The Art of the Segue

Throughout many of my recent editing projects, I’ve been thinking a lot about segues in academic writing (yes, I really do think about these things).

This is a segway. (Not a segue.)

This is a Segway. (Not a segue.)

A segue is a writing technique whereby the writer ends one portion of their work (whether a sentence, paragraph, section, or chapter) while simultaneously setting things up for the next. This might seem quite elementary, but you’d be amazed at how much time I spend simply inserting segues into my clients’ writing. I’ve come to realize that using effective segues is one of the simplest ways to vastly improve your academic writing.

Chapter or Section Segues

This, perhaps, seems like the most obvious one. At the end of a chapter or section, you have the perfect opportunity to “set the scene,” so to speak, for whatever chapter or section is coming next. This usually follows a wrap-up of the previous section. Nothing frilly is needed (or recommended) here–write this part as plainly and succinctly as you can.

In this chapter, I have articulated what I take to be the heart of the debate between the A-theory and the B-theory. I have also described some variations of these theories. In the following chapter, I outline the sorts of evidence that are often appealed to in support of one theory or the other.

You’ve given your reader a big-picture “you are here” map, just when they need it most. And trust me, they will appreciate that.

Paragraph Segues

You can also provide valuable direction to your reader in between paragraphs. In one paragraph you’re talking about the social determinants of health. In the next, you’re writing about the prevalence of diabetes among Canada’s First Nations. The connection may be obvious to you, but don’t assume that the reader will follow. In this case, go ahead and mention the first paragraph in the first sentence of the second one:

An example of the significance of social determinants of health is the prevalence of diabetes among Canada’s First Nations peoples

This makes clear the logical flow of your writing. In other words, it explains exactly how the thing you were just talking about is importantly related to the thing you’re about to start talking about.

Sentence Segues

This is by far the most important (and often overlooked) kind of segue. Bear with me for a moment, and take a look at this paragraph:

Ultimately, the voice of dominant groups have the most weight in global discussions of morality. These “open discussions” will ultimately reinforce asymmetries of power. If certain dominant groups refrain from such discussions, this imbalance might be corrected. A discourse ethics which promotes the occasional exclusion of certain dominant groups will allow for the best possible conditions for a genuinely open and inclusive discussion overall.

Were you able to easily follow the writer’s train of thought? How about now?

Ultimately, the voice of dominant groups have the most weight in global discussions of morality. As a result, these “open discussions” will ultimately reinforce asymmetries of power. If certain dominant groups refrain from such discussions, however, this imbalance might be corrected. Therefore, A discourse ethics which promotes the occasional exclusion of certain dominant groups will allow for the best possible conditions for a genuinely open and inclusive discussion overall.

These three simple additions turn a series of sentences into an argument by making clear the logical connections between the statements made. Never underestimate the power of these simple segues! Here are some of the most useful sentence segues:

  • “However” or “nonetheless” for contrast.
  • “Similarly” or “on the other hand” for comparison.
  • “Therefore,” “thus,” or “then” to indicate results or consequences.
  • “In fact” or to emphasize a point just made.
  • “Furthermore” to emphasize addition.

These are only a few examples; there are literally countless ways to create valuable segues in your own writing. Doing so will almost always help your reader (a peer, a supervisor, or a defense committee!) along, and is therefore a simple way to make your thesis or dissertation better.

What are you still here for? Go read over that last paragraph or section you just wrote and see how many segues you can add!

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