This entry focuses on making sure that you are clearly communicating the relationship between two things in a sentence or between sentences (and occasionally paragraphs). Specifically, this entry focuses on the use of relational terms: that is, terms that establish logically dependent relationships between words, clauses, sentences, and/or whole paragraphs. Readers depend on relational terms for guidance whenever a writer moves from talking about one thing to talking about another thing that is in some way related. Without the guidance of a relational term, readers will likely sense that the new thing is linked to a previous thing, but they may not be able to figure out the precise nature of that link. Is the new thing supporting the same point as the old thing? Does it complicate the point that was just being made? If readers can’t figure out the relationship, they won’t follow your analysis the way you want them to.
Often, relational terms create logical relationships between the bits of text they connect, and readers rely heavily on these phrases to follow the steps of your analysis. Consequently, using relational terms that don’t align with your actual meaning can cause readers to seriously misunderstand you. Relational term related logical failures are some of the most frequent mistakes writers make in the early drafting phase, and they can be the result of both mechanical and analytical errors. Sometimes, the problem isn’t that you haven’t included a relational term, but rather than you’ve included the wrong one. Perhaps you chose a relational term that signals as supporting relationship when you actually meant to signal a complicating relationship. Or perhaps you used a relational term that is right in a general sense but is misleading in the nuances of meaning it conveys. Luckily, these kinds of mistakes are fairly easy to catch and fix in the revision process, and the result is that you improve the Clarity, Grammar, and Usage of your text and produce a more impactful final draft.
Here we encourage you to break down your use of relational terms as a kind of logic puzzle. This is a labor of love. This exercise takes time, but we believe this strategy is well worth the effort. Relational term usage can be deceptively complex. Ideally, following the steps suggested below will help you become more mindful of your use of relational terms as you write, leading to fewer mistakes of this kind in the future.
Note: Each relational term creates a unique logical relationship specific to the meaning of the relation term and the words/clauses/sentences (the variables) linked by the relational term. The specificity of the logical relationship engendered by the relational term and its variables makes this revision strategy particularly hard to parse. What follows is a general strategy for a rather site specific problem.
Step 1: Read through the piece of writing you want to work on and identify each moment of transition—a moment in which you move from talking about one thing to talking about another, related thing. Look especially for shifts that fall into one of the three categories included below in the list of relational terms (i.e., supporting, complicating, causal).
Step 2: Review each moment of transition and consider whether you are bringing up the new thing in order to say something that is supporting, complicating, or causal in relation to the previous thing.
- If, in this moment, a relational term is present, then highlight your relational terms—there’s a list of relational terms and their value assignment (positive or negative) provided below—and assign either a positive or negative value to the relational term you highlighted.
Step 3: If a relation term is absent from the moment of transition, then take a moment to review the relevant list of relational terms offered below to consider which one might capture the right nuances of meaning for your purposes.
- If a relational term is present in the moment of transition you identify, then mark—i.e., underline, bold, color, etc.—the word phrases, clauses, or sentences your relational term unites.
Step 4: Unpack the logic puzzle. Ask yourself:
- Ignoring the relational term, do the discrete bits of text support/agree with/contrast/conflict/result in each other? The point here is to determine whether the current relational term is even communicating the right value, so ignore the current term you’re using and consider the larger context of what you’re trying to say.
- What is the logical relationship of my word phrases, clauses, or sentences? Do my word phrases, clauses, or sentences positively or negatively relate to one another? Does my highlighted relational term have a positive or negative value? Does the value of the relationship between my word phrases, clauses, or sentences and my relational term align?
- Finally, am I using the right relational term? Does the word or phrase I employ most closely convey my intended meaning? Each term in the categories listed below conveys a particular meaning that creates a nuanced logical relationship conjoined by the relational term. Ultimately, this exercise becomes a practice of mindfulness.
Let’s look at a few examples:
EXAMPLE 1—positive value clauses linked by a negative value Relational Term (arguably, the most common Relational Term usage logical failure).
- Despite his prominent position in African American art history, Aaron Douglas is more often relativized in anthologies of African diasporic art and Harlem Renaissance culture.
Here we have a moment of dissonance between the first and second clause of the sentence. Let’s code this sentence . . .
1(a). Despite his prominent position in African American art history, Aaron Douglas is more often relativized in anthologies of African diasporic art and Harlem Renaissance culture.
The despite primes us to think that the second clause will, in some way, challenge the meaning carried by the first clause. But aren’t prominent artists often included in anthologies? How does being included in an anthology in some way challenge/differ/contradict from the artist’s popularity? This is a kind of failure of the sentence’s underlying cause-and-effect logical relationship. This error was caused by a lack of information. Here’s what the text looks like once the author amended the Relational Term logical reasoning failure.
1(b). Despite his prominent position in African American art history, Aaron Douglas has yet to be the subject of a manuscript length ethnography. Historically, his work has been relegated to cursory treatments in anthologies of African diasporic art and Harlem Renaissance culture.
EXAMPLE 2—negative value clauses linked by positive value Relational Term.
- We needed a place to concentrate, so we packed up our things and went to the park.
Here, again, the reality of the sentence’s logic fails to meet with our expectation.
2(a). We needed a quiet place to meet for our writing consultation, so we packed up our texts and went to Central Park.
The “so” creates a positive logical relationship between the sentence’s negative value clauses. The need to concentrate instigates a move from the subjects’ current location to a more work friendly venue—the park. Many of use would not consider a public park an ideal locale for a writing consultation. Here, the reader needs more information to make sense of the logical relationship between finding a quiet place to work and Central Park or the author could simply change the locale of their subjects’ rendezvous.
2(b). On a sleepy Tuesday afternoon, we needed a quiet place to meet for our writing consultation, so we packed up our texts and went to a secluded grassy knoll in Central Park.
We needed a quiet place to meet for our writing consultation, so we packed up our texts and went to the library.
COMMON RELATIONAL TERMS THAT HAVE A POSITIVE/NEGATIVE VALUE
SUPPORTING RELATIONAL TERMS
Indicate to the reader that you’re adding an idea that’s similar to the previous one. In our Revision Guide, Additives have a POSITIVE value. Often, additives present the reader with examples or new information.
Here are a bunch of examples:
Actually Indeed Much less
Additionally In addition Namely
Also In all honesty Notably
Alternatively Including Not only
And In fact Not to mention
As a matter of fact In other words Particularly
As well as In regard to Regarding
Besides In the first place Similarly
Considering Let alone Specifically
Either Like Such as
Equally Likewise Too
Especially In the same way To say nothing of
For example Moreover What’s more
For instance More precisely
COMPLICATING RELATIONAL TERMS
Adversative Relational Terms show contrast, contradiction, conflict, concession, or dismissal. At the very least, the indicate a level of dissonance between the word phrases, clauses, and/or sentences they conjoin. Often, we use them to present information that disagrees with the previous word phrase, clause, or sentence.
In our Revision Guide, Adversatives have a NEGATIVE value.
Here are a few examples:
Although Even so Notwithstanding
And still Granted On the other hand
And yet However Regardless
But In contrast Though
But even so In spite of Whatever happens
Conversely Instead Whereas
Despite Nevertheless While
Either way Nonetheless
CAUSAL RELATIONAL TERMS
Causal relations are cause-and-effect transitions. Causals convey consequence, purpose, or condition.
In our Revision Guide, Causals have a POSITIVE value.
See below for a bunch of examples:
Accordingly Hence So much (so) that
And so If so So that
As a result In case That being the case
As a consequence In consequence Then
As long as In that case Therefore
Because (of this) On the condition (that) Thus
Being that Owing to To ensure that
Consequently Provided/providing that Under those circumstances
Due to Since Unless
For this reason So With this in mind
Given that So long as With this intention
For more on sentence-level clarity issues try: “Struggling With Tenses? Consider Their Purpose” and “Clarity Issues? Try this Pronoun and Pointing Term Review.”