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Sequencing

What is "Sequencing"?

A sequence is a succession or an order.  The Latin phrase "non sequitur" is used to identify a comment or logical point that is conspicuously out of place.  "Non sequitur" means, "not sequential" or "does not follow the order."

In essay and paragraph writing, ideas are conveyed in a sequence.  When one or more of these ideas fall out of order, the writing suffers from incoherency, one of the major developmental errors in composition.  Incoherency is marked in your writing as follows:

COH.

Coherency is achieved through transitions, which provide bridges to and from related ideas, whether from one sentence to the next, or one paragraph to the next.  When transitions fail or are missing altogether, your prose can sound disjointed, halting, even stumbling.  A transition error is marked in your writing with a capital "T":

T

The manner in which ideas transition is called "sequencing."  Different rhetorical modes makes use of different methods of sequencing.  However, all expository writing and most narrative writing follows an order.  (The steps to writing an essay are, themselves, a sequence.)  There are three major forms of sequencing.

Chronological Sequencing

"Chronological" derives from the Latin "chron" (time) and "logos" (science; logic).  Its definition, therefore, is an order of time.  Chronological sequencing is useful for any historical survey because history is a form of narrative writing, but chronological sequencing is also good for directional process analysis and some kinds of cause-effect writing.

As with other kinds of sequencing, the effectiveness of chronological sequencing depends in part on a writer's use of transitional statements to organized and bridge sentences and ideas.  Chronological transitions can suggest either a time-sensitive order of steps (adjectives or adjective phrases), or a more general progression (usually adverbs or adverb phrases and conjunctive adverbs):

first, next, second, third . . . last
in the first place, etc.
to start with, to begin with, for a start
first of all (but not "second of all," etc.)
at first, throughout, in the end
firstly, secondly . . . lastly
initially, previously, subsequently, eventually
next, before (this), afterwards, after (this), then

The most common mistake writers commit in the matter of sequencing is to use chronological sequencing when it is inappropriate to the topic.  Just because you are aware of composing an essay or a paragraph as a process that takes place in time, that doesn't mean the topic of your essay or paragraph can be arranged chronologically.  For instance, when writers begin the last point of their essay with the transitional adverb, "Finally," what's "final" about the point other than the fact that it occurs last in the overall argument?  If the argument is constructed using deductive reasoning, then perhaps the last point is the conclusion that follows several premises.  However, if the argument is a collection of observations or assertions that could be arranged in another manner, then "Finally" is only a note to the writer, as if to say, "This is the last point I have to bother with," not a cue to the reader to alert them that "This is the outcome of a time-sensitive process."  For instance, here are three points that use chronological sequencing in an arbitrary way:

  • Firstly, children learn social behaviors playing with other children.
  • Next, children learn how to socialize at school, from their teachers.
  • Lastly, children learn how to socialize at home.

"First," "next," and "lastly," might have been used to help this writer remember what came next in the process of writing her paragraph, but the topic of this paragraph is not a process of steps, nor a logical progression.  Rather, its straightforward classification-division.  Chronological sequencing is a false method for creating transitions, in this instance.

Spatial Sequencing

From the Latin word spatium, "spatial" means "in a space."  Spatial sequencing, therefore, arrangings according to location, or by tracking progressive movement.  Certain kinds of directional process analysis, as well as descriptive writing, benefit from spatial arrangement of steps and details.  As with chronological sequencing, the effective use of spatial sequencing comes down to how well the transitional statements are used.  Spatial transitions coordinate directions and location, as well as juxtapose elements; it shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that many of them rely on prepositions, since prepositions relate one thing to another based on direction and relationship.  In addition to drawing attention to landmarks and physical details, spatial transitions typically use the following prepositional phrases:

next to; beside; alongside; apposite to; aside; side-by-side; with
in front of; before
in back of; behind; after
under; underneath; below; beneath
over; overhead
on the right; to the left; etc.
at the beginning; to start (as in an origination)
at the end; to finish (as in a destination)

Writers usually have little trouble grasping the use of spatial sequencing because the topics that rely on it are less common than those relying on other forms of sequencing:
whenever a "guided tour" of a topic is required, spatial sequencing is used intuitively.
However, sometimes complex, abstract ideas are conveyed using spatial sequencing--as a way to help readers conceptualize them:

  • Charity and compassion are qualities that work alongside each other. 
  • Although Democrats usually stand to the left of Republicans on most issues, the center never stays the same from one generation to the next.

In most cases, though, discussing abstract ideas requires a more abstract approach to sequencing--one that makes a progressive impression.

Emphatic Sequencing

"Emphatic" is the adjectival form of "emphasis" which derives from a Greek word meaning "exhibit."  To add "emphasis" to anything means, to create a stronger impression.  Certain kinds of writing depend on emphatic sequencing more than others do:  argument-persuasion; cause-effect; classification-division; comparison-contrast; instructional process analysis.  In fact, most analytical and interpretative forms of writing depend on the progressive degrees of emphasis or interest to keep readers interested. Therefore, emphatic sequencing in the development of a paragraph or an essay organizes a progressive series of impressions about a topic.  This progression can develop in several different ways:

from easy to most difficult
from obvious to subtle
from least important to most important
from simple to complex
from known to unknown (remedial to non-remedial)
from ordinary to special

Of course, any one of these progressions can be presented in the "opposite direction" (starting with the most important and ending with the least significant, for instance).  It all depends on the subject matter and the rhetorical impression you wish to make.  However, the transitional statements needed to sequence a topic emphatically often depend on the positive, comparative, and superlative forms of adjectives and adverbs:

an important aspect; more important; one of the most important; the most important
a concern; a greater concern; an even greater concern; the greatest concern
basically
ultimately
even more so
to make matters (worse)

There's far greater variety in the way transitions can be used to sequence ideas emphatically.  This is fortunate, for college courses tend to demand from students more than any other kind of writing the sort of analytical writing that utilizes emphatic sequencing as a matter of course.  For any topic where you must defend a central impression and "build" a case, the "building" of it usually depends on some sort of rhetorical progression that relies on emphatic sequencing.

As stated above, when writers use simplistic sequencing methods for complex topics, the result can seem contrived, inappropriate, or outright rhetorically clumsy.  In building your case, don't confuse "degrees of emphasis" with "steps of composition."  Writing your essay or your paragraph may feel like a process to you, but that doesn't mean your topic is a recipe.

Transitions

Credit goes to the following source, used to compile the list of transitions on this page:
Dowell, John A., and Gregory M. Campbell. "Transition Words." Michigan State University.
      3 October 1997. <https://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/135/transw.html>.

Transitions fall into four general types:  Additive; Adversative; Causal; Sequential

ADDITIVE TRANSITIONS signal or provide . . .

Addition
Introduction
Reference
Similarity
Identification
Clarification

ADVERSATIVE TRANSITIONS signal moods or attitudes of . . .

Conflict
Emphasis
Concession
Dismissal
Replacement

CAUSAL TRANSITIONS signal or provide deductive or inductive bridges for . . .

Cause or Reason
Effect or Result
Purpose
Consequence

SEQUENTIAL TRANSITIONS signal the progression of, or to, . . .

Order
Continuation
Conclusion
Digression
Resumption
Summation

Expand All | Collapse All

ADDITIVE TRANSITIONS

used to show addition, introduction, similarity to other ideas, etc. ...

Addition:
actually
additionally
also
alternatively
and
as a matter of fact
as well (as this)
besides
either (neither)
further
furthermore
in addition (to this)
in fact
indeed
let alone
moreover
much less
nor
not only (this) but also (that) as well
not to mention
on the other hand
or
to say nothing of
to tell you the truth
too
what is more

Introduction:
as
as an illustration
by way of example
especially
for example
for instance
for one thing
in particular
including
like
notably
particularly
such as
to illustrate

Reference:
as for
concerning
considering
on the subject of
regarding
speaking about
the fact that
with regards to
Similarity:
by the same token
equally
in a like manner
in the same way
likewise
similarly

Identification:
namely
specifically
that is (to say)
thus

Clarification:
(to) put (it) another way
I mean
in other words
that is (to say

ADVERSATIVE TRANSITIONS

used to signal conflict, contradiction, concession, dismissal, etc. …

Conflict:
(and) yet
but
by way of contrast
conversely
however
in contrast
on the other hand
still
though (final position)
when in fact
whereas
while

Emphasis:
above all
besides
even more
indeed
more importantly

Concession:
(and) still
(and) yet
admittedly
albeit
although
be that as it may
but even so
despite
even though
granted
however
in spite of
nevertheless
nonetheless
notwithstanding
on the other hand
regardless (of this)
though

Dismissal:
all the same
at any rate
either way
in any case
in any event
in either case
in either event
whatever happens
whichever happens

Replacement:
(or) at least
(or) rather
instead

CAUSAL TRANSITIONS

used for cause-effect writing, or deductive reasoning

Cause or Reason:
as
because (of the fact)
being that
due to (the fact that)
for
for the (simple) reason that
forasmuch as
in that
in view of (the fact)
inasmuch as
owing to (the fact)
seeing that
since

Condition:
as/so long as
even if
given that
granted (that)
granting (that)
if
in case
in the event that
on (the) condition (that)
only if
provided that
providing that
unless

Effect or Result:
accordingly
as a consequence
as a result (of this)
because (of this)
consequently
for fear that
for the purpose of
for this reason
hence
in consequence
in order that
in order to
in the hope that
lest

Purpose:
so
so
so as to
so much (so) that
so that
so that
therefore
thus
to the end that
with this in mind
with this intention

Consequence:
if not
if so
in that case
otherwise
that being the case
then
under those circumstances

SEQUENTIAL TRANSITIONS

used to signal a chronological or logical sequence.

Numerical:
at first
first of all
for a start
in the (first, second, etc.) place
initially
secondly
thirdly
to begin with
to start with

Continuation:
after
afterwards
before
eventually
next
previously
subsequently
then

Conclusion:
as a final point
at last
eventually
finally
in the end
last but not least
lastly
to conclude (with)

Digression:
anyhow
anyway
at any rate
by the way
incidentally
Resumption:
to change the topic
to get back to the point
to resume
to return to the subject

Summation:
all in all
altogether
as has been mentioned
as has been noted
as I have said
as was previously stated
briefly
consequently
given these points
hence
in a word
in all
in conclusion
in short
in sum
in summary
on the whole
overall
so
then
therefore
thus
to be brief
to put it briefly
to sum up
to summarize

Last Updated: 01/16/2016

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Karl J Sherlock
English / Creative Writing
Email: karl.sherlock@gcccd.edu
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