Devil in the Details: How to Connect Ideas in Text

Ilari wrote about indexicality a while back.

Then Duncan Nisbet wrote a blog post about how he tries to improve/reduce his use of deixis.

I ended up ranting a bit in the comments section about it because this topic is very familiar to me: I’ve been drilled and trained and what not about deixis at the university. And there’s another topic similar to that of deixis where the devil is in the details: linking words.

I had learned about the linking words back in school, of course, but after entering the university, I quickly learned I hadn’t paid sufficient attention and respect to them. All those comments and strikethroughs in red pen… My supervisor for my BA thesis gave me the ultimate lessons in using linking words by asking in a very ironic voice “Why do you use “because” here? Do you really think there is a causal relationship between these sentences?”

What are linking words?

Linking words and phrases are sentence connectors that are used  to link one idea to another. For example, “because”, “as”, “so”, “firstly”, etc are linking words.

Each of them is used to create a specific link between ideas. You would use “because” if there is a causal relationship: “He was tired because he had stayed up late”.

Why are linking words important?

They are important because using them right makes the text easily readable. If misused, the text may become fairly difficult to understand.

In my experience people don’t often pay attention to linking words and sprinkle them in the text incorrectly. As a result, the text becomes less clear or the text suggests connections between ideas that are not there. I often find the linking words for causality and contrast are misused. Then it’s the burden of the reader to figure out why two sentences that seem to go together are contrasted or why causal relationship is suggested even though the content of the sentences doesn’t suggest it.

As a (frequent) editor of different kind of texts, I have learned that the most difficult texts to crack aren’t necessarily those where the terms are used incorrectly or where the grammar or syntax isn’t clear. The biggest source of misunderstanding for me comes from disjointed ideas and poor connection between the ideas.

I have looked out for the use of linking words in my testers’ bug reports and have explained to them how to use linking words and what to pay attention to.

The reason for this is that if linking words are used effectively, the text is easier to read, so the reader doesn’t have to make a big effort. The text will flow much more nicely if you connect your ideas properly. Also, since I try to make my bug reports crisp and to the point, I want to make sure I have used linking words efficiently.

Clarity is important when dealing with programmers who often skim read the reports (because they’re busy… what did you think?). Importantly, I think that getting such details right is a fundamental skill in both written and oral texts.

Therefore, I suggest it’s worthwhile to scrutinize your reports and find out (if? and) how you use linking words in them.

There is plenty of material out there but here’s a fairly decent collection of linking words. Print the list out and stick it on the wall!