Paragraphs represent the basic unit of composition: one idea, one paragraph. However, to present a clear, unified train of thought to your readers, you must make sure each paragraph follows the one before it and leads to the one after it through clear, logical transitions. Keep in mind that adequate transitions cannot simply be added to the essay without planning. Without a good reason for the sequence of your paragraphs, no transition will help you. Transitions can be made with particular words and phrases created for that purpose--conjunctive adverbs and transitional phrases--or they can be implied through a conceptual link.
Conjunctive Adverbs and Transitional Phrases
Conjunctive adverbs modify entire sentences in order to relate them to preceding sentences or paragraphs; good academic writers use many of them, but not so many that they overload the page. Here is a list of some of them, courtesy of The Brief Holt Handbook:
Transitional phrases can perform the same function:
|in addition |
|of course |
as a result
in other words
as a result
Use them wisely and sparingly, and never use one without knowing its precise meaning.
Implied or Conceptual Transitions
Not every paragraph transition requires a conjunctive adverb or transitional phrase; often, your logic will appear through a word or concept common to the last sentence of the preceding paragraph and the topic sentence of the following paragraph. For example, the end of a paragraph by Bruce Catton uses a demonstrative adjective, "these," to modify the subject of the topic sentence so that it will refer to a noun in the last sentence of the preceding paragraph:
When Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee met in the parlor of a modest house at Appomattox Court House, Virginia,...a great chapter in American life came to a close.In this transition by Kori Quintana in an article about radiation and health problems, the connection between the paragraphs resides in the common term of "my family":
These men were bringing the Civil War to its virtual finish.
What I did not know when I began researching the connection between radioactivity and genetic damage was that I would find the probably cause of my own family's battle with cancer and other health problems.The first paragraph outlines the origins of Quintana's research into the connection between radiation exposure and disease, and ends with the revelation that her own family had been affected by radiation. The next paragraph discusses her family's health history. Each has its own singular purpose and topic, yet the first paragraph leads to the topic of the second through a common term.
Hailing from Utah, the state known for its Mormon population's healthy lifestyle, my family has been plagued with a number of seemingly unrelated health problems.
Paragraph transitions can expand the range of discussion as well as narrow it with an example, as Quintana's transition does; this selection from an article by Deborah Cramer on the ecological impact of the fishing industry shows how a single instance of overfishing indicates a world-wide problem:
....The large yearly catches, peaking at 130 million pounds from the Gulf of Maine in 1942, wiped out the fishery. It has yet to recover.Here, the transition alludes to the entire preceding section about New England fishing. Although Cramer managed this transition in a single sentence, transitions between large sections of an essay sometimes require entire paragraphs to explain their logic.
The propensity to ravage the sea is by no means unique to New England. The northern cod fishery in Canada is closed indefinitely. In Newfoundland more than 20,000 fishermen and fish processors were abruptly put out of work in 1992 when the government shut down the Grand Banks...
Proofreading Paragraph Transitions
At some point in your editing process, look at the end of each paragraph and see how it connects to the first sentence of the paragraph following it. If the connection seems missing or strained, improve the transition by clarifying your logic or rearranging the paragraphs. Often, the best solution is cutting out a paragraph altogether, and replacing it with the right one.
One of the best ways to improve any essay is by incorporating transitions. Effective transitions are what enable the main idea(s) and important points in an essay to flow together. In a sense, it is transitions that make a paper become an actual essay as opposed to just a random assortment of various facts. Without them, an essay will often seem to be lacking in unity.
How do you know that you need better and/or more transitions? If your paper seems choppy, lacking in flow, or generally unorganized, these are all signs that your paper is lacking transitions. Also, the longer an essay is and the more points that are presented, the greater the need for transitions to connect all of the important ideas.
- Transitions should occur at a variety of places in an essay. They should be present between sentences in a body paragraph and between the body paragraphs themselves.
- Transitions between sentences are often only one word (however, therefore, etc.) or a brief series of words. These allow the reader to move from one sentence to the next and show how all sentences are related together.
- Transitions between paragraphs are slightly more complex as they move the reader from one main idea to the next. These become particularly important in longer essays where more information is presented.
The following examples provide a paragraph without transitions, followed by a revised paragraph that contains them:
- Example #1: Students who write academic essays need to provide effective transitions. Transitions allow writers to connect the main ideas that are present in an essay. Using conjunctive adverbs and other introductory elements allow a writer to connect one sentence to the next. The use of these words will make the writing more fluent and less choppy. Many students fail to use effective transitions, and the essay comes across as disconnected. Writers should always be aware of the need to connect both sentences and paragraphs together.
Notice how the paragraph above contains valuable information about the use of transitions, but the sentences seem disconnected. It reads as if there are several ideas that are simply thrown together. Now read the paragraph below and see how using a few minor transitions allows the sentences and the information in them to be more connected (the transitions that have been added are in bold):
- Revised Example #1: Students who write academic essays need to provide effective transitions. It is the use of these transitions that allow writers to connect the main ideas that are present in an essay. For example, by using conjunctive adverbs and other introductory elements, a writer can easily connect one sentence to the next. Moreover, the use of these words will make the writing more fluent and less choppy. Unfortunately, students often fail to use effective transitions, and, as a result, the essay comes across as disconnected. To avoid this, writers should always be aware of the need to connect both sentences and paragraphs together, and they should strive to find creative ways to do so.
The following is a categorized list of transitional words that can be used, depending on the type of transition that is needed:
To Add: additionally, in addition, again, besides, moreover, what’s more, equally important (also important), finally, further, furthermore, first (second, third, etc.) next, lastly
To Repeat: as mentioned, as has been noted, in brief
To Show Exception: however, nevertheless, in spite of, yet, still, despite, of course, once in a while, sometimes, unfortunately
To Compare: however, on the other hand, on the contrary, in contrast, whereas, but, yet, nevertheless, by comparison, compared to, conversely, up against, balanced against, but, although, meanwhile, after all, while this may be true
To Emphasize: indeed, certainly, in any case, without a doubt, obviously, definitely, extremely, in fact, absolutely, positively, naturally, surprisingly, emphatically, unquestionably , undeniably, without reservation, always, never
To Prove: furthermore, moreover, in example, in fact, indeed, because, for, since, for the same reason, for this reason, obviously, evidently, besides, in addition, in any case
To Give an Example: for example, for instance, to demonstrate, to illustrate, as an illustration, in another case, take the case of, on this occasion, in this situation
To Show Sequence: as a result, subsequently, consequently, concurrently, following this, now, at this point, afterward, simultaneously, thus, hence, therefore, first (second, third, etc.)
To Show Time: immediately, thereafter, then, soon after, next, and then, finally, later, previously, formerly, first (second, third, etc.)
To Summarize or Conclude: In conclusion, as demonstrated, to conclude, summing up, in brief, as a result, therefore, accordingly, consequently, hence, on the whole