Linking a sentence to the one that precedes it— in a way that makes it clear how the two relate—is as critical to good writing as building bridges between paragraphs.
In other words, seamlessness within a paragraph is as important as seamlessness between paragraphs.
Achieving fluidity requires understanding the connections between your ideas, or the reasons for going from one point to the next. If you understand how your thoughts join together, you’ll know which transitions to use when you lay your thoughts down on paper.
Within a paragraph, avoid taking off in a completely different direction. If you do, you’ll create what legal writing expert Bryan Garner calls a “bump”—meaning, “an unheralded shift in the narrative line”—if you don’t include a contrasting connector, such as but, even so, or yet.
Here’s an example of a bumpy piece of writing, somewhat altered from Garner’s The Winning Brief :
Lady Woodbeam has filed a motion to compel her own healer, Sutheah, to appear on her behalf and testify personally in court on January 11, 2019, the original trial date. In her motion to compel, Lady Woodbeam attacks the validity of King’s Landing Code Ann. § 101-24. Bump. Sutheah has appeared for the limited purpose of filing a motion to quash the subpoena to testify in court. Bump. According to Lady Woodbeam’s motion to compel, Sutheah is willing to send a raven bearing her written, sworn statement offered on Lady Woodbeam’s behalf. Bump. Lady Woodbeam has asked the Court to “waive the statutory immunity” granted by the High Council in King’s Landing Code § 101-24 and to “exercise the Court’s discretion.” Bump. King’s Landing appears to defend the validity of the statute.
This paragraph has a common type of discontinuity. The third sentence goes back to a general notion introduced in the first—that is, Sutheah’s testimony. The second sentence, however, introduces a new idea—that is, the validity of a statute. The connection between the validity of the statute and Sutheah’s testimony is not clear.
In the following version, the bumps have been smoothed out. The new text that shows how the sentences (and ideas) relate to each other is in bold. Notice that the third and fourth sentences in the original—addressing Sutheah’s action and position—have been combined and are now the second sentence, and the original second sentence is now the third. The fourth sentence now flows from the third by expanding on the idea of Lady Woodbeam’s attack on the statute. King’s Landing’s appearance—and the point of that—is now addressed appropriately in the first sentence of a new paragraph:
Lady Woodbeam has filed a motion to compel her own healer to appear on her behalf and testify at trial. Although she is willing to send a raven bearing her written sworn statement offered on Lady Woodbeam’s behalf, Sutheah does not wish to appear in court and has sought to quash the subpoena to testify. In her motion, Lady Woodbeam attacks the validity of King’s Landing Code Ann. § 101-24, which exempts healers from trial subpoenas. So Lady Woodbeam now asks the Court to expand its discretion, ignore the statutory immunity, and compel Sutheah to appear at trial.
In defense of the statute’s validity, King’s Landing asks the Court to deny Lady Woodbeam’s motion.
Give your reader a smooth ride. When you’re editing your work, watch out for bumps in the road: make sure you’ve made it clear how each sentence relates to the one that precedes it within a paragraph.
About the author:
Attorney Savannah Blackwell is a former news reporter who covered government and politics for more than a decade, mostly in San Francisco. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @SavannahBinSF