December 29, 2021

Flow and Continuity in Academic Writing

By Joshua Via

Flow and Continuity in Academic Writing

by Nancy Sessoms

A common request we get in the Writing Center is for help with a paper’s flow, a term to describe a writing quality that has become ubiquitous but is often misunderstood.  Many student writers are hard-pressed to provide a definition of what flow is but can certainly sense when it is missing.  They may notice a choppiness, wordiness, or awkward wording in a passage or paragraph.  A general definition is offered by Lowe (2018), “Flow is a word used to describe writing that has logical structure and varied language within and between sentences and paragraphs.”  The American Psychological Association (APA) takes the analysis further by linking the terms flow and continuity.  The APA (2020) defines continuity as “the logical consistency of expression throughout a written work” and flow as “the smooth cadence of words and sentences” (p.111).  This post will attempt to give simple guidance for achieving and checking for flow and continuity in your papers.

            One way to achieve continuity between paragraphs is to use the last sentence of a paragraph as a transition to the next paragraph.  For example, the sentence “However, there is another form of respect” at the end of a paragraph would lead the reader to expect that another form of respect would be described in the following paragraph(s).  Another method is to use the first sentence of a paragraph to refer back to the previous paragraph, e.g., a paragraph discussing a study could be followed by a paragraph beginning with “Unlike the results of the Young and Tillman study, Barkley et al. found…,” linking the two paragraphs. 

The use of sentences to provide continuity can break up the monotony of relying entirely on transition words or phrases at the beginning of that next paragraph, which leads us to the next component of a well-written essay that flows.  A variety of sentence structures provides a smooth, engaging reading experience.  Alternate between simple, compound, complex, and compound complex sentences as well as active and passive voice.  You may have a grammatically correct compound complex sentence but having three of them in a row exhausts the reader.  Likewise, the same number of simple sentences, one after the other, gives the work an abrupt, choppy rhythm.

The simplest way to check your paper’s rhythm is to read it aloud.  Any problems will become apparent as you struggle for breath to complete an overly long sentence or notice a staccato cadence when several simple sentences are strung together.  Reading aloud will also help the writer notice if they have gotten into the habit of using the same words or phrases repeatedly.  Overuse of a simple phrase such as “due to,” bores the reader.  To enhance flow, use a variety of synonyms for common words or in phrases that you discover are echoed throughout the paper. Echoing as well as awkward paraphrasing are issues we encounter often in the Writing Center.

 Keep in mind that nothing interferes more with the flow of a paper than an author performing word choice acrobatics when paraphrasing.  This happens when the writer rearranges the order of a source’s words, usually creating noun strings, and/or uses obscure synonyms to avoid plagiarism.  A technique for effective paraphrasing involves reading the relevant passage of source material repeatedly until sure the data is understood.  The writer could then move the source out of sight and write in their own words the information as they understand it, citing the original source.

These are just a few methods for improving flow; see the listed references for more thorough explanations of flow and continuity and how to achieve them in your writing.





American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological

            Association: The official guide to APA style. (7th ed.).


Lowe, J. (2018, April 2). The four levels of flow in writing: What it means when writing flows.