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Signposts In Essay Writing

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Signposts are important verbal statements used during a public speech to engage the audience and bring them through the different stages of your presentation.

Why Use A Signpost In Public Speaking?

Audience members have short attention spans and as a public speaker you need to work hard to continually capture their attention.

By taking audience members on a journey, as well as letting them know where abouts on the journey they are allows you to maintain their attention on you so you can continue to deliver your message.

If the audience doesn’t understand where you are going with your talk, or how long they will have to listen they will often tune out.

So just as sign posts are used on the road to show you that your exit is in 3.4 miles (or km) signposts in public speaking are used to give the audience a sense of orientation.

Examples of Signposting

Below are some example of a signpost that you would use when you are speaking in public. These are very natural terms so you shouldn’t need to “memorize” them, but it is good to begin using them in your presentations.

Here are 9 examples of signposts that you can draw on an use in your own speeches.

1. “Moving On” To A New Point

If you have finished a point or concluded an idea and you want to go onto your next point it is important to let audience members know you are moving on.


  • Moving on to my next point

  • I’de now like to move on to point #2 where we will be discussing X

See how the language is indicative of movement? You are taking your audience from one place to another.

Just like a tour guide says “time to move on” when you are finished in an area and going to a new area you can do the same thing in your speeches.

2. Changing Your Topic Completely

When you are changing your topic completely it is important to let your audience members know so they can come along on the journey with you.

This is where we ‘turn to’ a new topic. Just like turning the page to a new chapter of a book, or turning the car to go in a different direction.


  • Now let’s turn to something completely different

  • Now, turning to our plans for the future

3. Going Into More Detail

If you want to go into more detail about a topic our signpost is designed to give people the visual cue of expansion.

We “expand” or “elaborate” or or “talk in depth”


  • Let me elaborate on that

  • Expanding on that idea…

  • I want to talk more in depth about…

By using this signpost we are letting people know that we are going to provide them more information.

In their minds they are now aware that we are still discussing the same topic, but we will be discussing it in more detail.

4. Talking About Something Off Topic For A Moment

When giving a speech it is often appropriate to go off on a tangent. The goal of a tangent is to deliver another important point which doesn’t fit in directly with your speech.

Just as if you were driving north and you took a detour east to see a famous landmark and then you continue north we are doing the same thing in our speech.


  • Let me digress

  • As a side note

  • Going off on a tangent I believe it is important to discuss…

5. REPEATING Points Stated Earlier

Repetition is an important technique in public speaking for getting a key message across to the audience.

While repetition can be done without the use of a signpost, a signpost can be used to draw specific attention to the repetition as to give it more emphasis.


  • Re-capping on the previous point I made about…

  • Let me repeat that

  • This is really important so I am going to say it again

6. ‘Going Back’ To Previous Points of Examples

Sometimes during a speech it is important to revisit a particular point on example to draw another learning from it.

This might occur when in the beginning of your speech you tell a story. You may be able to draw multiple learnings from that one story.

So throughout your entire speech you will continually need to go back to that story and remind the audience of the story and draw the learning from it.


  • Going back to the story where I…

  • Let’s go back to the time when…

  • Remember when I said…

7. Summarising A Point

Summaries can be really important when giving a talk. You create a point, expand on that point and then summarise that point now that people have the new information you have given them.

This helps them remember the point better and understand the point in a simplified version.

The summarise signpost also provides a way for you to provide audience members with a simplified version of important content (eg. summarising a long winded report means pulling out the relevant stuff for your audience).


  • Summarising what we just talked about…

  • To summarise

  • In summary this report found

8. Re-capping an Important Statement or Idea

Re-capping is a very similar signpost to repetition or summarisation but is used in different scenarios.

Eg. You would repeat an important point directly after you just said it, but you would recap what someone said in a presentation before you or you would recap main points towards the end of your presentation.


  • Re-capping what the previous speaker just discussed

  • Let me re-cap what we have already covered

NOTE: You can also sometimes use the “go back” signpost to replace the “re-cap” sign post.

9. Wrapping Up Your Presentation

When you are finishing up your presentation it is important to use a signpost to let people know you are concluding.

People will often pay more attention as the end because they know that if they missed anything they can probably pick it up here.


  • I’de like to conclude

  • In closing, let me say…

  • If I may conclude

  • To finish up

  • In conclusion

  • To close this off

In Summary: What Is A Signpost In Public Speaking?

A signpost is a verbal statement used to orientate the audience inside your speech or presentation or to show them where you are going.

A signpost draws in the audiences attention and aims to maintain their attention through the presentation or public speech.

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Topic sentences and signposts make an essay's claims clear to a reader. Good essays contain both. Topic sentences  reveal the main point of a paragraph. They show the relationship of each paragraph to the essay's thesis, telegraph the point of a paragraph, and tell your reader what to expect in the paragraph that follows. Topic sentences also establish their relevance right away, making clear why the points they're making are important to the essay's main ideas. They argue rather than report. Signposts, as their name suggests, prepare the reader for a change in the argument's direction. They show how far the essay's argument has progressed vis-ˆ-vis the claims of the thesis. 

Topic sentences and signposts occupy a middle ground in the writing process. They are neither the first thing a writer needs to address (thesis and the broad strokes of an essay's structure are); nor are they the last (that's when you attend to sentence-level editing and polishing). Topic sentences and signposts deliver an essay's structure and meaning to a reader, so they are useful diagnostic tools to the writer—they let you know if your thesis is arguable—and essential guides to the reader

Forms of Topic Sentences

 Sometimes topic sentences are actually two or even three sentences long. If the first makes a claim, the second might reflect on that claim, explaining it further. Think of these sentences as asking and answering two critical questions: How does the phenomenon you're discussing operate? Why does it operate as it does?

There's no set formula for writing a topic sentence. Rather, you should work to vary the form your topic sentences take. Repeated too often, any method grows wearisome. Here are a few approaches.

Complex sentences.  Topic sentences at the beginning of a paragraph frequently combine with a transition from the previous paragraph. This might be done by writing a sentence that contains both subordinate and independent clauses, as in the example below.

 Although Young Woman with a Water Pitcher depicts an unknown, middle-class woman at an ordinary task, the image is more than "realistic"; the painter [Vermeer] has imposed his own order upon it to strengthen it. 

This sentence employs a useful principle of transitions: always move from old to new information.  The subordinate clause (from "although" to "task") recaps information from previous paragraphs; the independent clauses (starting with "the image" and "the painter") introduce the new information—a claim about how the image works ("more than Ôrealistic'") and why it works as it does (Vermeer "strengthens" the image by "imposing order"). 

Questions.  Questions, sometimes in pairs, also make good topic sentences (and signposts).  Consider the following: "Does the promise of stability justify this unchanging hierarchy?" We may fairly assume that the paragraph or section that follows will answer the question. Questions are by definition a form of inquiry, and thus demand an answer. Good essays strive for this forward momentum.

Bridge sentences.  Like questions, "bridge sentences" (the term is John Trimble's) make an excellent substitute for more formal topic sentences. Bridge sentences indicate both what came before and what comes next (they "bridge" paragraphs) without the formal trappings of multiple clauses: "But there is a clue to this puzzle." 

Pivots.  Topic sentences don't always appear at the beginning of a paragraph. When they come in the middle, they indicate that the paragraph will change direction, or "pivot." This strategy is particularly useful for dealing with counter-evidence: a paragraph starts out conceding a point or stating a fact ("Psychologist Sharon Hymer uses the term Ônarcissistic friendship' to describe the early stage of a friendship like the one between Celie and Shug"); after following up on this initial statement with evidence, it then reverses direction and establishes a claim ("Yet ... this narcissistic stage of Celie and Shug's relationship is merely a transitory one. Hymer herself concedes . . . "). The pivot always needs a signal, a word like "but," "yet," or "however," or a longer phrase or sentence that indicates an about-face. It often needs more than one sentence to make its point.


Signposts operate as topic sentences for whole sections in an essay. (In longer essays, sections often contain more than a single paragraph.) They inform a reader that the essay is taking a turn in its argument: delving into a related topic such as a counter-argument, stepping up its claims with a complication, or pausing to give essential historical or scholarly background. Because they reveal the architecture of the essay itself, signposts remind readers of what the essay's stakes are: what it's about, and why it's being written. 

Signposting can be accomplished in a sentence or two at the beginning of a paragraph or in whole paragraphs that serve as transitions between one part of the argument and the next. The following example comes from an essay examining how a painting by Monet, The Gare Saint-Lazare: Arrival of a Train, challenges Zola's declarations about Impressionist art. The student writer wonders whether Monet's Impressionism is really as devoted to avoiding "ideas" in favor of direct sense impressions as Zola's claims would seem to suggest. This is the start of the essay's third section:

It is evident in this painting that Monet found his Gare Saint-Lazare motif fascinating at the most fundamental level of the play of light as well as the loftiest level of social relevance. Arrival of a Train explores both extremes of expression. At the fundamental extreme, Monet satisfies the Impressionist objective of capturing the full-spectrum effects of light on a scene.

 The writer signposts this section in the first sentence, reminding readers of the stakes of the essay itself with the simultaneous references to sense impression ("play of light") and intellectual content ("social relevance"). The second sentence follows up on this idea, while the third serves as a topic sentence for the paragraph. The paragraph after that starts off with a topic sentence about the "cultural message" of the painting, something that the signposting sentence predicts by not only reminding readers of the essay's stakes but also, and quite clearly, indicating what the section itself will contain. 

Copyright 2000, Elizabeth Abrams, for the Writing Center at Harvard University