Give Your Readers Road Signs

When you invite someone to your house who’s never been, what kind of directions do you give? Are you the “head north on Maple for two blocks and then turn east on 2nd” type? Or are you the more visual “keep going down Maple until you come to the two-story brick house with the six-foot inflatable snowman in the front yard; turn right” variety? Share in the comments below! šŸ˜œ

Whatever kind of direction-giver you are, the more detailed your directions, the less chance your friend will take a wrong turn or end up calling you five blocks away.

The same idea applies to writing. The more directionals you provide your readers, the more likely they will be able to follow your thoughts from the beginning of your content to the end.

Topic sentences are one way to announce an idea to readers. Think of these sentences as the large road signs that tell how far you have to go to get to your destination. The most common place to put a topic sentence is at the very beginning of a paragraph so that readers know right away what’s to follow. Other topic sentences, though, appear midway or even at the end of a paragraph to recap or reinforce the main point. Wherever these sentences appear, they continually remind readers of the direction they’re heading and their ultimate destination.

Other directionals appear within a paragraph, at the sentence level. One sentence-level directional uses a concept called leap-frogging. This concept repeats or mimics certain words or ideas from one sentence to the next. Notice how I’ve done this within this paragraph’s first three sentences. I repeat the words “directional,” “sentence-level,” and “concept” to leap-frog from one sentence to the next. Just as you may repeat the names of streets as you give directions to someone, the leap-frog concept continually reminds readers of the content’s context and purpose.

Another sentence-level directional, using transitional words and phrases, is even more informative. Think of these words and phrases as the road signs that show arrows pointing this way or that way. Transitional words and phrases show how sentences relate to one another, how their ideas build from one to the next or how two items compare. For a comprehensive list of these transitions, check out the recent Hubspot post from Clifford Chi (this post is truly comprehensive; you gotta check it out!).

Whether you’re writing a proposal, a report, or a blog post, giving your readers road signs will ensure that they can track your thoughts and won’t lose sight of your content’s context. What’s more, when your readers can easily follow you from point A to point B, they’ll be more likely to read what you’ve written all the way to the end.

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