GPS Navigation For Your Reader
After much thought and deliberation, you’ve come up with a topic to write about and some ideas on how to expand on that topic. Now you’ve got to think about the next step – how to connect those ideas in the most effective way.
When it comes to connecting ideas, discourse markers are a writer’s best friend. Discourse markers, also known as ‘linking words’ or ‘sentence connectors’, are words or expressions that help to manage the flow or structure of discourse – pieces of language longer than a sentence.
Think of your writing ideas as a series of roads that takes your reader on a journey from A to B. Naturally, as you’ve planned the trip, you’re very familiar with the geography. But your reader isn’t. So to ensure that your reader arrives successfully, you provide them with GPS navigation – discourse markers – that shows them where to turn so that they’re always headed in the right direction.
Addition and Contrast (and and but)
Other ‘adding’ discourse markers: moreover, furthermore, in addition, also, besides
Other ‘contrast’ discourse markers: however, nevertheless, still, yet, in spite of that
One of the first writing lessons you learn in primary school is to use basic addition and contrast discourse markers. Look at these examples.
I like ice cream. I like chocolate.
I like ice cream and chocolate.
I like ice cream. I don’t like cabbage.
I like ice cream but I don’t like cabbage.
Discourse markers are important building blocks of writing because they allow a student to learn how to go from writing simple to compound and complex sentences. It isn’t possible to successfully describe complex ideas and to link the multiple clauses that are required without discourse markers.
Cause and Effect (so and because)
Other ’cause and effect’ discourse markers: as a result, consequently, due to, since, therefore
Another use for discourse markers that you learn early on is for cause and effect. For example…
I studied hard. I passed the test.
I studied hard, so I passed the test.
I passed the test. I studied hard.
I passed the best because I studied hard.
As a general rule, always put the most important idea at the beginning of the sentence. So, if you’re speaking to a friend and want their sympathy for all the stress you’ve been under, you would start your sentence with ‘I studied hard…’ On the other hand, if you’re talking to your father and updating him on your progress, he probably doesn’t care about how hard you studied. So, you would start the conversation with, ‘I passed the test…’
Other Common Examples
When connecting writing ideas with discourse markers, first you need to think about what you want to do (balancing contrasting points, structuring, generalising, softening and so on) and then how you’re going to do it (which discourse marker from a particular category you’re going to use).
Balancing Contrasting Points
Discourse markers: while, whereas, on the one hand, on the other hand
Susan is a very competent worker. Peter’s efforts leave a lot to be desired.
While Susan is a very competent worker, Peter’s efforts leave a lot to be desired.
Discourse markers: first, firstly, first of all, second, secondly, second of all etc; in the first/second/third place; lastly, finally
I need to answer my emails. I have to order some new office equipment.
First, I need to answer my emails. Second, I have to order some new office equipment.
Discourse markers: in general, on the whole, to some extent, the vast majority of, in most/many/some cases
I liked the concert. There were a few minor annoying things that occurred.
On the whole, I enjoyed going to the concert.
Discourse markers: in my opinion, I think, I feel, I’m afraid
You should wait a few months before making a decision.
In my opinion, you should wait a few months before making a decision.
The information provided is a very good introduction to the world of discourse markers – but there’s still more to learn. It’s just not possible to give a complete list of discourse markers in one blog. So, invest in a good grammar book and make it your goal to become familiar with all of the different discourse marker categories and examples. Doing this will improve your proficiency so that you can successfully connect your ideas in any and every context.
If you’d like to read more on similar issues, look out for more blogs in this Writer’s Workshop series. Or if you’d like to share your thoughts, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.