Use “Signal” Words to Tell the Reader Where You Are Going.

Posted: December 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Plain English: Tips, The Argument or Analysis | Tags: | No Comments »

Think of your argument or analysis as a line drive from point A to point B. Occasionally, you must detour to discuss an exception or a contradictory point. Your reader will appreciate directional signals at those transitions. ”Similarly,” “for example,” “in particular” and “in addition” let the reader know that you are developing the main point. “However,” “although” and “by contrast” show that you are taking a detour to discuss an exception to a rule or to distinguish opposing authority. “Therefore” signals a conclusion. “Again” tells your reader that, yes, you have already discussed this point so they can relax. These directional signals are powerful tools that let your reader know the value of a sentence before they read that sentence.

Here are some helpful “signal” words:

  • First, Second, Third
  • For example
  • Similarly
  • In particular
  • By contrast
  • However or But
  • Again
  • Also
  • Therefore
  • Finally (every reader’s favorite word).

But be careful not to begin every sentence within a paragraph with a signal word or your sentences will sound formulaic. Vary the form of your sentences occasionally. For example, instead of saying “Similarly, in Smith v. Jones, the court held that….” say “In Smith v. Jones, the court also held that …. ”

So are you sending good signals to your reader?

What do you think?