Connecting the Dots

woman-1594711_1920 (2)I’ve noticed that women and men often have different ways of thinking and communicating. Sometimes my husband, who has years of practice listening to me and exploring how I think, doesn’t understand how I got from Point A to Point B in what I’m saying, whereas a female friend who has known me for only a fraction of that time sees the connections between my ideas immediately without my explaining them. By the way, my husband says he doesn’t have any problem understanding other men!

woman-1594711_1920 (4)Those shared connections between ideas may be hardwired in female and male brains or they may be learned through cultural interactions, but they definitely make communication easier.

When we write, we should assume that our readers don’t automatically understand how we think. Therefore, we must “translate” our thoughts and ideas into words they will understand, so they can conceptualize what it is we’re thinking.  We usually are clear in our own minds about how and why our ideas move from one thought to another, and that movement from point to point is logical to us, at least on a subconscious level. However, we can help our readers when we connect our ideas purposefully through transitions. These transitions often appear between paragraphs, but they can also be placed between sentences. In the previous sentence I used a simple connector by repeating a key word from the sentence before it: “these transitions.” The repeated key word keeps the readers on track and gives them a clue about the emphasis of the current sentence.

Besides repeating a key word or phrase, there are a slew of other transition options. You can choose words that communicate addition, comparison, contrast, time, purpose, place, result, summary, example, emphasis, etc. The idea behind transitions is to provide links between your ideas for the readers who can’t automatically know what you’re thinking.

Here’s a sampling of transitional words and phrases you could use to clarify the connections in your writing.

Transition Words

When I’m working with writers as their editor, I’ll often ask them, “Why does a particular idea/paragraph follow the one before it?” Once they’ve explained their thinking, I can help them find the transitional word, phrase, or sentence to make that movement from one idea to the next apparent to the reader. If an author’s reasons for ordering ideas are spelled out in the piece of writing, the reader can concentrate on the content of those ideas without having to play “translator” as well.

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FANBOYS

Here we go with Part 2 of the series “Punctuation Saves Lives.” In this article, we’re exploring the second of four common uses of the comma–between two complete sentences (independent clauses) with a coordinating conjunction. I know, you understand what a complete sentence is, but you may not be so sure of how to explain an independent clause, and you’re definitely fuzzy about what a coordinating conjunction is.

A coordinating conjunction joins (the “conjunction” part of the term) two independent clauses that are of equal value in importance (the “coordinating” part of the term) into one sentence. The list of coordinating conjunctions is relatively short—there are only seven (7)—, and this simple acronym will help you remember them:

FANBOYS—[F]or, [A]nd, [N]or,[B]ut, [O]r, [Y]et, [S]o.

Picture a young teenage male who is obsessed with the latest pop singer!

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Keep in mind, when we combine two independent clauses into one sentence with a coordinating conjunction, the coordinating conjunction MUST be preceded by a comma.

Example: I like to eat at a restaurant whenever possible, but I can’t afford it very often.

Example: The life of a teacher is full of satisfaction, yet it can be an exhausting life.

Notice that the two previous examples use coordinating conjunctions that express contrast between the two parts of the new sentence. Other coordinating conjunctions indicate addition (and), limitation (or), negation (nor), and consequence (for/so).

Example: I always use a bookmark to find my place in a book, and I never turn down the corner of the page.

Example: Pick up your toys immediately, or you won’t be going outside to play.

Example: Gerald usually doesn’t eat garden peas with his fish, nor does he eat mushy peas.

Example: I’m going to march with the protesters, for I believe in their cause.

Example: The trip to the lake is a 12-hour drive, so we’ll need to allow two days for the trip.

What’s important is that you recognize how words are working in a sentence, even when you can’t identify their jobs with appropriate labels. And it’s just as important to recognize the way punctuation helps your writing sparkle with clarity.

I hope you’ll join me next time for another common use of a comma—after an introductory phrase or dependent clause. Punctuation might not seem very important to you right now, but getting it right can make a powerful difference in your writing.