Signpost to guide your readers

What is signposting?

Just as road signs show you where you are going on a street or highway, you can use certain words or phrases to create 'signposts' to guide your reader through your writing. Signposts show your reader the route your writing will take, remind them of key points along the way, and point out changes in direction.

Signposts also help the reader understand the connections between the points you make, and how they contribute to the overall aim of the assignment.

Tips for incorporating signposting in your writing

  • Use signposting to show the reader the connections and relationships between the ideas you present.
  • Use signposting throughout your writing so that you and the reader stay on track and can easily follow your work.
  • Use a range of different signposting strategies: simple words and phrases, sub-headings, transition sentences, link words and reminders.
  • Use signposting carefully - avoid overuse of signposting as this can interrupt the flow of your writing.

Most readers find the second text easier to read because signposts make the connections between the ideas presented. For example, ‘Therefore’ shows the relationship between the points made in the first and second sentences, and ‘first’ and ‘subsequently’ tell us that the following sentences explain how the essay will develop. However, it is not enough to simply outline the intended structure in the introduction – you need signposts throughout to remind the reader where they have come from and tell them where you plan to take them next.

Signposts can also tell us how to interpret information presented in the assignment. For example, ‘Notably’ at the beginning of the second paragraph above tells us that the writer considers the content of the sentence to be significant.

Signposts can be simple words or phrases (e.g. however, in summary), or complete sentences (e.g. to explain the transition from one section of your writing to another).

Note

A word of caution. Overusing signposts can affect your writing negatively. You are not expected to start each and every sentence in a paragraph with a signpost. Rather, you should use them only when you think they add value to your text and make it easy to follow for the reader.

Types of signposts

There are four different types of signposts:

  • major signposts like “In this section, I provide an overview of …”
  • transition sentences and sub-headings to signify the overall structure of your writing
  • linking words such as “because”, “therefore” and “however” will help the coherence of your writing
  • reminders to keep your reader focussed on your message whereby you use phrases like “Previously we reviewed …” and “To recap …”.

Signposting contributes to the overall coherence and cohesion of your writing.

  • major signposts, transition sentences and sub-headings contribute to the coherence of your writing, which refers to the overall organisation and flow
  • linking words contribute to cohesion, which refers to the internal organisation of your writing - that is, the internal flow of paragraphs and whether the sentences (ideas) are linked.

Let’s take a closer look at the four types of signposts that help the reader make sense of a piece of writing in a variety of ways.

Note

When writing, it is easy to assume the connections between points are clear when in fact they may not be. It can be useful to have someone else read your work. If they can follow your argument or reasoning without help, you have signposted clearly.