences. The readability of your text is enhanced by connecting your sentences and varying the structure and length of sentences. The next sections discuss some hints and suggestions how to achieve this. Note, however, that some recommendations should be used sparingly and with care to preserve their impact.
Linking words or phrases mostly consist of conjunctive adverbs and are used to link ideas from one sentence or paragraph to the next. They are also called sentence connectors if they are placed at the beginning of a sentence or transition words if they connect paragraphs. Linking words emphasize the connection between ideas, so they help readers follow your line of reasoning or see relations that might otherwise be misunderstood or missed. Useful linking words (organized by their goal) are:
- Illustration: as shown by, e.g., especially, for example, for instance, in particular, namely, particularly, specifically, such as, that is, to illustrate.
- Addition: again, and, also, besides, equally important, first (second, etc.), further, furthermore, in addition, in the first place, moreover, next.
- Comparison: also, in the same manner, likewise, similarly.
- Contrast: although, and yet, at the same time, but, despite, even though, except, however, in contrast, in spite of, nevertheless, on the contrary, on the other hand, regardless, still, though, unlike, whereas, yet.
- Logical relation: accordingly, as a result, because, consequently, for this reason, hence, if, otherwise, since, so, then, therefore, thus.
- Temporal relation: after, afterward, as, as long as, as soon as, at last, before, during, earlier, finally, formerly, immediately, later, meanwhile, next, since, shortly, subsequently, then, thereafter, until, when, while.
- Spatial relation: adjacent to, above, below, beyond, close, elsewhere, here, nearby, opposite, to the right, left, north, east, south, west, etc.
- To summarize or conclude: in conclusion, in summary, on the whole, that is, therefore, to conclude, to sum up.
If you use the linking words at the beginning of a clause, they should be followed by a comma. In the middle of a clause, a comma is usually placed both before and after the linking word. It is recommended to vary linking words such as the ones suggested above to increase the attractiveness and readability of your work. However, always be consistent in sequence style, such as sticking to first, second, third… (or firstly, secondly, thirdly…).
A linking sentence coherently connects the preceding sentence with the next sentence, for example: “This has four consequences. First, …” Or “This can be illustrated by the following example”.
Pronouns (e.g. it, they, these, which, who etc.) are used to refer to a noun or one or more persons (the pronoun’s antecedent). The use of pronouns may help to increase the relation between sentences if the antecedent is in the preceding sentence. The pronoun should however refer unambiguously to its noun. For example:
Ambiguous: “We applied the method in an experiment. It consisted of three steps.”
Unambiguous: “We applied the method in an experiment that consisted of three steps.”
Parallel structures involve the repetition of sentences or phrases that conspicuously have the same grammatical pattern. The repeating pattern in a series of consecutive sentences helps the reader to see the connections between ideas. Parallel structures can be applied to the word, phrase, or clause level and are usually joined by the use of coordinating conjunctions such as “and” or “or.” For example: “A slope failure results in transport of debris downhill by slumping, sliding, rolling, or falling”
Note that the sentence elements should be in the same grammatical form so that they are parallel. So, avoid faulty parallelisms, such as: “A slope failure results in transport of debris downhill by slumping, sliding, rolling, or by rockfall”
Avoid long sentences and vary the length of consecutive sentences. An example of a faulty, long sentence is: “Numerical models describe reality in terms of mathematical equations, usually at least partly based on laws of natural sciences, which allows the modeller full control over specified boundary conditions and laws, so that the physics-based model may be used to test whether a hypothesis does not conflict with the laws of physics.”
This sentence can be broken up into: “Numerical models describe reality in terms of mathematical equations, usually at least partly based on laws of natural sciences. Modelling allows full control over specified boundary conditions and laws. Thus, a physics-based model may be used to test whether a hypothesis does not conflict with the laws of physics.”
To increase the attractiveness of your text, vary the order of clauses in consecutive sentences. If a repetitive grammatical pattern has no function to connect ideas, a sequence of sentences with a similar pattern becomes boring. For example: “Karst landscapes result to a significant degree from the dissolution of bedrock. They are most commonly underlain by limestone and dolostone bedrock. They contain surface karst landforms, such as sinkholes, caves, and large flow springs. Karst landscapes are characterised underground drainage networks that commonly bypass surface drainage divides.”
This sentence can be rephrased into: “Karst landscapes result to a significant degree from the dissolution of bedrock. They are most commonly underlain by limestone and dolostone bedrock. Sinkholes, caves, and large flow springs are typical landforms that can be found in these landscapes. Another characteristic feature of these landscapes is the occurrence of underground drainage networks that commonly bypass surface drainage divides.”