In this crazy, mixed-up world of ours, transitions glue our ideas and our essays together. This handout will introduce you to some useful transitional expressions and help you employ them effectively.
The function and importance
In both academic writing and professional writing, your goal is to convey information clearly and concisely, if not to convert the reader to your way of thinking. Transitions help you to achieve these goals by establishing logical connections between sentences, paragraphs, and sections of your papers. In other words, transitions tell readers what to do with the information you present to them. Whether single words, quick phrases or full sentences, they function as signs for readers that tell them how to think about, organize, and react to
old and new ideas as they read through what you have written.
Transitions signal relationships between
ideas such as: “Another example coming up—stay alert!” or “Here’s an
exception to my previous statement” or “Although this idea appears to
be true, here’s the real story.” Basically, transitions provide the
reader with directions for how to piece together your ideas into a logically
coherent argument. Transitions are not just verbal decorations that embellish
your paper by making it sound or read better. They are words with particular
meanings that tell the reader to think and react in a particular way
to your ideas. In providing the reader with these important cues, transitions
help readers understand the logic of how your ideas fit together.
How can you tell whether you need to work on your transitions? Here are some possible clues:
- Your instructor has written comments like “choppy,” “jumpy,” “abrupt,” “flow,” “need signposts,” or “how is this related?” on your papers.
- Your readers (instructors, friends, or classmates) tell you that they had trouble following your organization or train of thought.
- You tend to write the way you think—and your brain often jumps from one idea to another pretty quickly.
- You wrote your paper in several discrete “chunks” and then pasted them together.
- You are working on a group paper; the draft you are working on was created by pasting pieces of several people’s writing together.
Since the clarity and effectiveness
of your transitions will depend greatly on how well you have organized
your paper, you may want to evaluate your paper’s organization before
you work on transitions. In the margins of your draft, summarize in a
word or short phrase what each paragraph is about or how it fits into
your analysis as a whole. This exercise should help you to see the order
of and connection between your ideas more clearly.
If after doing this exercise you find
that you still have difficulty linking your ideas together in a coherent
fashion, your problem may not be with transitions but with organization.
For help in this area (and a more thorough explanation of the “reverse outlining” technique described in the previous paragraph), please see the Writing Center’s handout on organization.
The organization of your written work
includes two elements: (1)the order in which you have chosen
to present the different parts of your discussion or argument, and (2)
the relationships you construct between these parts. Transitions cannot
substitute for good organization, but they can make your organization
clearer and easier to follow. Take a look at the following example:
El Pais, a Latin American country, has a
new democratic government after having been a dictatorship for many
years. Assume that you want to argue that El Pais is not as democratic
as the conventional view would have us believe. One way to effectively
organize your argument would be to present the conventional view and
then to provide the reader with your critical response to this view.
So, in Paragraph A you would enumerate all the reasons that
someone might consider El Pais highly democratic, while in Paragraph
B you would refute these points. The transition that would establish
the logical connection between these two key elements of your argument
would indicate to the reader that the information in paragraph B contradicts
the information in paragraph A. As a result, you might organize your
argument, including the transition that links paragraph A with paragraph
B, in the following manner:
Paragraph A: points that support the view that El Pais’s
new government is very democratic.
Transition: Despite the previous arguments, there are many
reasons to think that El Pais’s new government is not as democratic
as typically believed.
Paragraph B: points that contradict the view that El Pais’s
new government is very democratic.
In this case, the transition words “Despite
the previous arguments,” suggest that the reader should not believe
paragraph A and instead should consider the writer’s reasons for viewing
El Pais’s democracy as suspect.
As the example suggests, transitions
can help reinforce the underlying logic of your paper’s organization
by providing the reader with essential information regarding the relationship
between your ideas. In this way, transitions act as the glue that binds
the components of your argument or discussion into a unified, coherent,
and persuasive whole.
Now that you have a general idea
of how to go about developing effective transitions in your writing, let
us briefly discuss the types of transitions your writing will use.
The types of transitions available to you are as diverse as the circumstances
in which you need to use them. A transition can be a single word, a phrase,
a sentence, or an entire paragraph. In each case, it functions the same
way: first, the transition either directly summarizes the content of a
preceding sentence, paragraph, or section or implies such a summary (by reminding the reader of what has come before).
Then it helps the reader anticipate or comprehend the new information that
you wish to present.
- Transitions between
sections—Particularly in longer works, it may be necessary to
include transitional paragraphs that summarize for the reader the
information just covered and specify the relevance of this information
to the discussion in the following section.
- Transitions between
paragraphs—If you have done a good job of arranging paragraphs
so that the content of one leads logically to the next, the transition
will highlight a relationship that already exists by summarizing the
previous paragraph and suggesting something of the content of the
paragraph that follows. A transition between paragraphs can be a word
or two (however, for example, similarly), a phrase, or a sentence. Transitions can be at the end of the first paragraph, at the beginning of the second paragraph, or in both places.
- Transitions within
paragraphs—As with transitions between sections and paragraphs,
transitions within paragraphs act as cues by helping readers to anticipate
what is coming before they read it. Within paragraphs, transitions
tend to be single words or short phrases.
Effectively constructing each
transition often depends upon your ability to identify words or phrases
that will indicate for the reader the kind of logical relationships
you want to convey. The table below should make it easier for you to find
these words or phrases. Whenever you have trouble finding a word, phrase,
or sentence to serve as an effective transition, refer to the information
in the table for assistance. Look in the left column of the table for
the kind of logical relationship you are trying to express. Then look
in the right column of the table for examples of words or phrases that
express this logical relationship.
Keep in mind that each of these words or phrases may have a slightly different meaning. Consult a dictionary or writer’s handbook if you are unsure of the exact meaning of a word or phrase.
|LOGICAL RELATIONSHIP||TRANSITIONAL EXPRESSION|
in the same way, just as … so too, likewise, similarly
however, in spite of, on the one hand … on the other hand, nevertheless,
nonetheless, notwithstanding, in contrast, on the contrary, still,
second, third, … next, then, finally
afterward, at last, before, currently, during, earlier, immediately,
later, meanwhile, now, recently, simultaneously, subsequently, then
example, for instance, namely, specifically, to illustrate
indeed, in fact, of course, truly
adjacent, below, beyond, here, in front, in back, nearby, there
|Cause and Effect||accordingly,
consequently, hence, so, therefore, thus
|Additional Support or Evidence||additionally,
again, also, and, as well, besides, equally important, further, furthermore,
in addition, moreover, then
in a word, in brief, briefly, in conclusion, in the end, in the final analysis,
on the whole, thus, to conclude, to summarize, in sum, to sum up, in summary