The Bones and Cartilage of Writing

Flesh and Bone / Photograph by Amirhassan Farokhpour / National Geographic's Photo Contest entry 2011

I’m not sure if I’ve written about it, but I’m training another tutor at the moment. While I was reviewing his work, I realized that he kept on making mistakes when it comes to organization of ideas and transitions; he interchanges those writing aspects – and there’s good reason for this. Organization and transitions both deal with the sequence of ideas within a piece of writing. It’s easy to mistake one for the other since they can exist within the same words that writers put on paper. To help my trainee, I developed my own explanation on how they can be distinguished by my trainee, and now, I’m sharing it here.

Remember, organization refers to the form of the essay in terms of how to put ideas together in the best possible way; this is usually “invisible” in the paper unless a writer uses headings to mark each major idea.

On the other hand, transitions are words, phrases, or sentences that link those ideas together. This is usually seen on paper as conjunctive adverbs, conjunctions, and other connective words.

To see the difference, think of organization as bones that make up the skeleton. To connect these bones, you’d need cartilage, which is equivalent to transitions. The bones signify ideas. Much like bones, they cannot be put together randomly; otherwise, the body will not work properly. As such, we can say that organization is the arrangement of ideas. As long as there are bones/ideas, the body/essay will still stand upright/make sense. However, bones will chafe and cause pain to the body without cartilage when a person moves them. This is where cartilage/transitions come in. They will make the bones/ideas move smoother. Let’s put this to the test in an example:

Ideas that are disorganized:

She jumped out of surprise. The dog barked at Consuelo. She almost had a heart attack.

This selection doesn’t make much sense since it does not follow a natural progression. The cause (the dog that barked) was introduced late in the discussion. As a result, the readers do not know why she jumped out of surprise. Also, the readers do not know who “she” is.

Ideas organized properly but without transitions:

The dog barked at Consuelo. She jumped out of surprise. She almost had a heart attack.

This selection makes more sense since we know who the writer is talking about (Consuelo) and why she jumped. This follows the natural progression of cause and effect. However, the ideas sound “jagged.”

Ideas organized properly with transitions:

The dog barked at Consuelo. As a result, she jumped out of surprise. In addition, she almost had a heart attack.

This selection is, by far, the best option. The ideas follow the right sequence. Moreover, we know exactly how the ideas connect through the transitions that indicate causality (as a result) and addition (in addition).

It took me several hours to write my explanation, and I actually feel successful with this discussion since my trainee now knows the difference between these writing aspects. I hope that this served as a good read to you, too.


3 thoughts on “The Bones and Cartilage of Writing

  1. Julie

    Thanks for this great description and explanation! I particularly like the comparison with organization being the bones and transitions being the cartilage; that’s a great way to remember the difference between them!

  2. Pingback: Pondering and Praying « The Velociwritetor

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