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I'm wondering about the "distance" over which one may refer back to a point recently made. For instance, there are obviously no problems with the following construction:

"...therefore, Method A may lead to complications for Problem B. To address this, ..."

But when the two sentences are on either side of a section/chapter divider, one should update the reader about the subject at hand:

"...therefore, Method A may lead to complications for Problem B.

 Section C
To address the problem regarding the application of Method A to Problem B, ..."

Now, what about the intermediate situation when these sentences are merely split into two paragraphs? May I consider the concept of [the problem regarding the application of Method A to Problem B] to still be sufficiently "fresh in memory", so that I can refer to it as "this" in the next paragraph, or do I need to update the reader in a "self-sustaining" manner, as illustrated in the second example above?

In other words: I want to write this:

"...therefore, Method A may lead to complications for Problem B.

To address this, ..."

Can I?

  • Why not start the next paragraph with the 'To address this ...'? – Edwin Ashworth Jul 21 '14 at 21:01
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    I don't see any grammatical or stylistic reason why this can't refer back to the substance (or at least, the final focus) of the preceding paragraph. In your precise context you could go one step further and use these complications to help the reader along, if you think the information content is already taxing without forcing the reader to work on recognising the referent. – FumbleFingers Jul 21 '14 at 21:53
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At least for technical documentation, and probably for other situations where it is similarly important to be very clear:

  1. Use named thingies (e.g., your A, B, and C), and do not hesitate to refer to them by name each time: Example 42, Figure 27, Section "Whizbang Overview", and so on.

  2. Avoid relying on general, positional references such as this; that; the following, the previous, above, and below.

Those are not really two separate rules; they are two sides of the same coin.

It is especially important to name sections and refer to sections by name (and perhaps page number) if the target locations are not adjacent or nearby. But it is clearest to do so even if they are.

In sum, my answer to your question about distance is that there is no distance that is small enough that you should use a general reference such as this, if you really want to be clear.

And yes, enhancing clarity this way (by being specific, over and over) comes at the cost of sometimes sounding a bit unnatural or long-winded.

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