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When your content doesn’t flow

When I'm coaching writers or training up teams, a common complaint I hear is "it doesn't flow".

There are two sources of flow issues, and they require different strategies to address: logical and rhythmical.

How to fix article flow: logic

The problem: When the logic isn't flowing, it's hard for readers to follow the information to a clear and intelligent conclusion.

Why it happens: We can experience logical flow problems within a paragraph, throughout a section or within the entire document. Our logical flow is impacted when we have a hard time organizing background information and/or aren't clear on the main idea, critical details or purpose of the piece.

How to improve logical flow: Fixing the logic in a sentence or section is usually fixed by reading it out loud and reworking accordingly.We use three strategies to fix logic within a piece of content (or create it from the start): 1) the Content-Purpose-Audience Strategy™ [download], the What-Why-How Strategy™ [download] and Background Maps™. The first two help you think through the article before you write it, so you have a stronger logical framework on which to research and write. We like these better than outlines because most of us are so conditioned to the format that we look only at the topics (does the outline include the things we want to hit) and don't closely look at whether the items are organized in a way that readers can follow. With outlines, we often discover too late -- as in, after the content is written -- that the logic doesn't work. We use Background Maps to align our source information with the key point and sections of the content. It's as simple as assigning a number to each idea/concept or section for the post, and then assigning that number to information in the material that belongs with each numbered "bucket". For a how-to blog post, for example, I make the intro #1 and assign each tip or trick its own number (let's say #2-#6) the conclusion #7 and the CTA #8. Then I read through the background information, interviews and any other source documents I have and jot numbers in the margins as I go. Yes, you can do this on your screen, but I find it's often faster and easier to do it on paper, and then have that paper out as I write. When it's time to draft, I just follow the numbers to create the quickly draft the sections and reorder as necessary.

 How to fix article flow: rhythm

The problem: When the rhythm isn't flowing, it's hard for readers to build understanding and momentum.

Why it happens: We can experience rhythmical flow problems when we our sentence fluency is off, or when we don't use punctuation effectively. Sentence fluency is a fancy term for the cadence and phrasing of our writing. As readers and listeners, we like sentences that follow different patterns and are of different lengths. But sometimes, as writers, we get stuck in rut of using the same sentence structure over and over. It's so boring, readers disengage. And often when we're writing about complicated topics, we create sentences packed with so much information that they're incredibly long and, if not punctuated perfectly, can be hard to follow. Too many of those kill your rhythm, too. Rhythm issues usually happen when we're in a hurry or when our writing confidence is low.

How to improve rhythmic flow: The easiest way to find a problem with rhythm is to read your work out loud. You'll catch the places you need punctuation and hear where you could make a long sentence shorter or combine two short sentences. Here's a quick look at the most common sentence patterns. As you revise, try a few of these out. Work at the sentence and paragraph level first to create a nice ebb and flow within them. Then read over the entire piece to create more movement in your voice and sentences. The resulting flow should create momentum that carries the reader or listener from one sentence, paragraph and section to the big finish.

So the next time someone (even your writer's intuition) says, "it doesn't flow", ask a few questions to determine which kind of flow problem you've got. Then follow these tips to bring the logic and rhythm back to your content.

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