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Information flow: from given to new

You can link sentences together by paying attention to the reader's expectations. If you can structure your sentences according to what readers need, then you will not depend so heavily on linking words 1.

To create flow

When you write sentences from given to new, you connect each sentence to the one before it so the reader stays focused on the content.

If you use this technique well, the reader will be able to read through your text quickly and easily.

If you don't, you will have logical gaps and the reader will have to work to figure out how the parts are related to each other. And you risk them not figuring it out.

bridge
Photo by Jacob Pexels

Did you know...

The given to new principle creates flow by connecting sentences together based on the way readers need to receive the information: starting with something familiar, then moving to something new.

Topic position and stress position

The given-to-new principle 2 tells us where to place different kinds of information in a sentence.

Information can be divided into two types:

  1. information that is already familiar to the reader and
  2. information that is new to the reader

Sentences can also be divided into two parts:

  1. the topic position and
  2. the stress position

The first part of the sentence is called the topic position. Think of it as the subject. In the topic position, you can only place information that is already familiar to the reader. The topic position connects the reader to what you were saying just before.

The second part of the sentence is called the stress position. Think of it as everything that comes after the subject. In the stress position, you place information that is new to the reader. The stress position moves the argument forward.

Connection

So, the first part of the sentence looks back and the second part looks forward.

the stress position: moving forward into the unknown
Photo by Goran Vučićević
Looking forward: into the unknown!

Different patterns

You can apply given to new using different patterns. One common pattern reuses the new information at the end of each sentence as given information in the next sentence:

Currently, HR is working on a project called OneHR. This project aims to implement a new global HR administration system and to replace the current Easy system. The new system will help HR to improve its service levels.

This pattern can be thought of as A→B. B→C. C→D.

where each letter represents a new piece of information. It can also be called "topical progression" because you progress from topic to topic.

Here's another example of A→B. B→C. C→D.

Their research is centered on the systems at play within cells that maintain a balance between oxidizing and anti-oxidizing molecules. These molecules are involved in so called redox reactions that involve the transfer of electrons from one agent to another. These reactions control certain cellular processes and also generate energy. 3

You can apply given to new using many kinds of patterns. You are not required to use only A→B. B→C. C→D.

For example, you can introduce more than one piece of new information in the stress position, then elaborate on each piece separately.

A→B and C.
B→D.
C→E.

Or you can introduce more than one piece of new information in the stress position, then focus on only one piece for the rest of the paragraph.

A→B, C, D.
D→E and F.
D→G.

Or you can even maintain the same focus in your topic position for the entire paragraph ("topical focus").

A→B.
A→C.
A→D.
A→E.

Maintaing the focus does not have to be wordy or redundant.

Essentially, given to new tells us to put information that is already familiar to the reader in the topic position.

watch out

If you do not follow this principle and put new information in the topic position, that part of the text will not flow 4. At best, your reader will have to work extra hard; at worst, you will lose them.

Why does it work?

Readers are learners: they are learning the information in your text. We all learn by connecting new ideas to what we already know. Readers need to connect each piece of new information they receive with something that they are already familiar with. So you must first give them something that they know, then you can give them something new. Readers can connect the information as they read.

given to new is everywhere

This principle governs every sentence you ever make. It applies to all areas of our lives, from talking to your children to communicating the most complex ideas to your colleagues. Even if you are trying to teach a young child colors, you can apply this principle to how you speak to them.

For example, you can make these two kinds of sentences:

  1. "That car is red" or
  2. "That's a red car"

In the first sentence, you offer known information first ("car" is a physical object that the child recognizes, it is something that they already have in their mind, something that was previously learned).

In the second sentence you offer new information first (the color "red" is a unfamiliar attribute of the thing they already know--"car").

Children will learn faster if they are offered information using the structure in sentence 1: known/given ("car") to new ("red").

How important is given to new?

On a scale of 1-10, it's a 10: most important! This principle will create flow in your text. Apply given to new in every single sentence. Be strict and consistent. If you can't figure out how to start a sentence with given information, don't assume that it can't be done. It can always be done. Ask for help!

The Topic Position
Logical Gaps
Reader Expectations

Footnotes

  1. You may be asking: what is wrong with linking words? They tend to be overused in academic writing by writers who do not know how to connect sentences together any other way. Linking words are not strong enough to correct an illogical structure, so badly structured sentences still won't necessarily fit together (they can still be hard to read!) even after you add linking words.

  2. also called the information flow principle or known to new.

  3. quote taken from article by Justine Alford: "Antioxidants Can Make Cancers Worse." https://www.iflscience.com/antioxidants-can-make-cancers-worse-25044

  4. or you may even create a logical gap