High-level writing, rhythm and flow, Mike Hannay

Professional editors, writers and translators often comment that the core of their work revolves around playing with the flow of sentences. Yes, lexical and grammatical choices need to be correct and appropriate, and all genre and disciplinary conventions need to be applied consistently, but a lot of the added value that language professionals provide comes from each sentence in the text feeling good, sounding good. The rhythm must be right, and there needs to be balance.

Mike has been thinking about this notion of flow. We can tell when a sentence does not have it, and we will have a whole repertoire of devices for improving flow, but who has sat down and drawn up a categorized list of the most common flow problems encountered in texts written by, say, Dutch-speaking authors or produced by machine translation? Mike does not have such a list, but thinks it would be nice to have one.

He will start the session by presenting some ideas on what he sees as essential elements of flow and what might be useful elements of an editor’s checklist [something you could also rework as the section on flow in a ‘clear writing’ guide]. The idea would then be to see if we can pool our experiences and together take some initial steps towards a categorization in linguistic terms of things to look out for. Mike will bring some example sentences with him, and invite participants to do so too. He would also be glad to hear in advance from anyone who knows of publications which deal with flow or related notions like rhythm in an analytical fashion.

About the presenter

Mike Hannay is emeritus professor of English language and linguistics at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and chairman of the Nationaal Platform voor de Talen.