Advanced Business Writing
Clarity and Flow

Topic Focus

Good flow between sentences can be achieved by beginning sentences with familiar information and ending them with new information. For example, it is easy to read from one sentence to the next in this paragraph:

Computers with more memory were ordered last year. Old orders were not exported to SpeedyLedgers in time. Now we are being told to play paintball to raise morale. Enthusiasm is based on a Greek word for being possessed by a divine spirit. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Feeble memory was the problem with the computers to start with.

What is that paragraph about? No idea. It's a silly example to demonstrate that another step is required to make your writing easy to understand:

Control your topics!

Every sentence in a paragraph has one or more topics. More accurately, every clause in a paragraph has a topic. The main topic of a sentence is often part of the subject, but can also be found in a variety of subordinate clauses:

The open position in accounting has been made public.
[part of the subject]

It is likely that the open position will be filled soon.
[subject of a subordinate clause]

With regard to the open position, we believe the best candidate has been identified.
[object of a preposition]

To make your paragraphs easy to read and understand you should:

1. Use a small set of topics.
    • fewer than four
2. Use a related set of topics.
    • not just synonyms
3. Make them easy to see.
    • not at ends of sentences

Consider the following paragraph with main topics in bold and supporting topics underlined:

Expectations are crucial for both employees and their employers. Among other things, employees want timely paychecks, adequate training, safe working conditions, and constructive feedback from their supervisors. For their part, employers must clearly articulate expectations of their staff in terms of attendance, performance indicators, dedication to the company, and open communications. Regular, informal supervisor/worker conversations contribute to an atmosphere of trust, which makes it easier when it becomes necessary to redefine expectations. When expectations are not understood or are not being met, it can lead to conflict and inefficiencies in the workplace.

In that paragraph, the set of topics focuses on expectations, employees, and employers. That's a small set of related topics, which makes the paragraph easy to understand as people read it.

When you think you have edited a paragraph well, you should still ask yourself the question:

Will it be easy for the reader to recognize the small set of related topics?

If you are not positive the answer is Yes, you should do a final check:

• Briefly look at each sentence.
• Underline the primary topic.
• Sit back and view the topics.
• Decide if there are too many.
• Decide if they are related.

This can be done quickly, and your readers deserve your best effort.

Lesson: Topic Focus
Module: Clarity and Flow
Course: Advanced Business Writing