Metaphors for Writing

Sometimes I’ve found the clearest way to explain an element of the writing process is through a metaphor. Here are a few that I’ve found particularly helpful:

Many writers struggle with transitions—it can be tricky to figure out exactly what a transition is! It can be helpful to think of a transition as a road sign. It reminds you where you are and helps you figure out where you’re going. That’s what a good transition should do.

Another way to visualize transitions is to think of them as “hooks” instead. (One of my English professors always describes transitions this way). In the first sentence of a new paragraph, you want to “hook” on to a word, phrase, or idea from the previous paragraph, so the reader can see how they are connected. Good transitions make it clear why writers chose to organize their papers in the way that they did. The connection and flow between ideas should be natural, almost effortless. Thinking of transitions as hooks can help a writer to visualize this more clearly.

Along with transitions, writers also tend to struggle with the problem of “dropped” quotations. Ideally, writers will “frame” a quotation or a paraphrase of another writer’s words with their own words and ideas, but sometimes this doesn’t happen. This can give the paper a choppy feel and can overwhelm the writer’s voice. A metaphor that I like to use in this situation is that of a peanut butter sandwich.

Just like a sandwich has two pieces of bread with filling in the middle, a paragraph should have the writer’s own thoughts at the beginning and end—no open faced sandwich. You don’t want too many quotations in a paragraph, because just like too much peanut butter makes it difficult to chew and swallow a sandwich, too many quotations make it difficult to digest a paper’s ideas.

If you have a metaphor about writing that you’ve found helpful, feel free to share it in the comments! I’m always looking for new metaphors to help explain concepts to the students I work with at my school’s writing center.


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