You have a main idea (topic sentence) and supporting ideas. Now, how can you be sure that your readers will understand the relationships between them? How are the ideas connected to each other? One way to emphasize these relationships is through the use of clear transitions between ideas. Good transitions build a bridge between your ideas. They form logical connections between the ideas presented in an essay or paragraph, and they give readers clues that reveal how you want them to think about the topics presented.
Why are Transitions Important?
Transitions, which are often called signal words or phrases, help to give your writing coherence and cohesion. Useful transitions signal the order of ideas, highlight relationships, unify concepts, and let readers know what’s coming next or remind them about what’s already been written. Good writers use transitions both within paragraphs (sentence-level transitions) and between paragraphs to help their readers understand how their ideas are connected. In the next sections, we will consider the importance of transitions at the sentence level and transitions between paragraphs.
Writers often use signal words or phrases to emphasize relationships between one sentence and another. Think of this as a “something old, something new” approach, meaning that the idea behind a transition is to introduce something new while connecting it to something old from an earlier point in the essay or paragraph. Here are some examples of ways that writers use connecting words (underlined below) to show connections between ideas in sentences:
To Show Similarity
When he was growing up, Aaron’s mother taught him to say “please” and “thank you” to show appreciation and respect for others. In the same way, Aaron has tried to teach the importance of manners to his own children.
Other connecting words that show similarity include also, similarly, and likewise.
To Show Contrast
Some scientists take the existence of black holes for granted; however, in 2014, a physicist at the University of North Carolina claimed to have mathematically proven that they do not exist.
Other connecting words that show contrast include in spite of, on the other hand, in contrast, and yet.
The cost of college tuition is higher than ever, so students are becoming increasingly motivated to keep costs as low as possible. For example, a rising number of students are signing up to spend their first two years at a less costly community college before transferring to a more expensive four-year school to finish their degrees.
Other connecting words that show example include for instance, specifically, and to illustrate.
To Show Cause and Effect
Where previously painters had to grind and mix their own dry pigments with linseed oil inside their studios, in the 1840s, new innovations in pigments allowed paints to be premixed in tubes. Consequently, this new technology facilitated the practice of painting outdoors and was a crucial tool for impressionist painters, such as Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, and Cassatt.
Other connecting words that show cause and effect include therefore, so, and thus.
To Show Additional Support
When choosing a good trail bike, experts recommend 120–140 millimeters of suspension travel; that’s the amount that the frame or fork is able to flex or compress. Additionally, they recommend a 67–69 degree head-tube angle, as a steeper head-tube angle allows for faster turning and climbing.
Other connecting words that show additional support include also, besides, equally important, and in addition.
Signal words and phrases can be helpful to signal a shift in ideas within a paragraph. But it’s also important to understand that these types of transitions shouldn’t be too frequent within a paragraph. Here are some examples to help you see the difference between transitions that feel like they occur naturally and transitions that seem forced and make the paragraph awkward to read:
Too Many Transitions (Awkward): The Impressionist painters of the late 19th century are well known for their visible brush strokes, for their ability to convey a realistic sense of light, and for their everyday subjects portrayed in outdoor settings. In spite of this fact, many casual admirers of their work are unaware of the scientific innovations that made it possible this movement in art to take place. Then, In 1841, an American painter named John Rand invented the collapsible paint tube. To illustrate the importance of this invention, pigments previously had to be ground and mixed in a fairly complex process that made it difficult for artists to travel with them. For example, the mixtures were commonly stored in pieces of pig to keep the paint from drying out. In addition, when working with their palettes, painters had to puncture the bladder, squeeze out some paint, and then mend the bladder again to keep the rest of the paint mixture from drying out. Thus, Rand’s collapsible tube freed the painters from these cumbersome and messy processes, allowing artists to be more mobile and to paint in the open air.
Transitions that Aid Readers’ Understanding (More Natural): The Impressionist painters of the late 19th century are well known for their visible brush strokes, for their ability to convey a realistic sense of light, and for their everyday subjects portrayed in outdoor settings. However, many casual admirers of their work are unaware of the scientific innovations that made it possible for this movement in art to take place. In 1841, an American painter named John Rand invented the collapsible paint tube. Before this invention, pigments had to be ground and mixed in a fairly complex process that made it difficult for artists to travel with them. The mixtures were commonly stored in pieces of pig bladder to keep the paint from drying out. When working with their palettes, painters had to puncture the bladder, squeeze out some paint, and then mend the bladder again to keep the rest of the paint mixture from drying out. Rand’s collapsible tube freed the painters from these cumbersome and messy processes, allowing artists to be more mobile and to paint in the open air.
Transitions between Paragraphs and Sections
It’s important to consider how to emphasize the relationships not just between sentences but also between paragraphs in your essay. Here are a few strategies to help you show your readers how the main ideas of your paragraphs relate to each other and also to your thesis.
Signposts are signal words or phrases that indicate where you are in the process of organizing an idea; for example, signposts might indicate that you are introducing a new concept, that you are summarizing an idea, or that you are concluding your thoughts. Some of the most common signposts include words and phrases like first, then, next, finally, in sum, and in conclusion. Be careful not to overuse these types of transitions in your writing. Your readers will quickly find them boring, repetitive, or too obvious. Instead, think of more creative ways to let your readers know where they are situated within the ideas presented in your essay. You might say, “The first problem with this practice is…” Or you might say, “The next thing to consider is…” Or you might say, “A final point to take into account is….”
Use Forward-Looking Sentences at the End of Paragraphs
Sometimes, as you conclude a paragraph, you might want to give your readers a hint about what’s coming next. For example, imagine that you’re writing an essay about the benefits of trees to the environment and you’ve just wrapped up a paragraph about how trees absorb pollutants and provide oxygen. You might conclude with a forward-looking sentence like this: “Trees benefits to local air quality are important, but surely they have more to offer our communities than clean air.” This might conclude a paragraph (or series of paragraphs) and then prepare your readers for additional paragraphs to come that cover the topics of trees’ shade value and ability to slow water evaporation on hot summer days. This transitional strategy can be tricky to employ smoothly. Make sure that the conclusion of your paragraph doesn’t sound like you’re leaving your readers hanging with the introduction of a completely new or unrelated topic.
Use Backward-Looking Sentences at the Beginning of Paragraphs
Rather than concluding a paragraph by looking forward, you might instead begin a paragraph by looking back. Continuing with the example above of an essay about the value of trees, let’s think about how we might begin a new paragraph or section by first taking a moment to look back. Maybe you just concluded a paragraph on the topic of trees’ ability to decrease soil erosion and you’re getting ready to talk about how they provide habitats for urban wildlife. Beginning the opening of a new paragraph or section of the essay with a backward-looking transition might look something like this: “While their benefits to soil and water conservation are great, the value that trees provide to our urban wildlife also cannot be overlooked.”
Evaluate Your Transitions
As you revise your draft, make sure you include transitions where you need them, and omit them where they are unnecessary. Try reading your draft aloud. Listen for areas that sound choppy or . This can help you make note of areas where transitions need to be added. Repetition is another problem that can be easier to find if you read your essay aloud. If you notice yourself using the same transitions over and over again, take time to find some alternatives.
Activity ~ Transition Strategies
Choose an essay or piece of writing, either that you’re currently working on, or that you’ve written in the past. Identify your major topics or main ideas. Then, using the suggestions in this chapter, develop at least three examples of sentence-level transitions and at least two examples of paragraph-level transitions.
Share and discuss with your classmates in small groups, and choose one example of each type from your group to share with the whole class. If you like the results, you might use them to revise your writing. If not, try some other strategies.
…about right, but you would like more lists of words? –> See “Transitional Devices” from Purdue OWL.
…about right, but you would prefer to watch and learn? –> Listen to a student discuss her transitions in her paragraph in this “See It in Practice: Paragraphing” videocast from Excelsior Online Writing Lab.